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From Russia With Lunch: The 8 Essential Russian Foods Everyone Should Know

02/06/2014 12:31 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2014

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Sure, the Americans are stuck wearing those horrible Cosby sweater uniforms for their Olympics run in Sochi, but that doesn't mean they'll be subjected to horrible cooking. Russian food is rich in history and poor in PR... it's often stereotyped as nothing but boiled cabbage and meat. With eyes on Sochi, we consulted Portland, OR's Chef Vitaly Paley -- a James Beard winner who was born behind the Iron Curtain and went on to dominate Jose Garces on Iron Chef -- to come up with this beginner's guide to Mother Russia's cuisine.

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Pelmeni
What they are: Small dumplings filled with meat, mushrooms, and/or other fillings wrapped in a thin, flour-based dough. Variations exist throughout Russia.

What's the deal: Pelmeni are kind of like a cross between Chinese jiaozi and Polish pierogies, are extremely common, and were initially popular because they stayed preserved when frozen and, well, everything in Russia is kind of frozen for a good part of the year. They're also super easy to cook... just boil the frozen ones, and they plump right up. So yeah, this is kind of like the proto frozen food. Totino's owes them a debt of gratitude.

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Borsht
What it is: A hugely popular traditional beet soup that is served both hot and cold.

What's the deal: Like Grandmaster Flash, Russia's got beets for days. Well, centuries really, and no Russian menu is complete without this signature beet soup, which can be eaten at any temperature and can be modified with the addition of potatoes, cabbage, dill, or Melle Mel. It's also the reason that white carpets are a dangerous prospect throughout Mother Russia.

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Blini
What they are: Thin, wheat-based pancakes, frequently rolled up into a crepe-like dessert.

What's the deal: Russian food has a definite French influence (just look at how quickly Gérard Depardieu's naturalization papers went through!), and it's no more evident than in the blini. A thicker version of crepes, the pancakes are often rolled up and filled with cream, but can veer savory too. On special occasions ("DEPARDIEU DAY 2015!!"), they come with caviar, making for perhaps the most baller version of a dainty French food ever.

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