The cuisine of Eastern Europe is a blend of hearty peasant dishes -- groaning bowls of steaming dumplings, sauerkraut perfuming the air, beet soup striking a colorful pose -- with elegant gourmet offerings.
In both comfort food and more complex dishes, the ingredients are always simple. It's the preparation and sauces that set them apart.
The Influence of Geography
Eastern European cuisine has been forged by the natural resources of the region. Fish and seafood are plentiful from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the unique flavor of the native juniper wood lends itself to smoking hams and sausages, an abundance of sour cream and cream cheese is a natural byproduct of the thriving dairy industry.
Mushrooms abound in the many forests that are also home to wild game that finds its way into dishes like hunter's stew.
Fertile farmlands produce grains to create the staggering varieties of breads, noodles and dumplings, and to serve as feed for the pigs, ducks and lambs that end up in so many recipes.
And the seemingly ever-present home gardens yield up harvests of potatoes, cucumbers, kohlrabi, sweet and hot peppers, and dill.
The Influence of Many Cultures
There is such a crossover of regional influences, sometimes it's hard to say which dish originated in which country. Certainly there are many variations on a theme, as in the case of stuffed cabbage.
To make matters more interesting, marriages of the nobility centuries ago brought the flavors of Italian, French, Turkish, Russian, Jewish and German foods to mingle with those of Eastern Europe. The result is a delightful culinary stew.
A Hospitable Cuisine
For many people, food is just nourishment. For Eastern Europeans, it's a cause for celebration, for sharing, for honoring age-old traditions.
There is always room for a guest at an Eastern European table. The people are as welcoming as the food.
The "pinch of this and pinch of that" have been taken out of these recipes and you're left with few-ingredient, easy-to-follow instructions. Get the warm fuzzies all over again with food that tastes like grandma's.