Vegan in the winter… in Russia. 

This post is an update on how I’m managing life as a plant based vegan in Russia and how I’m planning on coping in the winter. I just want to make a mini disclaimer here and say that I’m not an expert in nutrition, and I’m relying on recommendations from sources that I trust (NHS UK, How Not To Die by Doctor Gregor, for example). I’m just giving ideas and suggestions here, I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to live / that this works for everyone.

But first a little history on Russian cuisine: for centuries, Russians have eaten meat and fatty/carb-y foods throughout the winter to keep them going because it gets so so cold (as much as -20 degrees Celsius!). Through all of the famines and civil wars and sieges that the people have had to deal with, it makes sense that their diet always includes a high calorie source of protein and fat (aka meat and dairy) with some kind of carb.

In previous decades, the thought of being vegan in Russia would have been laughable… so very difficult. But fortunately the word is spreading and veganism is on the rise even here in Russia. I’ve actually read accounts of people being raw vegan in Siberia, so if they can do that there, then you can definitely be vegan anywhere. Just sayin’. However, there are definitely less vegan ‘junk food’ products – as in, the more processed stuff. Vegan burgers, sausages, fake cheeses, etc. In my first post about my initial discoveries about being vegan in Russia, I talked about soy milk and yogurt – check that post out by clicking on this link here. There aren’t as many plant milk options either so far as I know… I’ve only managed to find a few in Stockman (the Finnish shop) and Kompas Zdorov’ya and they tend to be more pricey. [edit: after further exploring, I found the aptly named shop Veganika (Веганика) – it’s near Cadovaya metro station and sells cheaper plant milks, massive blocks of tofu, and pretty much anything else you might want as a vegan (ice cream, yogurt, etc. And it’s not too expensive!) check it out when you come to St P.]

This is what I’ve discovered from researching online – and some of it applies to meat eaters too.

Things to focus on:

Vitamin D. This is crucial for everyone. The days get so dark that you literally don’t really see the sun. It is easy to get deficient in vitamin D and that can lead to a calcium deficiency which is damaging to your bones. It can also lead to other problems like depression etc – Seasonal depression especially. I was recommended this brand of vitamin d drops which I bought in an аптека (apteka – like a chemists. They can be found everywhere). They were just over 200 roubles, so about £1.50ish.

Vitamin B12. You should probably already be taking this, vegan or not, because there are few reliable natural sources of b12 anymore. B12 is a bacteria that grows in the soil, and when we wash our vegetables/use insecticides etc. this washes it off. B12 is crucial for your nervous system, and becoming deficient can cause serious health consequences. You don’t need to be taking it every day, but once a week is recommended. You can get tablets or a spray fairly cheaply in a health food shop or online. Here in Russia the aptekas would sell it.

Iron. Spinach, potatoes, beans and lentils are my friends here. Oh, and chocolate of course.

Vitamin C and A – winter squash and any fruits (especially citrus) that you can get your hands on. The great thing is that winter squash has both of these nutrients and it’s in season in the winter (hence the name). I’ve managed to find little pots and bags of it frozen, but buying fresh usually gets you more bang for your buck (as they say). Fortunately oranges are cheaper than apples at the moment so I’m getting a lot of those in but the prices do change.

Healthy fats – dark chocolate, tofu, avocado (if you can get it and it’s not too expensive), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc), and seeds (flaxseed, chia, tahini / sesame, etc). Avocado is pretty expensive here, so only rely on this if your budget allows. You can buy tinned olives here fairly cheaply and olive oil is also available. I go to Kompas Zdorov’ya/Veganika for flaxseed butter (yes it’s a thing) and peanut butter / tahini. I also buy olives fairly cheaply from supermarkets. Your body will turn to fat to burn for fuel to keep warm so make sure you stay stocked up on these!

Carbs – where possible go for whole grain – so oats, rice, pasta, buckwheat (it’s really cheap here), potatoes (if you can get sweet ones every once in a while for the extra beta carotene and vitamins, but ty are pretty expensive, sadly). Rye bread is cheap too and nutritious, Russians eat this at breakfast lunch and tea most days! It’s a staple here and definitely worth a try to make the most of being in Russia. Likewise with the buckwheat. You can also get some vareniki (dumplings) which are stuffed with potato, beans, spinach or pumpkin which are vegan friendly, just make sure you check the ingredients/apply the benefit of the doubt rule (read my last post to find out more about that).

