The Olympics are here! I am sure most of you are glued to your TV every night watching the events or simply setting your DVRs to record. Regardless of your methods of watching the most lavish Olympics in history, you are probably wondering how it would feel if you had an opportunity to be in Sochi for this event. Although I can’t necessarily tell you how it would feel to be in Sochi right now, a lot has changed since I last vacationed there, I can tell you about the food that you would more than likely eat if you were there.
But first, a little bit of background:
The climate, terrain, and social instability had a tremendous impact on Russian cuisine. Traditionally, Russian food is fairly simple, high in calories and extremely fatty. Russian cuisine is a cuisine of necessity constantly adapting to the newest political regime and the shortages that come with it.
However, if you were in Sochi for the Olympics, you’d never know that you have left the Western world and are deep in the Russian Federation. From what I see and hear, the city has been rebuilt, cleaned up, and dressed up. Although some typical, bone-headed construction mistakes have been made, some locals pissed off, and the city lost some of its “character”, it has been turned into something that the rest of the world will be talking about for decades to come.
If you were in Sochi during these Olympic Games, here is what you would most likely find on every traditional Russian restaurant menu:
This is one of the most popular Russian dishes that makes its appearances at almost every special occasion on every Russian table regardless of which country you are in. If it is a Russian celebration of any kind – expect Olivier.
Olivier is a salad named after its creator– Lucien Olivier, a head chef at the Hermitage restaurant during the early 1860’s. Originally the salad was made with grouse (gamebird), veal tongue, caviar (red), a lettuce variety, crayfish tails, boiled potatoes, cornichon, smoked duck, capers and dressed with an house special dressing that closely resembled modern day Russian mayonnaise (yes, Russians mayo is very different). According to the rumors, the dressing consisted of French wine vinegar, mustard (probably Dijon style), and olive oil from Provencal region of France. Although the exact proportions are unknown, many chefs attempted to recreate it skyrocketing the popularity of this dish.
As the time went by and the political climate of the country changed, so did the salad. Some of the ingredients became hard to find or only accessible to a wealthy few. The salad evolved. The capers were replaced by pickles, veal tongue was replaced by the cow tongue (when available) or bologna, red caviar was replaced by carrots (the only similarity is color), lettuce was replaced by peas, and the duck and grouse were almost entirely avoided or replaced by chicken. Of course the dressing that made this salad famous was lost forever after Chef Olivier passed away and was replaced with Russian mayonnaise.
Even with the inferior ingredients, this salad still remains one of the go-to Russian comfort foods for comrades all over the world. Having grown up in the former Soviet Union, I am a big fan of this delicious dish. However, since I don’t fight bears or live in subzero temperatures, consuming thousands of calories in one sitting isn’t something that I can afford without busting out of my pants.
When I started writing Fierce Gourmet: A Fit Foodie’s Cookbook, this salad received a much needed makeover to satisfy the cravings of every fit Russian food lover without adding thousands of calories to their day.
Golubzi or Cabbage Rolls
This dish is common to the entire Eurasian continent. In short a combination of pork, lamb, beef, and starch (usually rice or barley) is rolled inside a lightly steamed cabbage leaf. The rolls are then placed inside a pot, Dutch oven, or a pan and are baked, simmered or steamed. The dish is usually served with some variety of sauce that is largely dependent on the region where the dish is served.
If you are in Russia, one of the most common methods of preparing Golubzi is with a combination of pork, lamb, beef, rice or barley, and white onion which is tightly rolled inside a white cabbage leaf and simmered in tomato sauce for hours. The dish is usually served with a big dollop of rich sour cream, rye bread, and an ice cold shot of vodka. If you have the opportunity to savors this incredible creation, do it. You will not be disappointed.
Of course, if you are watching your calories and would still like to enjoy some traditional Russian food, I recommend substituting the red meat for a combination of ground chicken and turkey spiced with some chili powder, onion, and parsley. Instead of white rice, try brown rice or quinoa and instead of using white cabbage, try Napa cabbage. Napa cabbage leaves are easier to work with, deliver more phytonutrients than white cabbage, and look significantly better after hours of simmering in tomato sauce.
