Food can tell you a lot of things about people. It can tell you what their tastes are, what kind of traditions they keep and, of course, how hungry they are.
This year my husband and I invited our family and friends into our home for New Year’s eve. Since we were raised in the same culture, we see a lot of the same foods on holidays. I don’t know if this is true for other cultures, but Russians, we put the same dishes on the table over and over.
Even though on a regular day my kitchen is a Pinterest laboratory, there was no escaping “the classics” for this party. Here’s the anatomy of a New Year’s meal in our home:
More is better
Dinner started at about 8 p.m. We begin with appetizers. Russians are pros at this part because of a simple motto: “more is better.” I mean if you love this part of a meal, a Russian holiday is your heaven. You definitely won’t see our mothers put a weak lettuce and dressing salad on the table.
One really popular salad is called Olivier (pronounced like Sir Lawrence, but named after a Russian chef). It’s potato salad on steroids, with carrots, peas, pickles and meat mixed in with mayonnaise. (Update, I forgot about this until I opened my fridge) There’s also “holodets” — a meat jelly made by cooling soup in the fridge. My mom is the expert with these dishes!
It all sounds like mystery cafeteria food, but trust me, it’s good. These foods are also really filling.
And yet, there must be fish! Usually it’s smoked salmon or pickled herring (though never at my house). To top it off, you’ll see some kind of pastries with meat or vegetables. My mother-in-law was kind enough to make them filled with pumpkin.
Entree, Part 1
Planning for the meal involved coordinating with my mother and M.I.L. I decided to roast chickens for the entree, so that came out first with a side of potatoes and vegetables. The main dishes obviously need to be large enough for the family to share and pass around several times. Don’t forget it’s possible that someone will get hungry again closer to midnight. Eat and repeat, guys.
Interlude, and second entree
After an awesome interlude of games and a makeshift photo booth, we sat down for another course. On the table were “manti“, which are basically steamed dumplings. Again, my husband’s family brought those over. These things are one of my favorite foods. Can you get tired of eating dumplings with spiced meat and onions? No, you cannot.
By this time, midnight had passed, everyone was cheery and it was time for tea. I don’t know why the British are known for loving tea because we drink it a million times a day and as a cure for everything. Unlike Americans, our grandparents tell us to never to drink anything but warm liquids with our meal. (Your stomach might explode, kids). Of course with the tea there are fruits and pastries. Maybe a cake. Ok, it’s me so always a cake.
So that’s what we ate to celebrate 2014. You might see a similar meal in a different household, and possibly on a different occasion. I don’t know what it is, but the traditional dishes make everyone feel good. There’s no guessing about whether or not you’ll enjoy it (you will). Or if you’ll leave full and happy (definitely).
And while I go tend to the leftovers, let me know what you eat on New Year’s eve in the comments. I’m looking for some new recipes…