When it comes time for Russian soirees, there’s no shortage of little bites, known in Russian as zakuski, that precede the main event. Personally, I’ve always been of the zakuski persuasion myself, enjoying the generous spread and often skipping the main course all together.
The word zakuski comes from the word zakusit, meaning “to have a snack”, but really it’s more of a vodka chaser than anything, which would explain why the assortment of various zakuski always includes pickles, herring, tiny meat pies, diminutive bread slices with bites of caviar or salami, and potent salads. The idea is to awaken your palate, to make you hungry for the meal to come. But for me, it’s always meant that my favorite snacks were together in one place.
One of my favorite zakuski family members is this intensely garlicky beet salad that’s ubiquitous at any family gathering. Russian delis also sell them by the quart, making it almost pointless to spend time making your own. But as I’ve tried to use as much organic produce as possible, it’s worth that extra effort.