Russian festive dinner

Festive Dinner USSR Style (recipes included)

Nowadays in Moscow you really do not know what the hosts of the dinner party prepared for you. It can be anything – from oysters to Beijing duck, from carpaccio to crème brûlée. But in Soviet time – there was one menu, which was favorite in all households.

Here are the main dishes that you could always count on:

Olivier Salad (Russian salad)

Russian salad on a plate

Russian salad on a plate

I devoted the entire post to that topic, since that salad really showed up in 100% of households, 100% of time. Most people still serve it even though it is not in line with healthy eating because of mayo and too many ingredients.

I am not going to repeat the recipe here, check out the earlier post. I would rather talk about challenges of assembling all the ingredients in the same time and place in the situation of deficit. It will sound crazy, but people did have to do a careful planning and stay in lines to get mayo, canned peas, marinated cucumbers etc. So even this salad alone was quite a project!

Mimosa Salad

Mimosa salad

Mimosa salad

Another salad, rich on mayo, but beloved by Russians. For any Russian still living in the country the first association which comes to mind with the word mimosa is not a drink that you have at Sunday brunch, but that salad.

Recipe is pretty simple: you lay out layers of canned pink salmon (in brine), diced boiled potatoes, diced boiled carrots, diced egg whites and diced egg yolks. A layer of mayo in between the layers is obligatory, a layer of diced fresh onions is optional. Served as a cake.

Herring Under the Fur Coat

Herring under the fur coat salad

Herring under the fur coat salad

I do not personally see why this particular salad is more frightening than the other mayo salads. Same idea of layers: potatoes, carrot, fresh apple, salted herring, beets, onions, eggs. Obligatory mayo.

I guess what scares foreigners is the salted herring first and then the combination of herring and the other stuff. I have yet to try feeding that dish to my guests from abroad (people who plan to visit me in summer – beware!)). But to my Russian taste – it is an interesting dish since it combines sweet and salty and sour. I am not a big fan of mayo though myself, so I do not eat it often.

Holodets (Meat Jelly)

Holodets (Russian meat Jelly)

Holodets (Russian meat Jelly)

Ok, if I did not manage to freak you out with herring under the fur coat – I have a good chance to freak you out now. How about having some meat jelly?

That dish is hugely popular and being a meat lover – I really like it. You cook meat on bones forever, than take the meat off the bones, put it in a bowl, pour the broth over and put the thing in the fridge. It has natural gelatin, so you do not have to add artificial jelly.

That dish is especially good if you have a broken leg or any problems with joints. It is basically just lean meat and collagen and we eat it with Russian version of wasabi to add some spice.

Julienne (mushroom/chicken stew)



That dish surprisingly does not include mayo, but it includes sour cream – the other staple of Soviet cuisine. You fry mushrooms (and/or chicken) with onions, add sour cream, then put the mix in the small pots, add diced cheese on top and put the pots in the oven for couple minutes to let the cheese melt. To be eaten with a spoon while still hot.

Pies (pirogi)

Russian pie

Russian pie

Here is how it works in Russia – you are supposed to eat all your meals with bread. But on festive occasions bread gets replaced with pie. Russian pies are really state-of-the-art. Filling can be sweet or savory, most typical savory fillings are: minced meat, cabbage (really good even if it feels awkward to you), fish, boiled eggs and scallions etc. Typical sweet fillings are apples, cottage cheese and all kinds of seasonal berries.

Pie recipe will make a separate post if I manage to part with it. The pie at the photo is “pirog” (big pie), the smaller version is called “piroshki”.

Other ‘zakuski” (appetizers)

Other appetizers can include a variety of pickles (including pickled garlic), slices of ham&cheese, smoked or salted salmon, sandwiches with caviar and fish preserves (among which the two most favorite are shproty – tiny smoked fishes and cod liver).

Main course

Yes, there is a main course. The most typical for Soviet era would be oven-roasted chicken, but some people opted for roasted duck or roasted goose or meat. Chicken was typically accompanied with roasted potatoes and since in Soviet times chicken were raised without hormones etc – it did taste good.

Roasted chicken with apples

Roasted chicken with apples

I did find a better chicken recipe than we used at that time recently and want to share it with you. It is amazing and very easy to make. Here it is:

  • Take either one big chicken (or better several small ones), spread the birds with olive oil, rub salt&pepper on them
  • Fill birds with large chunks of apple (sour apples are best)
  • Place several half-cut apples and a garlic-bulb cut in half on the roasting pan nearby. Add several sprays of fresh marjoram
  • Add some water to the bottom of roasting pan and let it sit in the oven for about 40 min (temp 200C or 390F)
  • If you like the bird to be crunchy – spread it with some honey and switch on the grill function (220C or 428F)  for 5 min when it is almost ready)

Quality of the chicken really does matter for the success of that dish. But it is really difficult to get it wrong anyways.


As you have probably guessed from the heaviness of appetizers and presence of pickles main alcohol drink used to be vodka. At least for men, women could opt for sparkling or regular wine. As sodas were not present at that time – non-alcohol drinks would be  mineral water with gas and home-made drinks made of berries.


Vatslavsky cake

Vatslavsky cake

Dessert was never light as well. Proper dessert was a cake and in addition to that, you may be offered ice cream, fruits and chocolate. And of course, tea.

Cakes of Soviet time were of limited variety and mostly had a rich butter cream. Therefore women baked cakes themselves, so Russian festive dinner usually included a nice home-made cake.

Priyatnogo appetita! Bon appetit!

Leave a Reply

  • Eli Liang - 8 years ago

    Personally, herring under a fur coat was my favorite salad back when I lived in Moscow, and I have always hated holodets. I love the former so much that about two years ago, I visited a Russian grocery here in the DC area just to buy some. Yum.

  • Masha - 8 years ago

    I loved herring under a fur coat, it’s the only one I make now. the one I found frightening was the Mimosa. I bought it randomly and could not work out what the ‘meat’ was. Only to realize much later when a Russian friend made the dish again that it was of course canned salmon. Please do post about pirog, I’ve yet to make a successful one.

  • ak - 7 years ago

    There were many non-alcohol beverages in Soviet Union, called “lemonade” (a general term, there were some well recognized brands of lemonade such as “Buratino”), which were sweet carbonated drinks sold in glass bottles (but less carbonated than modern Western soda drinks). There was also dark “Baikal” drink and even (in 80th) Pepsi-Cola. Some families also had soda siphons to make beverages at home. It worth to note that such drinks were considered strongly festive so one wouldn’t buy lemonade or pepsicola for everyday usage, but only for a special occasion.

  • Anonymous - 2 years ago

    I make herring under fur coat every new year and my husband who is american and all our american friends love it!!! I have to add though – please, no apples and/or carrots in this recipe!!! Layers – , onion, herring, potatoes, beets, mayo, decorated with a layer of chopped hard boiled eggs.

  • Gismo - 2 years ago

    actually, herring under a fur coat is much like the herring salad I know (I’d replace the carrots w/ pickles, might have to forgo the beet and have the potatoes as a side) Daughter loves it, husband from overseas finds it the only meal he cannot eat.