We, Slavs, are well-known over hill and dale for our hearty, soulful and delicious cuisine. And no fancy restaurant can beat our babushkas’ home cooked, straight-out-of-the-oven hot dinners. But there are exceptions to every rule, even when it comes to Slavic food. Some meals are simply best enjoyed cold, be they side dishes, main courses, spreads or dips.
Often mistaken for the Greek dip tzatziki, tarator is actually a Bulgarian soup. It’s made out of plain yogurt diluted with water and flavored with grated cucumber, vegetable oil, dill, salt and minced garlic. There are many versions of tarator on the Balkans and some of them even call for walnuts, dzhodzhen, carrots, parsley and other ingredients. Served as a main dish during the summer or as an hors d’oeuvre, you can make it any time of year with common ingredients found in your pantry.
Another popular Slavic dish, which is best enjoyed cold, is the Russian okroshka soup. Traditionally prepared with kvass (as you might have already guessed), there’s also a version of it, which is based on yogurt or sour cream and lacks kvass. Depending on the region and on personal preferences, the ingredients for okroshka may vary. Some people swear by the goodness of the exclusively vegetarian version with potatoes and veggies like cucumber, onion and radishes. Others boost the flavor by adding eggs and some sort of meat – sausage, veal, beef, etc. Both versions are delicious and are best served on a hot summer day.
Szalonna/ Salo/ Slanina
Depending on the country, this dish has various names – szalonna, salo, slanina, sala, słonina and so on. It’s basically a slice of cured animal fat, most commonly derived from pork cuts. Unlike lard, which is often used for cooking, salo is a solid cut of cured fat, it’s not rendered and it can be eaten as it is all year round. The basic seasoning for this meze comes down to black pepper and paprika, since it’s already salty enough on its own. Other versions of salo call for smoked cuts seasoned with herbs like rosemary and coriander.
Milk and rice
Nope, this isn’t just for dessert. Many Slavs actually do eat rice pudding as a side dish or even as a main course for dinner. Rižev pudding, mliečna ryža, mlyako s oriz, risovaya kasha, sutlija, riža na mlijeku – we know this Slavic dish by many names. And this also means that it comes in many varieties. The basics are cow’s or goat’s milk and cooked rice mixed together in a thick, pudding-like texture. No true Slav will be caught dead trying to eat it unless it’s cold. If you’re feeling particularly finicky, you can add plenty of flavor boosts to it – cinnamon, nuts, brown sugar, saffron, nutmeg, coconut milk, vanilla or fruits like dates and raisins.
Olivier salad/ Russian salad
Albeit often being translated as Olivier salad, the Russian salad actually defers from the Olivier one. Universally known as Russian salad (and as French salad or Stolichny salad), it reached its peak during Soviet times due to the widespread availability of the ingredients – boiled potatoes, peas, carrots, pickles and ham, all dressed in a heavy amount of mayo. Some versions of it include chicken or beef meat, eggs or even tart apples.
Ajvar and ljutenitsa
Extremely popular in Serbia, Macedonia and other Slavic countries, the ajvar is a thick spread based on red peppers, which have been roasted, processed and seasoned. Ljutenitsa, on the other hand, is based on a mixture of peppers and tomatoes. Both of them are among the most popular dips, spreads and garnishes for a vast variety of meals. They go well together with vegetarian meals based on potatoes and other crops, as well as with any type of meat.
Last, but not least, is the infamous holodets. You’ll either hate or love it – there’s absolutely no way to remain impartial to this one. It’s basically aspic made out of processed animal fat, which has been cooled down and naturally jelly-fied. Most commonly made out of pork fat, the recipe may call for additional ingredients, such as eggs and veggies. And unlike the fancy stuff you’ll find in restaurants, the real holodets lacks artificial gelatin substances.