After Russia sold Alaska to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, waves of Russian immigrants fleeing religious persecution moved to the United States. These groups generally settled in coastal cities, including Brooklyn (New York City) on the East coast, and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, on the West coast.
Many of the city dwellers took jobs in factories, often as garment workers. Those who preferred rural living benefited from the Homestead Act and set up farms across the West, while still others worked in mills and mines in the Midwest. Russians contributed their diverse cultural traditions and devout faith (for some Judaism and for others Russian Orthodox) to the places they settled. Unlike immigrants from other countries, few returned to Russia—America had become their homeland.
Emigration was restricted during the Soviet era, however, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, immigration to the U.S. increased considerably. Some Ukrainian Americans, Belarusian Americans, Rusyn Americans along with Jewish Americans, German Americans from the former Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, identify themselves as Russian Americans. According to the Institute of Modern Russia’s 2011 report, the Russian American population was estimated to be 3.13 million.
In 2007 Russian was the primary spoken language in 851,174 homes, according to the U.S. Census. The New York City metropolitan area has historically been the primary place of settlement for Russian immigrants legally admitted into the United States. Brighton Beach, Brooklyn continues to be the most important demographic and cultural center for Russian Americans. However, as Russian Americans have climbed in socioeconomic status, they have moved toward more affluent parts of the New York metropolitan area, notably Bergen County, New Jersey.
Russian cuisine tends toward the starchy side, with plenty of pickling. Grains are a major crop, with rye, buckwheat, wheat and barley commonly used in cooking, especially for bread. Root vegetables like beetroot, potatoes, and onions are also popular ingredients along with mushrooms, sour cream, cabbage, and the ricotta-like “farmers’ cheese”. Classic Russian dishes include Beef Stroganoff, chicken Kiev, beetroot broth, blini, and cheese dumplings.
They prepare a variety of soups, which are almost always served with sour cream. Most famous is borscht, made from beets, cabbage, and meat. In the summer, borscht is served cold. Shchi, also made with cabbage, includes turnips, carrots, onions, and beef. Fish soups are popular, such as solianka, and include onion, tomato, cucumber, lemon, butter, and sometimes beef. Many soups also include potatoes or dumplings. Traditional dark Russian bread is made from rye and Russian meals are accompanied by vodka.
Beef Stroganov or Stroganoff (Russian spelling: бефстроганов befstróganov) is a Russian dish of sautéed pieces of beef served in a sauce with smetana (sour cream). Following its origin in mid-19th-century Russia, the dish has become popular around the world, with considerable variation from the original recipe.
Elena Molokhovets’s classic Russian cookbook, A Gift to Young Housewives, gives the first known recipe for Govjadina po-strogonovski, s gorchitseju, “Beef à la Stroganov, with mustard”, in its 1871 edition. The recipe involves lightly floured beef cubes (not strips) sautéed, sauced with prepared mustard and broth, and finished with a small amount of sour cream: no onions, no mushrooms, and no alcohol. Another recipe, this one from 1909, adds onions and tomato sauce and serves it with crisp potatoes, which are considered the traditional side dish for beef Stroganoff in Russia. The version given in the 1938 Larousse Gastronomique includes beef strips, and onions, with either mustard or tomato paste as an option.
After the fall of Tsarist Russia, the recipe was popularly served in the hotels and restaurants of China before the start of World War II. Russian and Chinese immigrants, as well as US servicemen stationed in pre-Communist China, brought several variants of the dish to the United States, which may account for its popularity during the 1950s.
The version often prepared in the United States consists of strips of beef filet with a mushroom, onion, and sour cream sauce served over noodles. In the UK and Australia, a recipe very similar to that commonly found in the United States is popular, but it is served over rice.
Make a Russian inspired dinner at home.
Serves 4 (or servings for 2 in parenthesis)
1 (1/2) pound filet mignon or mignon tips (cut into 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide)
3 ( 1 1/2) tablespoons butter
1 ( 1/2) sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 ( 1/4) cup beef broth
1 (1/2) tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 ( 2 T) cup heavy cream
1/2 ( 1/4) cup sour cream
2 ( 1 ) teaspoons flour
2 (1) tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 (1) tablespoons minced parsley
Salt and freshly grounded black pepper
8 ( 4) ounces medium egg noodles, cooked
Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat and sear meat on all sides, for about a minute. Work in small batches so the meat does not give off any liquid. Remove to a plate.
Add the butter and onions and saute until tender.
Blend broth, flour, mustard, heavy cream, and sour cream together. Lower heat, add the liquid mixture, and simmer, without boiling until sauce thickens about 5 minutes.
Return meat to the sauce and heat, without boiling until meat is warmed through. Season to taste with salt and pepper; stir in dill and parsley and spoon over noodles.
Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
2 pounds parsnips
1 pound carrots
2 large shallots
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut the carrots, and parsnips into 2-inch sticks. Cut the shallots into 1/2 inch pieces
Place the cut vegetables on a sheet pan. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss well. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the vegetables, tossing occasionally until the parsnips and carrots are just tender. Sprinkle with dill and serve hot.