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A Plate Delicious!

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    Posted: 22 July 2014 at 11:51
I’ve always been kind of jealous of those who can trace their roots back several hundred years. For me, the world began in 1912 when my grandfather immigrated to the U.S. Everything before then was a sort of secret life.

Based on hints and suggestive comments, I’d always thought we were of Russian extraction. My great grandfather, it seems, had changed his name to avoid conscription in the tsar’s army. Of course, the children were never told the original name. My grandfather immigrated primarily for the same reason.

Thus, I lived nearly six decades thinking I was Russian. Then my sister got involved in genealogy, just about the time the Mormons had posted the complete Ellis Island records on line. Working backwards, she was able to determine the name of the ship Granddad had traveled on. And based on that, she was able to trace him back to his home village---which, it turns out, was in the Ukraine.

So, just as we did a themed Hungarian meal to celebrate Friend Wife’s roots, it only makes sense that we do one on Ukrainian food, to celebrate mine. Truth to tell, however, I didn’t know the first thing about Ukrainian foodways. So designing the meal entailed a major research job, with many hours spent on the internet, and the acquisition of three Ukrainian cookbooks.

Turns out I had a head start. Although there are some significant differences, overall the cuisines of Russia and the Ukraine are so similar that you’d need strong reading glasses to tell them apart. But there are other influences, and regional differences as well. For instance, the further west you move in the Ukraine, the more their dishes resemble those of Galicia and Poland. Which just makes sense.

I did run into one problem, which can be traced to one of the few pieces of family lore than came down to me. When my grandfather landed on U.S. shores, back in 1912, he had very little English. A friend took him to a restaurant, where, so far as he was concerned, the menu might as well have been written in Greek.

Trying to be helpful, the waitress pointed to a particular dish and said, “this is delicious.”

“Okay,” Gramps said, “bring me a plate delicious.”

My problem, in trying to design a menu, is that every recipe I read sounded like a plate delicious. So limiting choices was a real chore.

Contributing to the problem is the way Ukrainians serve. Typically, preceding the actual meal, is a separate appetizer table. A selection of appetizers, called “zakusky” is put out first, and they celebrate the “zakusky hour” before the meal.

This was a surprise to me, as we don’t think of that sort of thing associated with eastern Europe. But, given the Turkish influence on Ukrainian food, this makes sense. Think of it as a mezze table served before the meal.

We wanted to follow that concept. But it would result in an incredible amount of food; far more than we’d ever eat at one sitting. So we decided to split it up, and serve a zakusky table for lunch, then a multi-course meal for dinner. That worked out fine.

No matter what else goes on the table, there are two iconic Ukrainian dishes that should appear on a themed meal such as this: Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage) and Borshch (beet soup).

There are, literally, dozens of fillings used with the stuffed cabbage, so choices are endless. One difference, when using a meat filling, is the ratios of meat to grain. Typically, in other regions, there is a heavy meat component and a little rice. That’s how my mother made it, for instance. Ukrainians tend to go the other way, heavy on rice on low on the meat. Didn’t matter much in our case, because we decided on a buckwheat filling.

Borshch is the Ukrainian national dish. Although it is served (under different spellings and pronunciations) throughout the region, Ukrainians claim it was first developed in their country. And a good case could be made that they are correct, even though the soup is often associated with Russian and Jewish/American cuisines.

Dumplings of all kinds, but, particularly the Ukrainian version of perogie called Varenyky, can be found as part of almost every meal. As with the Holubtsi, stuffings---both sweet and savory---abound.

Noodle puddings are endemic to the region, again in both sweet and savory versions. This time we opted for a sweet version, to be used as dessert.

Ukraine, long known as the bread-basket of Europe because of its wheat production, naturally is a land of breads. Many of them, as with Greece, are celebration breads, associated with specific holidays and events. We initially thought a black bread would be a good choice. But, in the end, choose a sour-rye as something that would better accompany the various dishes. I’ll post the recipe we use for sour-rye in the bread forum for those interested in making it.

