Land Of The Tsars…
The largest country on earth in size, covering about 1/8 of the Earth’s land, Russia is a nation filled with history. But although recent history might be more prevalent in people’s minds, a story of Russia really begins with a story of the Tsars. Ivan IV (Ivan The Terrible), was the first to proclaim himself “Tsar” which is the Russian equivalent of Caesar. He reigned from 533 – 1547. During his time as Tsar, he transformed Russia from a small state to a regional power, laying the foundation for an imperial dynasty that would turn Russia into the most powerful nation on earth.
He was succeeded by his sons, who promptly died shortly thereafter. But his wife, Anastasia, who was from a unique family, would take the throne in 1613 and begin a dynasty that would last all the way into the early 20th century. They were the Romanov Dynasty, and they would rule over Russia for 300 years.
The Romanov Dynasty:
During this time, Peter The Great would expand Russia to the Baltic Sea, capturing his dream of giving Russia a powerful seaport. There he would build the city of St. Petersburg and create the worlds greatest fleet of ships, many of which would be built by those taught by Peter himself. After his death, his daughter Elizabeth II came into power. During which time she would defeat the Prussians, only to have them given their lands and titles back by her son after her death. Her son, Peter I, was generally regarded as an imbecile, and he would hold the title of Tsar for a little over six months, before (in traditional Romanov fashion), a coup would find him killed. His sister, who would later become known as Catherine The Great, ascended to the throne.
Below is part one of two parts of a video series called Russia: Land of the Tsars, which tells the story in more detail than I have…enjoy!
End Of The Monarchy:
During this time the Age of Enlightenment was sweeping across much of Europe. she was followed by Alexander I, who would go on to defeat Napoleon in Russia, eliminating over 95% of his army during a particularly harsh Moscow winter. After him was Nicolas I (his younger brother), who led Russia into the Crimean War, an attempt to claim what was left of the Ottoman Empire, which ended in the defeat of the Russian Army by French, English and Turkish forces. This would see the start of various uprisings and a coming of the end of the Romanov dynasty and the Russian Monarchy.
The end of the monarchy would culminate with the unsuccessful war with Japan, the desolation of the entire Russian Navy, and Bloody Sunday, in which hundreds of peaceful protesters were fired upon by the royal army during a peaceful demonstration in Moscow. This would spark the Russian Revolution of 1905.
World War I:
Russia entered WWI because of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia. Although the would eventually prevail, destroying much of the Austria-Hungarian army, massive casualties and civil unrest sparked yet another revolution in 1917. During this time, Nicholas I, who would be the last Tsar of Russia, was forced to relinquish power. He and the entire family were captured and sent to rural Siberia. Later they would be sentenced to death by firing squad by a charismatic leader who would change Russia’s future…his name was Lenin.
Soviet Russia, Stalin and WWII:
A Civil War had broken out between Lenin’s Red Army and the anti-communist “White” movement. The Red Terror and The White Terror saw millions of deportations and executions carried out by both sides. At the same time this civil war was taking place, Other world powers were attempting to destroy the communist movement unsuccessfully. By the end of the civil war famine and poverty reigned, and millions of “White” supporters had fled the country.
Shortly before his death, Lenin would align Russia with 15 other countries forming the largest union in the world, known as the USSR. Russia was it’s largest member and Moscow its capitol city.
Following Lenin’s death in 1924, a Troika was formed, wish would see the leadership of the nation shared between 3 people. One of these was Joseph Stalin, a charismatic leader and proponent of communism who would gather enough support to abolish the Troika and assume supreme leadership. He would oversee what would be known as the “Great Purge”, in which hundreds of thousands of the Bolshevik Party were executed in order to “cleanse” the party.
Lenin would go on to become supreme ruler over Russia’s ruling party, and his theme of Socialism in One Country would be the prevailing policy. This theory of strength from within would see the launching of a planned economy, nationalization and industrialization of the country. Also during this time, millions of activists and those with opposing views were sent to labor camps.
During this same time, Germany was beginning to expand into Czechoslovakia and Austria, and threatened Russia’s border’s. Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, aligned with Japan who was a known enemy of Russia. On june 22, 1941, Germany broke a peace treaty and invaded Russia, starting what would be known in Russia as The Great Patriotic War and in many history books as World War II.
The Cold War:
The cold war was a clash of ideologies between the USA and Russia. It was sparked by America’s involvement in rebuilding Europe after WWII, but was even more deeply rooted in the inherent differences between Socialist and Capitalist ideals.
During this time, Americans and Soviets were in an arms race to acquire nuclear weapons. There was a global threat and things like the Red Scare and the McCarthy Trials became examples of a growing fear in the US. This would also play out in the space race, culminating when the Russians launched Sputnik I, the first satellite launched into space. Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first human in space on April 12, 1961.
