Christmas Culinary

The festive table is an important part of Christmas celebration. However, modern Belarusians are only vaguely familiar with traditional Christmas rituals. For example, many believe that the table on the Christmas Eve is supposed to bend under the weight of all kinds of delicious dishes. However, traditionally the Christmas supper was prepared according to the strict rules of fast observance. This supper was called “Kuttsia”, which was also the name of the main course. Kuttsia is a simple porridge of barley, with some addition of honey and poppy seeds. It had a mystical role in Christmas celebration. In earlier times, well-off families prepared kuttsia from wheat or rice, with hazelnuts, raisins and other sweets.

The folk believed that kuttsia took its name from the Belarusian word “kut” (‘the corner’). A pot with kuttsia porridge was always placed on an honorary place in the corner of the table during the meal. However, linguists claim that this word originates from the Greek word “κυκάν” (pronounced as “kikan”), which means “to make something thick by constant stirring”. Most likely, the name of the dish was borrowed from Byzantine culture as the eastern Christianity was spread over Belarusian lands. This means that the tradition of kuttsia is at least 900 years old.

The second Kuttsia, also called “Shchodry Vechar” (Generous Evening) is celebrated just before the New Year (in Orthodox tradition this is January13). This Kuttsia was “fat and rich”. The fasting time was over, and the celebration took an explicitly culinary turn. A mistress of the house could show all her culinary skills. The table was full with all kinds of meat courses. Even Kuttsia porridge was served with butter or fried ham.

If you would like to cook a meal or two with a traditional Belarusian taste, you may look for recipes on the internet. The Book entitled “Belarusian Cuisine” ( is a good source of information and simple recipes. There is another English-language “Belarusian Cookbook” by historian Alexander Bely, which not only offers recipes, but also provides intriguing stories explaining the origin of the dishes and their names. The book, however, is only available in print format (
If you look for truly authentic Belarusian recipes, you may stumble upon such advices as “take fresh aurochs, and if you do not have any, you can use the elk instead” (taken from the 18th century Belarusian cookbook). Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have any elk meat left in the fridge. Belarusian cuisine is not always so complicated. For example, kuttsia is one of the simplest dishes one could ever invent:


5 cupful coarse barley
12 cupful water
Sift the coarse barley, wash in water and pour into a pot with salted boiling water and boil until thickened. Then place into the oven for some time. Season the kuttsia with fat or butter.
That’s it!
If you want to prepare something more substantial, you may try to cook mushroom stuffed draniki. Potatoes are the cornerstone of Belarusian cuisine. Draniki (potato pancakes) can be plain or filled with various ingredients.
Mushroom Stuffed Draniki
4 potatoes
2 tsp. flour
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying
For the stuffing
1/2 oz dried mushrooms
1 onion, finely sliced
oil for frying

Prepare the stuffing. Wash the dried mushrooms and soak in cold water for 3-4 hours. Wash the mushrooms again and return to the water you used to soak them. Pour water with mushrooms into a saucepan and boil for about 1 hour. Remove mushrooms from the stock and mince finely. Reserve the stock.
Meanwhile, fry the slice onion until golden. Add the minced mushrooms and 1/2 cup of the mushroom stock and mix well.

Prepare the draniki. Shred the raw potatoes and wring them out. Add the flour, egg, salt and pepper and mix. Shape the potato mixture into small balls, flatten with your hand, put a little bit of filling on top and cover with more potato mixture. Flatten into patties and fry until golden brown. Place in oven for a few minutes and serve. You can accompany the draniki with sour cream.
Another traditional dish is machanka (pork stew). It's usually served with pancakes. There are several versions of the dish. This one incorporates sour cream to the stew. Sour cream, by the way, is another traditional Belarusian staple.


•    1 lb stewing pork
•    2 tbsp. butter
•    1 cup + 2 tbsp. beef or pork stock
•    1 onion
•    1 tbsp. flour
•    1 cup sour cream
•    2 bay leaves
•    salt to taste


Cut pork into bite-size pieces. Melt butter in a saucepan and fry the pork until dark. Add 1 cup of stock, bay leaves and salt, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the pork is half done.
Meanwhile, put the flour into a separate saucepan, add 2 tbsp. of stock and mix well. Strain and return to saucepan. Add sour cream and salt to taste. Mix well and cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes.
Heat the oven to about 180° C (350° F).
Put pork in baking dish, cover with sour cream sauce and bake in oven for about 20 minutes or until done. Serve with pancakes.
For a dessert, you may cook a pie (called “piroh” in Belarusian).

