Belarusian National Cuisine and Most Popular Recipes
The Belarusian cuisine developed in pagan times. It has a rich history and is based on centuries of tradition.
On account of their geographical location and weather conditions, the Belarusians always had a relatively limited selection of local foods available, which did not prevent them from using their imagination and curiosity to create an interesting cuisine. This resulted in new dishes, which in the first instance appeared to be composed of incompatible ingredients, often based on a recipe from a popular foreign cuisine. Over time, the recipes changed to reflect local cooking traditions. Therefore the Belarusian cuisine has been influenced by different national cuisines (in particular the Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Polish and Jewish). Nevertheless, there are still many dishes which are exclusive to the Belarusian cuisine. Belarus has always produced ample cereals, potatoes, meat, milk and vegetables and as there are many rivers and lakes, fish has always been the main ingredient of many dishes. Nearly 40% of Belarus is covered by forest, so berries, mushrooms and game have also played a significant role.
The introduction of the potato in the 18th century caused a culinary revolution and since that time the potato has been at least on a par with bread. One will seldom find such a wealth of dishes using this root crop as in the Belarusian cuisine. Consequently, the Belarusians are often jokingly called “Bulbaschi” (Belarusian for ‚бульба’ – bulba – potato) by the neighbouring countries.
An essential ingredient in the Belarusian cuisine has always been bacon, which is used in all kinds of dishes or just eaten salted. Traditionally salty bacon is used for cooking: raw bacon is cut into small slices and liberally sprinkled with salt and other seasoning, which preserves it for up to six months.
National Belarusian recipes typically use a combination of different types of flour such as oatmeal, pea flour, buckwheat flour, rye flour, etc. The pride of the Belarusian cuisine is its natural bread, for which the dough is prepared with rye flour using a special ferment instead of yeast. To this very day Belarusian bread is often baked in wood-fired ovens.
Belarusian cuisine includes very few desserts. They are comprised mainly of berries, fruit, honey and quark.
Among the traditional beverages there are various spirits such as krambambulja (a liqueur with honey and spices), chrenovucha (a horseradish liqueur) and of course samogonka (home-distilled vodka). Typical non-alcoholic beverages include sbiten (a hot drink made with water, honey and spices), kvass (a special non-alcoholic beer which is made by fermenting the basic ingredients water, rye and malt), uzvar (a cold drink made from dried fruit) and mors (a fruit juice made from soft fruit).
The modern Belarusian cuisine is an eclectic mix. Nowadays many old recipes are being reintroduced in modern variations. It goes without saying that the actual Belarusian cuisine – like any other national cuisine in this day of globalization – is influenced by general international culinary trends.
Nearly all Belarusian families own a summer house (Russian: datscha) in the country, where they grow fruit and vegetables for their own consumption. Harvesting takes place in August and September and a large part is bottled (far more than in the west) and stored for the winter months. It should be pointed out that in Belarus vegetables are preserved in brine and not in vinegar.
Belarusians are an incredibly hospitable people, who put nothing but the best on the table when they have visitors. No gathering around the table is complete without vodka, which is usually accompanied by light snacks (Russian: sakuski). These may consist of bread with caviar, sprats and gherkins, marinated vegetables or mushrooms. In addition, you might expect to see salads with meat and vegetables, usually with plenty of mayonnaise. The main dish, normally chicken or pork, made according to the secret recipe of the lady of the house, usually stands in the middle of the table.
Strangely enough, there are few overweight people in Belarus, even though the cuisine is hearty and rich in carbohydrates. Maybe this is because the portions are usually considerably smaller than in Germany for example.
Below you will find some of the tastiest recipes of the Belarusian traditional cuisine.
Veraschtschaka (Minsk version)
0.5 kg pork with ribs
200 g kvass
1 laurel leaf
Season the pork with salt and pepper and sear both sides briefly in the pan. Remove the meat and sauté the finely chopped onions in the fat. Lay the meat, onion and laurel leaf in a sauté pan, cover with kvass and simmer for 10 minutes on a low heat.
Serve with mashed potato or blinis which are dunked in the veraschtschaka.
Another speciality of the Belarusian cuisine is cold soups, for example made from beetroot, nettles or sorrel. We can recommend svekolnik (Russian: ‘свёкла’ [swekla] – beetroot) – a cold beetroot soup. This is served mainly in the hot summer months.
Svekolnik (traditional recipe)
2 beetroot with stalks and leaves
1 tbsp vinegar
sour cream (for serving)
Peel the beetroot, wash and cut them into thin strips. Boil in water with the vinegar until cooked. Ten minutes before the beetroot are cooked through add the leaves, season with salt. Leave to cool. Wash and peel the cucumber and dice. Wash the chives, radishes and dill and cut finely. Hard boil the eggs and dice. Add the cucumber, salt, sugar, chives, radishes, dill and eggs to the chilled beetroot soup. Serve with sour cream.
As already mentioned, it is hard to imagine the Belarusian cuisine without potato dishes. Try cooking one of the simplest and tastiest potato dishes: babka. There are two variations of this: the original and vegetarian.
600 g potatoes
100 g bacon/ oil for baking
Grate the potatoes, without squeezing out the liquid.
For the vegetarian alternative: cut the onion finely and fry in the pan.
For the original „babka“: cut the onion and bacon finely and fry together in the pan.
Mix the contents of the pan with the grated potatoes, season with salt and turn into an earthenware pot. Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes at 180-200°.
Babka is eaten hot and served with milk.
Kulaga (traditional berry dessert)
400 g berries (blueberries, cranberries, raspberries or rowan berries)
70 g honey
2-3 tbsp wheat flour
Sort through the fresh berries, rinse and place the saucepan with the berries on the hob. Mix the wheat flour with a little water and add to the softened berries with the honey. Bring to the boil at medium temperature, constantly stirring until creamy and thick. Kulaga is a traditional accompaniment to pancakes, white bread and milk.