If the peoples of Eastern Europe have one thing in common, it is their love of home-cooked flavourful dishes made from fresh seasonal produce. Certain foods such as hearty soups topped with dumplings, robust stews and casseroles, dense wholesome rye breads, sweet and savoury stuffed pancakes, fiery horseradish sauce, pickled vegetables, speciality grain dishes, beetroot salads, savoury little pastries and a whole host of desserts, pastries and cakes made with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and poppy seeds, are all typically Eastern European.
Likewise, the lavish use of the distinctive flavourings of paprika, dill, caraway seeds, sour cream and yoghurt helps to provide the region with its unique culinary identity. Winter-hardy crops such as root vegetables and cabbages form the mainstay of the northern diet, whereas aubergines, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and olives give the southern dishes an altogether more Mediterranean flavour. The emphasis in all of the countries is very much on preserving all types of produce, so vegetables are traditionally dried, pickled or bottled for use when they are not available fresh.
The orchards of central and southern parts of Eastern Europe are very productive and a wide variety of fruit is grown, much of it dried, bottled or made into jam. Almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts also feature in both sweet and savoury recipes. Although a wide range of meat-free dishes is enjoyed on certain days of the year for religious reasons, many people still find it hard to believe that anyone would avoid meat by choice and the concept of veganism is not widely understood. But with so many of the basic ingredients highly suitable for the vegan diet and dairy-free alternatives to even sour cream increasingly available, there is now plenty of scope to sample the culinary delights of Eastern Europe at home.