When this dish is cooked Fierce Gourmet style, it offers a wide range of necessary nutrients including vitamin C, D, A, and K, loads of lean protein, lycopene, and complex carbohydrates all wrapped up in a convenient half serving pockets of delicious joy. This is one of my favorite post run meals. In addition to being highly nutritious, this meal freezes well for those days when you just don’t have the time to cook.
So, if you are hungry and in the city of Sochi, try this dish! If you are at home at would like to eat like a Russian Olympian, email me and I’ll send you the clean eating recipe! Otherwise, look for this recipe on this blog in a few weeks.
Vinegret or Russian Beet Salad
Vinegret (not to be confused with vinaigrette) is a traditional winter salad and one of the few salads in the Russian cuisine that isn’t dressed with mayonnaise. Just like so many other Russian dishes, Venegret is a salad of necessity. It first appeared during the beginning of the communist era when fresh vegetables were hard to come by. Many chefs of that time relied on frozen or canned vegetables to produce many of their creations. The salad features beets, beans, pickles, onion, peas, potatoes, and pickled cabbage (much like sauerkraut but sweeter with a different acidic profile that is more reminiscent of rice wine vinegar). This salad hasn’t changed much over the years and much like Olivier is one of the holiday favorites.
Although not as heavy as Olivier, this is by no means a light meal. Vinegeret is traditionally dressed with unrefined sunflower oil, a highly caloric, fragrant oil. This dish is usually served as an appetizer to chase the first few shots of vodka before the meal begins.
Of course, I have created a fit version of this salad that maintains the traditional Vinegret flavor profile. Give this salad a try whether you are in Sochi or in Dallas!
Depending on who you ask, these dishes will undoubtedly make the top ten favorites on every Russian’s list. You might also hear about such dishes as: Pelmeni (veal dumplings), Piroshki (baked, portable, meat pies), Seledka pod Shyboi or “hearing in fur coat” (an immensely popular holiday fish dish), Holodez (jellied minced meat) and Katleti (“burger patties” that are eaten without buns or garden).
Despite the common misconception, Russian cuisine is incredibly flavorful and features simple but hearty ingredients. Due to the turbulent past, Russians are very good at practicing nose-to-tail eating as well as adapting their cuisine to, often times, volatile political and cultural shifts. Although the country is almost completely westernized at this point, the evolution of Russian cuisine remains to serve as a reminder of the scary past and a beacons to the brighter future.
Arugula or Eruca sativa is an annual, leafy green that belongs to the Brassicaceae family of plants. Despite its lettuce like appearance, Arugula is a close relative of cabbage, kale, mustard greens and cauliflower. This Mediterranean native has a sharp, spicy flavor profile and is a commonly found in Italian, Slovenian, Egyptian, and West Asian, Northern Indian, and Brazilian cuisines.
Medicinal Uses through History:
Arugula appears in Greek and Roman medical lore as an aphrodisiac, diuretic, and a way to restore sight. There have been some records found that indicate arugula was used to treat survey in sailors and administered to those with stomach pains and heartburn in the form of brewed tea. In ancient China arugula and dandelion were considered an effective way of detox and were said to contribute to healthy liver function.
Much like the rest of the cruciferous family, arugula is high in vitamin C, A, K, folate and potassium, fiber, phytonutrients, and other antioxidants. Some research suggests that many of the phytonutrients (indoles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates, sulforaphane) found in arugula have been linked to cancer prevention.
di-indolyl-methane (DIM) a compound derived from digestion of indole-3- carbinol found in arugula and other cruciferous vegetables has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Some research suggests that DIM may have beneficial effects against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) of the cervix. However, the study is inconclusive at this time.
Foods rich in Vitamin C help boost immune function, lower cancer risk, improve iron absorption, and help protect cells from free radical damage. Vitamin A found in arugula functions as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent and promotes retinal, skin, mucous membrane, teeth, and skeletal health. Arugula contains a significant amount of B-complex vitamins (thiamine, niacin, B-6, riboflavin) which are crucial to cell health and proper metabolic function. Another key nutrient found in this leafy green is Vitamin K. 100 g of arugula contains nearly 90% of daily value of Vitamin K which is important for bone health.
Choose Your Arugula:
- Look for crispy bright green leaves
- When picking arugula, avoid collecting from flowered plants as the leaves become bitter
- Store in the refrigerator at relatively high levels of humidity.