Colourful and green veggies – peppers, beetroots, spinach, kale (if you like it – I personally don’t!), cabbage (especially red cabbage which has a great nutritional profile). Winter squash again fits in this category. I find that frozen spinach from Stockman is cheaper. Also frozen broccoli. And look for sales (скидка / скидки). Vegetables tend to go up in price or disappear from the shops at this time of year so you might have to budget to pay a bit more for them if you can’t find anything cheap.

Fruit – yes, even in winter you can get some fruits! Bananas are usually available year round, and although they will be imported and aren’t local, they are better than nothing and are great for stuff like potassium etc. In Russia cranberries are pretty cheap because they can grow in colder climates, and they pack a serious nutritional punch. I get them frozen to add to my porridge (oatmeal) in the mornings but also because they are cheaper this way.

Dried fruit. Dates, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, etc. are widely available here too.

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Vegan in Russia??? 

I’ve been wanting to do a post like this for years because there aren’t many out there on the internet and I was freaking out thinking I wouldn’t have any food when I was researching before actually coming. Here is my advice so far. 

From the get-go, tell the people doing your application that you’re vegetarian/vegan. I told my reps and the year abroad people helping me with my application, I also emailed the coordinator of the RLUS course, and I wrote clearly on my home stay application that I was vegan. I also requested to be able to cook for myself. This is important!

Fortunately, my home stay owners let me cook whenever I want and I have a little fridge and freezer space. They are so kind and are always offering my their fruit or rye bread/whatever bread they have at the time, and my host babushka Zoya is always offering me her friends’ homemade jams and compotes which she gets given and they are delicious! She even let me have some leftover boiled rice that she didn’t need the other evening so I didn’t have to cook anything! 

During the first week, I spent around 1,500 roubles (about £15) on food for a weekly shop… but that’s a rough budget and in England I normally have £20 so I might have to buy some more food to keep me going to the weekend, but we’ll see.

I buy a lot of vegetables and I look for what’s in season or which vegetables you spend less on per kilogram. The way it works here in Russia and in most European countries is you get the amount you want in a plastic bag, weigh the bag, select the number of the vegetable you are weighing (should be on the sign above the place you found that particular food item) and then you hit that and it prints you a little sticker with a bar code and the price on it. You stick this on the bag and away you go until you pay for it all at the end at the till. There aren’t many vegan meat substitutes, such as burgers etc, in the supermarkets.

I tend to go for aubergines (eggplant), squash and cucumbers and tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, buckwheat and millet – buckwheat and millet are a bit like rice but more widely eaten in Russia so they are cheaper, although rice is also pretty cheap! Pasta is a bit more expensive. There are tons of varieties of bread and all of them are fairly cheaply priced, especially rye bread. Pre-made sauces and things like olives and olive oil are more expensive, but not much more. It’s cheaper than in England anyway. You can get tinned beans and also dried ones, but lentils are a lot cheaper. Oh, and potatoes!! They are only about 40 roubles per kilogram if that!! I found a shelf of various kinds of plant milks in a Finnish supermarket called STOCKMANN (CTOKMAHH) – I bought an unsweetened alpro soy milk. I also saw some tofu, not an amazing brand, but guys it exists out here. I wouldn’t expect to find it in normal Russian supermarkets though. Apparently Spar is the place to go for stuff like that, and it’s all over St P so hopefully I’ll get my hands on some soon, although it’s not crucial to my survival. I just like tofu once in a while!

Vegan heaven!

You can buy fruit and veg from little stalls on the street, but bear in mind that you have no idea where they were grown or what pesticides were put on them etc so it’s probably better to buy in a supermarket. I am going to try out Lime supermarket (a friend recommended it) and if you buy their discount card (100 roubles) you get everything cheaper and rack up points and things. Anything they don’t sell in Lime I can always get in Stockmann which is just over the road anyway. Another store I’ve been recommended trying is called Dixie (Дикси)… but so far I haven’t visited one yet.