Piroh (apple pie)

Ingredients for the dough (per 2.5 kg piroh):
7 cupful flour
0.75 cupful sour cream
0.75 cupful water
0.75 cupful sugar
2 eggs
300 g apples
30 g yeast

Prepare the leavened dough. Peel fresh apples, remove the cores, slice thinly and add to the dough. When the dough rises place it in a baking pan greased with vegetable oil, allow it to rise for 40 to 45 minutes and bake in oven.
Or, you may also simply bake apples with honey.
Apple baked with honey

1 LB apples
4 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup sugar


Wash the tart apples, cut out the cores and fill the hollows with sugar. Place the apples in a baking pan, pour in some water and put in the oven to bake. Pour over with honey before serving.

During the Soviet times most Belarusians, especially those living in urban areas, have been forced to forget Christmas traditions. Their place was occupied by the New Year tradition. Culinary has also gone through some changes. A Pan-Soviet mass kitchen began to spread, which was, by a large part, rooted in the Russian tradition. A typical post-Soviet New Year festive table always includes: Olivier salad, tangerines and Soviet Champagne. Other popular dishes are boiled potatoes, pickles, and dressed herring.

Let’s take a closer look at Olivier salad (in the West it sometimes goes under the name Russian salad). The original Salad Olivier was served by Chef Lucien Olivier, the owner of “Hermitage”, a restaurant of Parisian cuisine, which existed in Moscow in the 19th century. His salad was especially famous for its dressing and quickly became the restaurant's signature dish. Its exact recipe was a jealously guarded secret. It is known, however, that the salad contained grouse, veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers, gherkins, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs and soy beans. According to other reports, the ingredients included truffles, cubed aspic and smoked duck, although it is possible that the recipe was varied seasonally. The original Olivier dressing was a type of mayonnaise, made with French wine vinegar, mustard, and Provencal olive oil; its exact recipe, however, remains unknown.

Mr. Ivanov, one of the sous-chefs of Hermitage, claimed that he managed to take a peek into the kitchen while Mr. Olivier was preparing the salad. Later, he quit “Hermitage” and went to work as a chef for a rather mediocre restaurant “Moskva”, where he began to serve the imitated Olivier salad.

In 1905 Lucien Olivier shut down his business and left Russia. The salad’s recipe (or, better to say, its numerous variations) could be found in many magazines. Eventually, the once élite dish occupied its place on tables of many common families of the ailing empire. The ingredients inevitably became much more modest and cheap. This tendency increased during the Soviet times as a result of chronic food shortages.
Today, Olivier salad is, basically, composed of diced potato, vegetables and sometimes meat bound in mayonnaise. During the Soviet times it was virtually impossible to buy, for example, fresh cucumbers in winter. This component was, therefore, substituted by pickles. Also, even today, if you ask people in former Soviet Union what capers are, most people would likely shake their shoulders in bewilderment. The place of capers in the salad was taken by marinated peas. One ingredient after another, the salad evolved into the dish we know today. Even though exotic foods are more available in Belarus now, than they were in the Soviet Union, the salad’s popularity has hardly diminished.

Olivier salad

4 carrots
4 potatoes
3-4 hard boiled eggs
1 onion - spring or white
3-4 gherkins (or pickles)
1 can green peas
2 ‘handfuls’ of shredded ham


Cook the carrot and potatoes (don’t peel), and cut into cubes when cold. Cut the onion into small pieces. Cut the eggs, drain the juice from the peas, slice the ham into strips. Mix all ingredients together with the mayonnaise.
Another typical dish of a post-Soviet festive table is “herring under fur coat” (dressed herring). This is a layered salad composed of diced salted herring covered with layers of grated boiled vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beet roots), chopped onions and mayonnaise. Sometimes a layer of fresh grated apple is included. Grated boiled beet roots covered with mayonnaise as last layer gives the salad rich purple color. The dish is often decorated with grated boiled eggs (whites or yolks or both).

Dressed Herring

2 ea thick salted herrings
5 ea potatoes
4 ea carrots
4 ea beets
5 ea eggs
400 gr mayonnaise


Boil vegetables until they are ready (you can boil vegetables in the same pan). Boil eggs hard.
Peel skin from herrings, cut them along the spine. Take all bones away. Cut herring meat into very little pieces and always check for bones. Take a large dish. Put herring meat
evenly on the bottom. If you like onion, you can put little pieces of onion on the herring.
Then spread mayonnaise evenly (thin layer). Grind potatoes and make the next
layer of it. Spread mayonnaise. Use fork to plane the layers. Then goes carrot (grind, put, spread). Then you do the same with 4 eggs and beets. Spread mayonnaise on the beets and
grind 1 egg on it to make the dish beautiful. This salad must look like a cake.
Put the dish in the fridge for an hour. Then, serve as an appetizer.
Shchaslivyh Kaliadau! (Merry Christmas!)
Smachna estsi! (Enjoy your meal!)