If you want to know more about the cold war…watch this great video from the YouTube series, Crash Course.
The Russian Federation:
In 1991, the USSR was dissolved into 15 post-Soviet states. Boris Yeltsin became the first elected president of Russia that same year. The privatization of their economy would see years of economic hardship. Today, Russia is still a country in flux, struggling to find its footing after years of socialist policy and a new, capitalism-influenced economy.
I apologize for the very long history lesson, but now it’s finally time to do some cooking!
For our Russian dish, we are going to be cooking Beef Stroganoff with noodles. Now, traditionally, Stroganoff is not served with noodles or rice, but we wanted to have something to soak up all of the wonderful sauce, so we settled on pasta noodles as a nice alternative. You are welcome to go even more traditional and eat this by itself, or with rice. And of course, since this dish includes white wine in the cooking, I would suggest that you have a glass or two while you are cooking, and also with your meal!
- 850g Boneless Sirloin Beef (see if you can buy Beef Stroganoff chopped directly from the butcher).
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 4 Tablespoons Butter (56g)
- 1 Tablespoon All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
- 2 Teaspoons Tomato Paste
- 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
- 1 Cup Sour Cream (warmed)
- 2 Medium Onions – Chopped (1 Tablespoons will be minced)
- 200 – 250g Mushrooms (Brown or White)
- 2 Tablespoons Dry White Wine
- 2 Cups Pasta (any type will do…we used sprial noodles because that’s what we had)
The first step is to tenderize the beef (assuming your beef is already chopped into pieces). Put the salt and pepper on the beef and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
While this is going, you can go ahead and prepare the rest of the ingredients for cooking. First slice your two small onions. Set aside 1 table spoon of onion (about half a small onion). You will need to mince this either by chopping very finely, or using a food processor as we ended up doing. Next, chop the Mushrooms into slices.
Go ahead at this time and get a pot of water going so that you can time the pasta to finish with the stroganoff.
The first step in the cooking process is to heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan that will hold everything. Fry the onions (minus the 1 tablespoon of minced onion) until they are clear or about 5 minutes. Add in the beef pieces and fry them until they are just browned or about 2-3 minutes.
Stir in flour and mustard powder and cook for 1 more minute, and then add the 1/2 cup of white wine and the tomato paste. Turn the heat down to low. stir through and then let simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. (Stir Frequently)
In another pan, heat up the remaining half of the butter and then add the mushrooms and minced onion, Cook this for about 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft and have absorbed all the moisture.
By this time, your water should be boiling so if you haven’t already, go ahead and add the pasta to the boiling water. This will need a few minutes to cook, depending on the type of pasta you are using. You will know its done when it starts to float to the top, or you can bite to check the inside of the pasta is cooked.
Go ahead and submerge the sour cream container into hot water, which will warm the sour cream in preparation for adding to the beef mixture.
After the beef has finished simmering for 10 minutes, add the mushroom mixture to the large pot and cook for about two minutes or until heated through.
The last step is to stir in the sour cream and heat through for about 5 minutes on the lowest possible heat. make sure that it does not boil.
At this time, drain your cooked pasta and then lay a bed of pasta on a plate. Cover that with your cooked Beef Stroganoff and enjoy!
For a few other interesting things about Russia….
- Russia spans 11 time zones
- Russia is a transcontinental country, extending halfway around the northern hemisphere and covering much of eastern and north-eastern Europe and the whole of northern Asia
- In terms of population, Russia is the ninth largest country in the world, even though it’s the world’s biggest country
- There are 221 museums, 2,000 libraries, more than 80 theaters, 100 concert organizations, 45 galleries, 62 cinemas and 80 club establishments of culture in St Petersburg
- Russians never shake hands over a door way, they believe it leads to arguments.
- Russian language does not include a word for ‘the’ or ‘a’ which is good because these often lead to confusion in other languages
- Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet instead of the Latin and is one of the 5 most spoken languages in the world
- The Urals are the oldest mountains in the world and lake Baikal is the world’s deepest lake and the largest reservoir of fresh water on earth
The Trans-Siberian Railway:
The Trans-Siberian Railroad is the longest railway in the world, connecting Moscow with the Far East.
It is well-known that Russians have a particular fancy for Vodka. Russians claim the drink was invented by them. (although it is highly debated).
We could go on like this for pages and pages….but I will stop here and leave you with this: An excerpt from the Boshoi Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky…
For our recipe, we used a guide from Food.com which was an old recipe from the Russian Tea Room in NYC.
Also I should probably credit Wikipedia, Youtube and Google for helping with the daunting task of writing down Russia’s history in one blog post….
Whew that was a long one!
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