For restaurants – use Happy Cow. Just type it into Google and type in your location. You’d be surprised at how many vegetarian friendly ones you’ll find. There’s a chain of restaurants called Ukrop (Укроп) which are vegetarian/vegan and have great prices. Also pretty much any cafe/restaurant will sell boiled rice, buckwheat and some kind of salad so you can mix those together and bring your own beans or something if you need a bit extra. Check out this article written by my friend Michaela about the top vegetarian/vegan places to eat in St Petersburg to get an idea of what’s out here.

I think my biggest tip of all is to just be prepared. Forward-think and bring things in tupper-wares, things you’ve prepared at home.

Another policy I’ve lived by since a friend told me about it is the ‘benefit of the doubt’ policy. She spent her year in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, and she had a vegan friend out there. (If she can be vegan in Siberia, you can be vegan in Russia).  Sometimes you just have to choose the best option that’s available and not get hung up on whether it has an animal product in it or not. For example, on my first night here, my host offered me some waffles (the sweet wafer ones, not potato waffles or american breakfast waffles). They are probably mostly made with flour and sugar and water, but could possibly have butter or milk in them. I didn’t know, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt and tried one. I didn’t want to be rude. If it’s once every now and then, it honestly doesn’t matter. Otherwise you might risk alienating people if you’re too rigid about it. That’s the reality, especially if you aren’t a native and you’re trying to get settled etc. Maybe in a few months I’ll know the place better and have a better routine or even have moved out with some Russian friends and be able to have a bit more say in what ingredients are in my food, but for now I am going to make do.

Your main priority is, after all, to learn Russian and experience Russia and get stuck in. So letting food get in the way will only make it miserable.

These are some of my tips so far and how well I’ve done in my first week. I might do an updated post later in the term if things have changed and once I’m into the routine a bit more. Sorry there isn’t that much in it, but I wanted to try and encourage those out there that might be put of setting foot in Russia thinking that they won’t get catered for. Vegetarianism is much more well-known now in Russia, especially amongst the younger generations, so don’t worry and don’t let it put you off.

Until next time!!!

 

[UPDATE: I found a health food shop that sells cheap but good quality tofu (100p/roubles) and soy yogurt (90р/roubles) and pretty much everything else you’ll need as a vegan (helloooo peanut butter with no sugar, oils, salt and other additives). It’s called Компас Здоровья (Compass Zdorov’ya) and it’s on Садовая ( Садовая, 38, МО №2 “Сенной”) not far from Sennaya square metro station (Сенная площадь). I’ve also bought soy mince really cheaply from there for about 70-75 roubles. ]

Голубци (Golubtsy)

Golubtsy is a traditional Russian dish made with cabbage (капуста – “kapoosta”), rice (рис – “rees”), usually meat (мяса – “myasa”) although for this recipe I’ve subbed lentils (чечевица – “chechevitsa”), herbs and a tomato sauce (томатный соус – “tomatny saoose”) on top. I first tried it when a friend of mine invited me over for some Russian food… she was in her 4th year so she’d already been to Russia (she actually went to St Petersburg!). In any case, they were so delicious… we stuffed our faces and there was still enough for leftovers!!

My recipe has a couple of different parts to it. It’s still simple ingredients and fairly easy, but more fiddly than most recipes I post on here. Seriously though, don’t let that put you off – if you can, give it a try. It’s amazing!

 

Ingredients:

1 cabbage. Can be red or green. I haven’t tried using savoy cabbage yet but I think it can work too.

 

For the filling:

1 stick celery, chopped into small chunks.

1 carrot, (medium) chopped into small chunks.

1 cup red lentils, washed.

1/4 tin chopped tomatoes

1/4 carton of pasata (or just use another 1/4 tin chopped tomatoes)

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 onion (I used red)

2-3 garlic cloves

~ 1 tbsp each Italian herbs, basil, oregano, ground coriander

4-5 mushrooms, chopped small (optional but I used them).

generous splash red wine vinegar

1 cup cooked brown rice (can use white).

 

For the topping:

4 tbsp. Tomato Puree.