Cooking With Arugula:
Arugula is best consumed raw or lightly wilted. Try arugula in a salad, on your turkey burger, or as an addition to your smoothies or juices. In some parts of Italy arugula is used as a pizza topping. It is added right after the pizza is out of the oven to prevent significant wilting.
Wood R (1999). The new whole foods encyclopedia: a comprehensive resource for healthy eating. New York: Penguin/Arkana. ISBN 0-14-025032-8.
Cabbage is a leafy green, annual vegetable that is closely related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. There are a number of cabbage plant varieties, the most popular of which is the smooth-leafed, firm, green cabbage. There are two other common varieties of cabbage: red and savoy. Red cabbage is a smooth-leafed, firm, deep purple in color with a strong flavor profile. Savoy cabbage on the other hand has a “ruffled” leaf, yellow-green in color, and has a mild flavor profile and softer texture.
Throughout the centuries, cabbage has been used as food and as medicine. Cabbage plants were introduced into European cuisine around 600 B.C. by migratory Celtic tribes and became a dietary staple shortly thereafter. Currently, Russia is leading the charts with the highest consumption of cabbage per capita with Belgium, Netherlands, and Spain coming in as close seconds.
Cabbage as Medicinal Herb:
Because of its high antioxidant and fiber count, cabbage has been used as medicine by many cultures. The Ancient Greeks recommended the use of cabbage leaves as a laxative, cabbage juice to treat poisonings, and help heal bruising. The Romans and Egyptians used cabbage as an anti-hangover cure and a method to prevent drunkenness.
In the early 20th century, cabbage leaves were used to treat ulcers and abscess. Some scientific evidence suggests that certain properties found in cabbage leaves can reduce the pain of engorged breasts (during lactation), and extend the duration of breast feeding by increasing milk production. Other scientifically unsupported uses of cabbage in medicine include the treatment of rheumatism, sore throat, hoarseness, appendicitis, pneumonia, removal of warts and boils, and treatment of mild depression.
Cabbage, much like most of cruciferous vegetables, is a great source of beta-carotene (Vitamin A), vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. However, unlike most cruciferous vegetables, cabbage boasts impressive levels of polyphenols, an antioxidant in the phytonutrient category.
Phytonutrients are organic components of plants. The term itself derives from the word phyto meaning plant. Although these organic components are not necessary for a person to survive, scientists believe that consumption of phytonutrients can prevent certain cancers and help with minimizing the effects of our toxic environment. Phytonutrients serve as very powerful antioxidants and help enhance immune response, regulate estrogen metabolism, aid in DNA repair caused by exposure to carcinogens, as well as effectively activate a detoxification enzyme (cytochrome P450 and Phase II enzyme system) to remove carcinogenic byproducts of the metabolic process.
Polyphenols are one of the major groups of phytonutrients and are found in a variety of plants such as onion, cranberries, tea, red grapes, grape juice, strawberries, apple, raspberries, blueberries, red wine, cabbage, and nuts. Polyphenols can be divided into two categories: flavonoids and non-flavonoids. Flavonoids are the most extensively studied polyphenols in conjunction with metabolism and cancer prevention.
With that being said, even white cabbage has incredible high amounts of polyphenols (50 milligrams per ½ cup). Red cabbage can arguably be even more effective in terms of delivering a higher concentration of antioxidant and detoxifying nutrients per ½ cup. Red cabbage contains high concentration of flavonoids known as anthocyanins (a very powerful antioxidant that is found in blueberries, Okinawan sweet potatoes, cherries, and other purple colored fruits and vegetables). In addition to having antioxidant qualities, anthocyanins are also an extremely effective anti-inflammatory.
Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, cabbage juice has been used for centuries to treat stomach ulcers. Recent evidence suggests that cabbage can contribute to overall health of intestinal lining and stomach by regulating bacterial population, reducing inflammation, and regulating bowl movement.
In addition to antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, cabbage also contains an impressive concentration of glucosinolates.
Glucosinolates are organic compounds that contain sulfur and nitrogen. Yes, glucosinolates are the reason why your house starts smelling “sulfurey” when you cook your favorite cabbage dishes. Glucosinolates are converted to isothiocyanate compounds which in turn can be very effective in prevention of a number of colorectal cancers.