All in all, we decided on nine dishes, divided between the two meals. As it turns out, each of them truly was “a plate delicious.” Here are out choices:

Zakusky Table

Nachyniuvant Yattsia (stuffed eggs)
Marynovani Oseledtsi (pickled herring)
Marynovani Bryby (marinated mushrooms)
Triska V Pomidorovomu Sosi (cold cod in tomato sauce)
Borshch (beetroot soup)

Dinner

Prysmazbena Perepilka Iz Tertoyu Lushpynkoyu Pomaranchi Ta Medom (Crispy Fried Quail with Orange Zest and Honey)
Nachynka Na Bolubtsi Z Bechanoyi Kasha (Holubtsi With Buckwheat Filling)
Varenyky Z Kartopli (Potato-stuffed Dumplings)
Lokshyna Z Yablukamy (Noodle Pudding)
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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The Zakusky Hour

Nachyniuvant Yattsia
(Stuffed Eggs)

As noted, fillings for stuffed eggs are limitless in the Ukraine, with fish (particularly herring) and caviar noteworthy. We decided to go with a sardine filling.

6 hard cooked eggs, split lengthwise, yolks removed and reserved
1 can skinless & boneless sardines
½ small onion, minced
1 dollop mayonnaise or sour cream as preferred
1 tbls spicy mustard
1 tbls capers
Salt & pepper to taste

In a bowl, mash the sardines and egg yolks until well blended. Mix in the onion.

Combine the mayonnaise, mustard, capers, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add to the sardine mixture. Combine well.

If necessary, cut a thin slice from the bottom of the egg whites so they stand upright. Divide the mixture among the egg whites, mounding the filling in the cavities.

Arrange the eggs on a serving platter.


Marynovani Oseledtsi
(Pickled Herring)

In the interests of time---and the fact schmaltz herring isn’t available around here---we went with a commercial version of this. But it you’d like to make it from scratch, here’s a recipe from Annette Ogrodnik Corona’s “The New Ukrainian Cookbook:”

2 schmaltz (salted) herring filets
1 cup milk
1 large onion, thinly sliced in rings
½ cup white vinegar
1 tbls sunflower oil
4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sugar
Chopped fresh parsley or dill for garnishing

Soak the herring in the milk, covered, in the fridge for at least three hours.

Rinse the herring fillets with cold water (discarding the milk) and pat dry. Cut the fillets into 2-inch pieces and place in a glass dish, along with the onions.

Bring the vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaf, sugar, and half cup water to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

When the vinegar mixture is cool, pour it over the herring and onions. Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley or dill.

A variation, which we prefer, is to mix a half cup of sour cream with one tablespoon vinegar and one teaspoon of sugar. After the herring has marinated, mix with the sour-cream dressing, and refrigerate again for several hours before serving.

Ukrainians are second only, perhaps, to Hobbits in their love of mushrooms. There are, literally, hundreds of ways of preparing them, and it’s a rare meal that doesn’t include the fungi. Marinated mushrooms are particularly popular as part of a zakusky table.

Marynovani Bryby
(Marinated Mushrooms)

2 lbs small mushrooms, halved if necessary
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup tarragon or white vinegar
6 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
½ tsp sugar
8 small sprigs fresh tarragon or equivalent

Put the mushrooms in a large non-reactive bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Let sit ten minutes.

Put the mushrooms in a no-reactive pot large enough to hold them and add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and add the salt, stirring to dissolve it. Lower heat to medium-low and gently cook the mushrooms ten minutes.

Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Strain the cooking liquid, rinse the pot, and return the liquid to it. Add the vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaves, and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, five minutes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Pack the mushrooms into a quart jar, layering them with the tarragon. Add the cooled marinade. Cover the jar with a non-reactive lid and refrigerate at least six hours or up to three days (preferred).

Triska V Pomidorovomu Sosi
(Cold Cod in Tomato Sauce)

Although usually served as part of a zakusky table, this fish can be served as a hot main dish as well.