8 tbsp natural unsweetened soy yogurt (I used a brand called Sojade from my local health food shop)

2 tbsp olive oil. (Optional)

 

Method:

  1. Put the rice on – I rinse it first then add one cup of rice and 2 cups of water and let it cook until there’s hardly any water in the pan when you stir it, then turn it off and let the rest steam off.
  2. Meanwhile, saute onion and garlic in a pan (I used some water to do this but you can use oil if you want).
  3. When these have browned, add the lentils and chopped veggies (carrots, mushrooms, celery.
  4. Add the tomatoes and the puree and stir in well. Leave to simmer until the veggies are soft and the lentils are cooked. Should take 15-20 mins.
  5. Last of all add the red wine vinegar (generous splash!) and the herbs. Turn off and remove from the heat.
  6. Before step 5 – bring a large saucepan full of water to the boil. Chop the heart out of the cabbage – this is the stem. Cut around it but angle the knife so you cut the whole stem bit out. Then put it (carefully) into the boiling water.
  7. After about 5 mins, carefully remove the cabbage and peel the first few leaves off. They should be really flexible but not fully cooked/soggy. Put the cabbage back into the water and repeat this step until you have most of the bigger outer leaves done. Run them under cold water to stop the cooking process and keep to one side.
  8. Once the rice and the lentils have cooled a bit, mix the lentil mix with half of the rice together in one pan. You might not need all of the rice – you’re aiming to disperse the lentil mix evenly but not make it too sparse with the rice.
  9. Pre-heat the oven to 180c / 350f.
  10. Take your first cabbage leaf and lay it out in front of you.
  11. Spoon about 1 tbsp of the rice-lentil mix into the bowl part of the leaf. Bend the stalk bit over it as tightly as you can, and then fold both sides of the cabbage leaf in tightly on top of that. Then roll the rounded package bit forwards to the end of the leaf. It should form a little package.
  12. Repeat this until the mix is gone / you run out of cabbage leaves. Place the finished rolls on grease proof paper on a baking tray and put to one side.
  13. For the sauce: Mix the tomato puree and the oil in a pan on a low heat until smooth. Add the yogurt and stir until smooth and warm. Remove from heat and pour generously over the cabbage rolls on the baking sheet.
  14. Bake in the oven for 25-35 mins until the sauce has set and the cabbage leaves have browned evenly. They should be really soft and easy to cut into. If they aren’t then put them in the oven for another 5-10 mins. If you’re worried they’ll get too brown or burn, try cooking them in the microwave for a few minutes instead to finish them off.
  15. Remove and eat! You can serve these with buckwheat too 🙂

 

Autumn Chilli


This recipe should seriously warm you up after a chilly day (couldn’t resist the pun, sorry!!). It’s so chunky and delicious I couldn’t stop serving myself bowlful after bowlful! Feel free to adapt the recipe to your dietary needs but this is vegan 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium bell peppers (one green one red or yellow)
  • 2 28oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup puy lentils, washed (or 1 more can kidney/pinto/black beans)
  • 1 28oz tin chopped tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 16 oz carton pasata
  • 2 sticks celery, washed and chopped into little Cs
  • 2 carrots, peeled chopped into circular chunks
  • 5-6 big mushrooms or 8-10 mini ones chopped chunkily
  • 1 tsp vecon stock paste (optional – this one has no oils/salts or animal by products so that’s why I used it)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano (or use mixed herbs)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • Optional extras: 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped, one aubergine, chopped chunkily.

Method:

Sauté the onion and garlic in water/lemon juice/olive oil on high heat until browned and the flavour has come out, then add the spices.

Add all of the chopped veggies and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the spices and stir around so they have time to be absorbed by the veggies. If it looks a little dry then add the tinned tomatoes.

Add the tinned tomatoes and pasata and turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the oregano).

Leave cooking on low heat until the lentils are cooked through.

Serve over a baked potato or rice.

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Alternatively, you can just throw all of the ingredients into a slow cooker/rice cooker/ instant pot and it will do the work for you!!! For the instant pot I put it in and pressed ‘rice’ and then left it on the keep warm setting for another 10-30 minutes.

 

 

 

News!

This post is going to be a little bit different from the normal update ones. We’re gonna get kinda deep and personal. You’ve been warned! So this was probably kinda obvious really from my previous recipe posts from over the last few months… You might have noticed that none of them had meat or animal products in the ingredients list. So yeah… the reason for this is, in short – I’ve gone vegan.