Different varieties of cabbage contain different amounts of glucosinolates. Savoy cabbage, for instance, contains high concentrations of sinigrin, a glucosinolates that has received a lot of attention in recent years as a cancer prevention chemical.
Although the research on cancer prevention is still on going, adding at least one serving of cabbage to your daily consumption of vegetables can prove to be beneficial for your weight loss and overall health.
Choosing the Perfect Head:
When choosing your cabbage, make sure that the head is firm, bruise free, and has bright, crispy, colorful leaves.
Avoid buying precut cabbage. Once the cabbage is cut it begins to lose some of the essential vitamins and minerals. If you have to store some of the cabbage (that you precut) you should try to use it within a couple of days.
Keep your cabbage cold by placing it in the refrigerator or in a cellar. This will help keep your cabbage fresher longer as well as slow down the breakdown of vitamin C.
Green, Red, and White cabbage will usually keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, while Savoy cabbage should be consumed within a week, and Bok Choy within a few days.
According to some scientists, steaming the cabbage promotes better release of nutrient. Although that might be true, we find that steaming cabbage turns it into an awful mess and produces less than appetizing aromas. We recommend that you sauté, pickle, of consume your cabbage raw. Additionally, you can add your cabbage to soups and stir fries.
Kushad MM, Brown AF, Kurilich AC, et al. Variation of glucosinolates in vegetable crops of Brassica oleracea. J Agric Food Chem 1999 Apr;47(4):1541-8. 1999. PMID:13320.
Whether you are a fit for life kind of person or are just starting out on your journey, you have probably heard about sweet potatoes. But what makes the sweet potato so popular among the fit community? Why should we introduce it into our diet?
Sweet potato is indigenous to Central America and made it into European diet after Christopher Columbus came back from his journey to the New World. There are over 400 hundred different varieties of Sweet Potatoes grown all over the world and the variety are largely dependent on the climate. Climate, soil composition, and genetic makeup will influence the nutrient composition and color of the sweet potato variety.
Sweet potatoes of all varieties are rich in Vitamin C, B6, and A, manganese, potassium, iron and fiber content. Apart from rich nutritional value, sweet potatoes can also help regulate blood sugar, decrease soft tissue inflammation, and according to some studies, contain significant antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Different varieties of sweet potatoes are packed with antioxidant nutrients like beta-carotene and anthocyanin (cyanidins and peonidins).
Orange colored sweet potatoes are full of carotenoid pigments which is what gives the sweet potato its distinctive orange color and sweetness. Some studies show that sweet potatoes are a better source of bioavailable beta-carotene than some green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, and spinach.
Beta- carotene is an antioxidant and a precursor to Vitamin A, also known as retinol. Retinol is a substance that is essential for maintaining retinal, skin, mucous membrane, teeth, and skeletal health.
Purple-fleshed sweet potatoes are high in an antioxidant known as anthocyanin. This is also the compound that gives blueberries, grapes, purple cabbage and the Okinawan Sweet Potato its purple color. However, the concentration of anthocyanin is nearly 150% greater in the Okinawan Sweet Potato than it is in blueberries, the antioxidant powerhouse.
Some studies show that a diet rich in cyanidins and peonidins can potentially lower the risk or mitigate the damage done by heavy metals and other oxidants in the digestive tract.
Select and Store
When choosing sweet potatoes, make sure that they are firm and free of damage. Avoid those that are stored in the refrigerator section of the grocery store as lower temperatures negatively affect the taste.
Keep your sweet potatoes out of the fridge and in a cool dark place. Usually, sweet potatoes can be stored for up to 10 days or longer.
- Boil, mash, and combine with walnuts, raisins, and a touch of agave syrup or honey.
- Shave thin using a mandolin, spray with olive oil, and season with salt or Cajun seasoning. Broil for -5-10 minutes to make Sweet Potato Chips.
- Boil, mash, season with herbs of your choice.
- Cut into fires, coat in coconut oil and bake at 350 F for 10 minutes.
- Sweet potatoes can be added to baked goods, desserts, and other dishes where a little bit of sweetness can go a long way.