Fasting periods, especially during Lent, have long been a challenge for Russian cooks and diners. The period of fasting before Easter in the Orthodox Church means 48 days of abstinence from meat, dairy products and eggs, as well as various other food restrictions on different days.

The complete schedule of Lenten food regulations looks challenging, but each year strict Orthodox communities cook meals in accordance with Church rules. Somehow, they manage to create special dishes that are both nutritious and pleasant to taste. These dishes are cooked without meat and dairy products, so they’re suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.  

Grechniki, are cutlets made of buckwheat, and they’re an interesting example of quaresimali Lenten cuisine. Their name derives from the word grecha, which is buckwheat. Grechniki are a traditional meal known and loved for centuries — simple, inexpensive and substantial.

“Why to break your fast spoiling the soul if everything is delicious enough already?” asks the boy hero in the autobiographic novel, The Summer of the Lord, by Ivan Shmelyov, which describes the life of a czarist-era Russian merchant family and its religious traditions. In this chapter, the boy is anticipating grechniki along with potato cutlets, fried buckwheat, vegetables and various types of baking as examples of traditional delicious quaresimal food.

Grechniki can be cooked in slightly different forms — as a variation of pudding, cut into pieces before being served, or made into small cutlets or meatballs if you want them to look similar to common meat dishes. Buckwheat holds its shape for these recipe variations.

Although grechniki look humble, it would not be a violation of Lenten restrictions to make the dish smarter, decorating them with potherbs and serving with fresh vegetables.

How to make it:

Ingredients:

  • 250 g buckwheat
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp rusk flour
1. Scour the buckwheat, then place in pot or pan with 3 glasses of water and start cooking. When the water boils, remove any foam if necessary.

2. Add salt, close the pot or pan tightly and continue cooking on low heat for about an hour.

3. When the buckwheat is almost ready, cut the onion and grate the carrot, then mix and fry on a pan, adding a pinch of salt.

4. Mix the buckwheat with the onion and carrots. If you prefer spicy-flavored food, you can also add some spices, such as pepper, nutmeg or cumin.

5. Form the cutlets and roll them in rusk flour.

6. Grease the baking pan with oil, then place cutlets and put into a preheated oven of 130° C (270° F). Bake for 15 minutes.