2 lbs cod filets cut in potion-sized pieces
¼ cup sunflower or olive oil
Juice of one lemon plus 2 tbls additional
½ tsp salt
3 tbls sweet butter
4 leeks (white parts only) finely chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
½ cup tomato paste
2 cups fish stock
Bouquet garni consisting of a bay leaf, 6 peppercorns, 6 allspice berries, and 4 cloves
1 tbls capers, rinsed and drained
1 tbls honey or to taste
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat broiler. Rub the cod pieces on both sides with oil, juice of one lemon, and salt. Broil the fish about three minutes per side until flaky, basting with pan juices. Remove the fish to a serving dish and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the leeks. Gently saute the leeks until soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and continue cooking another five minutes or until the tomato sauce starts to brown, adding a little more butter if necessary. Increase the heat to high, add the fish stock and bouquet garni, and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the sauce for 20 minutes.

Remove the bouquet garni and discard. Add the remaining two tablespoons lemon juice, capers, and honey. Continue cooking another two minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more honey if necessary. Pour the sauce over the fish, col, and then refrigerate a few hours before serving garnished with the parsley.

Borshch
(Ukrainian Beetroot Soup)

A thesis could be written about the history and variations of borshch, and it’s place in the cuisines of central and eastern Europe. Even so, Ukrainians---who are passionate on the subject---claim to have originated it, and there is ample evidence indicating their claim being valid.

1 ½ lbs stewing beef
6 tbls olive oil, divided
4 quarts beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 tbls salt
3 medium potatoes, cubed
½ head cabbage, shredded
1 large onion, chopped
3 med carrots, shredded
3 large beets, shredded
2 med tomatoes, peeled, seeded & diced
½ tsp black pepper
1 tbls fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbls fresh dill, chopped
1 tbls fresh basil, chopped

Dice meat into ½-3/4-inch cubes. Heat a large soup pot with 4 tablespoons oil. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the stock, bay leaves, and salt. Bring to a boil on high heat, lower heat, and simmer until meat is tender, about an hour. Skim any gray foam as necessary.

In a large skillet heat the balance of the oil. Sauté the onions until tender, about five minutes. Add the beets and carrots and sauté until softened, about ten minutes. Add the tomatoes and sauté another 5 minutes.

Once the meat is tender add the potatoes and boil until almost done, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook 5 minutes. Add the sautéed vegetables, pepper, and herbs. Bring to boil then turn off heat. Remove bay leaves. Cover and let rest ten minutes.



But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Ukrainian Dinner

Prysmazbena Perepilka Iz Tertoyu Lushpynkoyu Pomaranchi Ta Medom
(Crispy Fried Quail with Orange Zest and Honey)

If you can’t find quail, substitute small Cornish game hens, increasing the cooking time appropriately.

6 quail
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 tbls sweet butter
2 tbls sunflower oil
3 tbls fresh orange juice
2 tbls grated orange zest
3/8 cup light flavored honey such as orange blossom or clover
Sprigs of parsley for garnish

Butterfly the quail and remove the breast bones. Cover each bird with waxed paper and gently pound with a kitchen mallet until flattened. Sprinkle both sides of each bird with salt and pepper.

Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and when bubbly place the birds skin-side down in the skillet. Cover the birds with something flat, such as an ovenproof plate, and then place a heavy object (such as a brick) on top so the quail are firmly pressed down. Cook until the skin is deep golden and crispy, about five minutes. Turn the birds over, re-weight, and cook the other sides for another five minutes. Pierce a thigh and if the juices run clear the quail are cooked.

Mix the orange juice, zest, and honey together in a small bowl. Generously brush the mixture over the top of each quail, flip them over and let cook for about one minutes. Brush the tops with more of the orange-honey mixture and flip them over to sear the other side for about one minute.. Immediately remove the quail to a warmed serving platter and garnish with parsley. Serve any extra orange/honey mixture on the side.

Nachynka Na Bolubtsi Z Bechanoyi Kasha
(Holubtsi With Buckwheat Filling)

“Holubtsi” translates as “little” or “dearest pigeons.” There is no record of anyone ever using pigeon as a filling for them. But just about anything else has been used, ranging from meat, to grains, to cheese, to veggies. We opted to use my own kasha & mushroom side dish recipe as the filling.