Shock, horror! Doomed to a life of celery sticks and hummus… maybe salad too. Heck no. Hopefully I’ve already proved that that is definitely not the case! I’ve honestly really enjoyed the journey so far, and I know that when I first started this blog I was all ‘Paleo is the best – paleo is amazing!’. Thing is, I was eating sooo much meat. I was probably not eating enough carbohydrate. And I was eating tonnes of fat and anywhere between 2-6 eggs a day. So I gained about a stone, I felt horrible, and my digestion was messed up. My fitness was going down-hill because I felt so unconfident and the injuries I was getting definitely didn’t help (might do a post about this sometime soon as I’ve had some interesting developments in this area.)

I don’t really know how I initially heard about the vegan diet/how it got brought to my attention. I never thought I would ever go vegan. Ever. It’s actually more a surprise to me than my friends and family in some ways! I think I started watching some youtubers videos which I’d stumbled across by accident. I don’t know, but they recommended the Starch Solution…. and I read it. I also watched Cowspiracy and Earthlings, and I was shocked. Shocked at the environmental effects of the mass production of meat and dairy. Shocked at the mal-treatment of the animals. I had no idea just how bad the situation was. I guess hadn’t been exposed to the truth of things as I wasn’t a big documentary watcher (when you do A-Levels you don’t have enough time to breathe let alone watch tv programs or YouTube channels!!)

I think before, I was kinda like, oh the animals are just given an injection or something and its all kind and stuff. Also, as a Christian, I believed what my parents had always told me – and what they’ve been told themselves their whole lives about food – which is that animals were given to us to eat. That  meat is protein, that milk is calcium. I also had this (silly) prejudice about vegans and vegetarians – that they were sickly and ill all the time because we need meat to be healthy, that they were all silly people that were overly emotional about animals. I was so wrong.

Having overcome an eating disorder in my past, I wanted to be careful. I didn’t want to cut out major food groups and end up wasting away again, going back to where I started over 3 years ago now and picking up the pieces. Thank goodness I am stronger than that shadow of a girl I was – I know now that I am the daughter of a King who loves me just as I am – I am perfect in his eyes. Everyone has bad days, but this truth has taken hold in my heart deep down and I’m not letting it go this time.

That’s why I did my homework. I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be restricting my body from the nutrients it needs. Its a temple and it needs nourishment – especially after what I’ve put it through. Turns out, I don’t need to restrict at all with a vegan lifestyle. I can eat such a massive variety of foods, and know that I won’t be deficient in any way – but also that I am healing the damage done in the past, ensuring a better, happier future, having thousands of lives and helping my world be a healthier place in the process. I’m still working things out, but this has been such a positive step for me and I am glad that I know I am doing it for the right reasons.

This decision might not make sense to everyone – I get it, I used to eat meat too, remember? But I don’t miss it. Not even a little bit. This lifestyle suits me well. It’s compassionate and positive. And I needed a little more of that! I think everyone does 🙂

I’m not asking you to agree – I’m just being real about my decision. Maybe it’ll only last a year. But sometimes these things have to be tried. Feel free to comment about what you think and if you have any questions, I would so love to hear from you! This is probably the first time I’ve mentioned my eating disorder in a post, and if it strikes a chord with you then a) I’m sending you a massive hug – it’s a tough place to be and so painful emotionally and mentally; b) You can conquer this! It doesn’t have to ruin your life; c)  I really recommend a lovely lady who has an amazing YouTube channel and I wish I’d known about her when I was going through all of that stuff. It’s called Thisgirlaudra. I might post more in the future but I know that this is a sensitive topic so I want to be careful about how I talk about it.

Anyway… that’s a lot off my chest. I just wanted to be real and honest. Hope that’s ok 🙂 Until next time, just know that I am ok, I’m doing great, I’m surrounded by my amazing family and friends, and I’ve never been more happy to be alive!

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P.S: I’m gonna make a Why Vegan page hopefully to just explain a bit more about what’s going on and why I feel like it’s really important in terms of the animals and the planet. Stay tuned 🙂