The basic procedure is the same, no matter the filling.

In a pot large enough to hold it, put a cored cabbage head. Pour enough boiling water into the pot to cover the cabbage. Cover and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Gently peel the cabbage leaves away from the head. Over time you may have to replace the boiling water and let the cabbage sit awhile longer.

Trim the heavy ribs from each leaf. Then use the leaf halves as wraps for the filling.

Put a spoonful or two of the filling near the bottom of each leaf half, adjusting the quantity to the size of the leaf. Fold in the sides and tightly roll the leaf. If necessary, seal these packages with a toothpick. Or arrange them on a pan, seam-side down.

Holubtsi can be cooked either on the stovetop or in the oven. My mother always made her stuffed cabbage wet, braising it in a tomato sauce on top of the stove. My research revealed that Ukrainians often bake it instead. So that’s the way we went.

1 large cabbage, separated
1 recipe kasha with mushroom onion sauce (see below)
4 tbls bacon drippings
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cups chunky tomato sauce
2 tbls tomato paste
1-2 tbls brown sugar
Salt

Prep the cabbage as above, retaining any trimmings and extra leaves to be used as a lining for the baking pan.

Saute the onion in half the bacon fat until slightly colored. In a medium pan, heat the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add the onions, along with any oil left in the pan. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Cover the bottom of a Dutch oven or covered casserole dish with cabbage scraps, to keep the rolls from sticking. Arrange cabbage rolls in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with some of the remaining bacon fat, and top each roll with some of the tomato sauce. Continue layering in that manner until all the rolls are used. Top with another layer of cabbage scraps.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cover the dish tightly and bake two hours.

Kasha with Mushroom Onion Sauce

2 cups cooked kasha (buckwheat groats)
5-6 tbls bacon grease
4 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 cups onion, thinly sliced
3 cups beef or chicken stock
3 tbls arrowroot
3 tbls water or additional stock
Salt & pepper to taste

Saute mushrooms in bacon grease until golden brown. Add the onions and continue cooking until they turn color. Add stock to pan.

Make a slurry of the arrowroot and liquid. Add to pan, stirring until very thick.

Combine kasha with the sauce and use as a stuffing for Holubtsi.

Varenyky Z Kartopli
(Potato-stuffed Dumplings)

Ukraine is a nation of dialects, and the same dish often has different names. Varenyky, for instance, are also known as pyrohys, especially in the western part of the country. Some authorities say that “pyrohys” stuck on the tongue of Ukrainian/Americans and Ukrainian/Canadians (there are 300,000 people of Ukrainian decent living in the Canadian prairie provinces alone), and came out as “pirogue.”

While I’m sure those of Polish extraction would argue the point, these stuffed-dumplings are wonderful no matter where the name originated.

For the dough:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 tbls sunflower oil or melted sweet butter, plus more for sprinkling
Potato onion filling

Put the flour and one teaspoon salt in a food processor and mix together. With the motor running, add the egg yolks and oil through the feed tube. Then add 7-8 tablespoons cool water, a few tablespoons at a time in a slow and steady stream. When the dough clumps together around the blade, remove it and place on a lightly floured board or counter. Knead the dough until just smooth, about three minutes. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest 15 minutes.

Make sure your chosen filling is well chilled before using. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/16 inch thick. Alternatively, use a pasta machine to roll out the dough. Cut the dough into four-inch circles.

Put about a tablespoon of the filling on one side of each circle and fold the other half over it to form half-moons, making sure the edges are free of filling. Crimp the edges with your fingers or the tines of a fork. The edges must be well sealed, or the filling will leak out when the varenyky are cooked.

To cook: Bring eight or ten cups of water to boil in a large pot, seasoning it with a teaspoon of salt. Gently drop the varenyky into the water, a few at a time. Don’t overcrowd the pot. Gently stir the water with a wooden spoon to keep the varenyky from sticking to the bottom. Boil for three to six minutes (depending on the thickness of the dough) until the dumplings are puffy. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Transfer them to a large, shallow dish and sprinkle with oil or melted butter to prevent them from sticking together. Cover the dish to keep them warm until all are cooked.

Verenyky are served with a selection of toppings, such as sour cream, fried onions, crumbled bacon, etc.

Z Kartopli
(potato filling)

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbls sweet butter
2 ½ cups mashed potatoes
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper

Saute the onion in a small skillet in the butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool and then add to the mashed potatoes along with the salt and white pepper. Chill well, then use to fill Varenyky.

As an alternative, stir in one cup of grated cheddar cheese before chilling.

Lokshyna Z Yablukamy
(Noodle Pudding)

Egg noodles, eggs, and various flavorings are combined into puddings throughout eastern Europe. Both sweet and savory versions are prepared. This time we opted to make a dessert version. As with the herring, we chose to use commercial egg noodles. Ukrainian housewives would make their own.

Unlike, say, a Jewish kugel, this Ukrainian pudding does not call for eggs to bind it together, so produces a much looser, softer texture.

4 tbls sweet butter
½ cup dry breadcrumbs
2 cups wide egg noodles, homemade or commercial
¼ tsp salt
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
1 tbls fresh lemon juice
½ cup light honey, such as clover or wildflower
¼ cup raisins
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Chopped toasted walnuts and heavy cream as a topping (optional)

Melt two tablespoons butter in a large skillet until fragrant and bubbly. Add the breadcrumbs and stir constantly until the crumbs are coated and toasted, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook the egg noodles in plenty of salted boiling water until just al dente; drain and put into a large bowl. Toss the noodles with the remaining butter and the salt.

Combine the apple slices, lemon juice, honey, raisins and cinnamon in a large bowl and add half of the buttered breadcrumbs. Add the hot noodles to the bowl and toss gently.

Grease a 6 x 9-inch rectangular casserole dish with some butter. Spoon the noodle mixture into the pan and sprinkle with the remaining buttered breadcrumbs. Cover the pan with foil and bake 30 minutes, or until the apples are tender. Serve portions warm with a scattering of toasted walnuts and a splash of heavy cream.



But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Resource Guide

The internet is truly your friend when researching something like Ukrainian food. Search under “Ukrainian Food,” “Ukrainian Culture,” “Ukrainian Cuisine,” for starters. And be sure and follow the search engine suggestions for alternatives.

In addition, I consulted three (of many) Ukrainian cookbooks. They are:

The New Ukrainian Cookbook, Annette Ogrodnik Corona, Hippocrene Books, New York, 2012
The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine, Bohdan Zahny, Hippocrene Books, New York, 1994
Ukrainian Cuisine with an American Touch and Ingredients, Nadejda Reilly, Xlibris Corp, Lexington, KY, 2014






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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 July 2014 at 12:29
  Wow Brook!  Thanks for sharing a little piece of your life with us...that's truly a wonderful story.  You're lucky you write so well, otherwise we'd demand you buy a digital camera!


   thanks for sharing!
Enjoy The Food!
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Thanks Dan. This one was a real labor of love, as you can imagine. And I've discovered a whole new part of my previous life. You can bet we'll be incorporating many more Ukrainian dishes into our meals.

Lucky? I dunno. But if I couldn't write good I'd have had to spend my life working for a living. A scary concept for sure.
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 July 2014 at 16:36
Exemplary and magnificant text and magnificant récipes.

Thank you for such a fascinating read.

Have a nice summer.
Margaux Cintrano.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 July 2014 at 22:04
Brook - your two previous themed meals were really nice, but I can say without a doubt that this is your best yet! My catalogue of adjectives is embarrassingly limited, but I will go with "outstanding!" 

The selected menu is truly a slice of Ukraine, and your notes provide helpful information for the recipes - but the real trait that launces this one into the stratosphere is the personal story that comes through. I can't help but know that this meal (pair of meals, actually) was ndeed a labour of love for you - and also a personal journey ~

As you know, I have a special place in my heart for Ukraine - thank you very much for sharing this one with us ~

Ron
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 August 2014 at 06:24


Tas,

I agree that the text of the author´s personal account is a truly fascinating and remarkable read.

Thanks dear. Have a wonderful summer.

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