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Dishes of Hutsul cuisine — cook them and enjoy them
Hutsul cuisine, though basically Ukrainian, also has some unique features. Mariya Kotsyshyna offers recipes for traditional Hutsul dishes and some age-old traditional Hutsul dishes, wishing, hoping at the same time that the dishes that you cook using these recipes, will give you at least some idea what Hutsul food is like.
Mariya Kotsyshyna offers recipes for traditional Hutsul dishes
Kulesha — Hutsul bread
Hutsul bread, kulesha, looks and tastes very much different from what “regular” bread that comes in loaves or sticks of various sizes, colours and shapes, is. If you see kulesha without having been warned that it is “bread,” you’d never guess it is.
It is made from corn (maize) flour.
Take about half a kilo (a pound) of corn flour, about 50 grams of brynza (brynza is made from sheep’s milk; if you do not have brynza, any soft, salty cheese would probably do). Boil a litre of water in a pot (desirably, it should be of a cauldron type), salt it and put the flour into the water, gradually pouring it from whatever container you had it in, stirring what’s in the pot sitting over slow heat all the time. Keep stirring the mass in the pot, clockwise, as its consistency gets thicker and thicker. If it refuses to become thick enough, add some more flour and a spoonful of butter. When the kulesha mass stops sticking to the spoon you stir it with, your Hutsul bread is cooked. After it cools sufficiently, get the kulesha out of the pot onto a flat plate. If you are dexterous enough, shake it out of the pot, overturning it, in one sharp shake — it will preserve the shape. If you fail to do it, you’ll have to get whatever has been left in the pot with a big spoon.
Make several dents in the kulesha surface and place there butter and brynza. Fried pork, chicken meat, mutton or smoked meat are particularly good to eat with kulesha. Milk, sour cream, huslyanka (baked sour milk), or borsch make an excellent meal with kulesha.
Kulesha is wholesome and nutritious; incidentally, it contains very useful minerals and gold — in minute quantities, of course. Hutsuls are hearty eaters but they are not prone to corpulence — probably because they eat kulesha.
When a married woman makes kulesha, she takes care to make it free of any small lumps. Hutsuls believe that the number of lumps in the kulesha is equal to the number of lovers this woman has had. So it’s better to make kulesha lump-free in order to avoid rows and scenes of jealousy.
Holubtsi — cabbage and various kinds of stuffing
There is an all-Ukrainian dish called holubtsi. Basically, it is cabbage leaves rolled and stuffed with minced meat and rice, but in different parts of Ukraine and in different seasons, the ingredients of the stuffing varies.
In Hutsulshchyna, skromni holubtsi for Christmas dinner are stuffed with corn (maize) grains which are first fried in oil with garlic (corn grows well in Hutsulshchyna). And the cabbage leaves used are not fresh but salted and fermented. Also, Hutsuls make holubtsi using beet leaves rather than cabbage, and add chopped fat or meat into the stuffing together with corn grains. They are very popular, particularly at wedding parties, baptism parties and church feasts or other celebrations. But on other occasions it is also good to have such skromni holubtsi on the table.
Holubtsi, Zakarpatsky style
Ingredients: 6 kilograms of cabbage heads; 2 kilos of pork brisket; 300 grams of lard; 300 grams of sour cream; onions, 3 or 4 spoonfuls of tomato sauce; ground black pepper, salt.
Cut out the cores of cabbage heads carefully so as not to allow the cabbage leaves fall apart; boil for several minutes in salted water. When the cabbage cools off, separate the leaves and remove the big veins. Slice the meat thinly, pound it, salt and pepper the slices. Put a slice of meat and onions fried in lard onto each cabbage leaf and roll it into a scroll but not too tight. Place several twigs in a crisscross manner or several cabbage leaves on the bottom of the pot (a large saucepan will do) in which you will cook your holubtsi (to prevent them from getting burned), and place the rolled cabbage leaves with meat and onions inside one by one, very close to each other in rows and layers. Pour boiling water on the top of them (do it very carefully to prevent the cabbage rolls from unrolling) for the water to cover the holubtsi, add salt and lard, and let it simmer for about ninety minutes. It is desirable to cover the pot with the lid. Add tomato sauce and sour cream mixed together, and put the pot into the hot oven for about thirty or forty minutes.
In Hutsul villages, before the advent of modern gas or electric stoves with ovens, holubtsi were placed in earthen pots, lids were made of dough, and the pots were placed in ovens which were heated by the fire produced by burning wood. And for some reason, everything cooked in those old stoves tasted so good!
For mushroom lovers
Hutsulshchyna is a land rich in mushrooms — bily, shushurebky, shchitky, huby, kozari, lysychky, holubinky, ryzhky, pidpenky and other species of mushrooms (it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to find corresponding names for these mushrooms in the English language — tr.) can be found in abundance in Hutsul forests. Some of the mushrooms are safe to eat; others, like holubinky, come in different varieties, some of which are edible, but others are poisonous, and only the locals will be able to tell you for sure which is which.
Some men like any mushrooms,
I like only delicious ones.
Some men like any girls,
I like only beautiful ones.
When the fall comes,
We’ll go hunting for rizhky,
When the spring comes,
We’ll go hunting for opryshky.
Mushrooms are a good substitute for meat and are widely used as food. One of the twelve dishes cooked for Christmas Eve dinner is a mushroom dish which ranks third after kutya (boiled rye or wheat grains and sweet sauce), uzvar (drink made from dried fruit) and varenyky (stuffed dumplings).
One of such mushroom dishes is called shukhy.
Ingredients: 1 kilo of red beets, 100 grams of dried mushrooms, 2 onion bulbs, 100 grams of vegetable oil, 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, vinegar, sugar and salt.
Boil the beets without peeling; then peel them, cut into thin strips, sprinkle with vinegar or with lemon juice. Simmer one onion bulb, diced, in oil. Slice the other onion and dice the dried mushrooms which are to be boiled to softness first. Do your best to slice and dice into very small pieces (Hutsuls, if they see large pieces in their shukhy, explain with indignation, “Have you used an axe to cook this dish, or what?”). Squash the garlic cloves, and then mix all the ingredients together; add salt and sugar to taste. This dish is to be served best on an earthenware dish.
Hutsuls cook it for all kinds of occasions, not necessarily for Christmas dinner.
Mushrooms can go excellently together with meat in one dish too. One of such Hutsul dishes is pechenya z hrybamy. If it’s cooked properly, it melts, as they say, in your mouth. Ingredients: 1 kilo of beef; 1 kilo of potatoes; 2 or 3 onion bulbs, half a kilo of mushrooms, 200 grams of margarine, 200 grams of sour cream, 3 spoonfuls of flour, salt and pepper.
“Approach your cooking with abandon,” advises the Tibetan wisdom. We shall add — cook when you are in a proper mood, and remember that the way to the man’s heart lies through his stomach. Wash the meat, remove the membranes, cut the meat into strips, half the palm of your hand wide, across the fibbers and pound the slices. Salt the slices, dip them into flour and fry in margarine over intensive heat. Remove the meat from the skillet and in the fat that accumulates during frying simmer mushrooms with onions, sliced thin. Place two spoonfuls of margarine into a cauldron-type pot, then place potatoes, cut into thin round slices, then the meat, then the mushrooms and onions; build the next layer with potatoes and mushrooms and onions. Add salt and pepper to each layer. Pour in a glassful of water and simmer for about an hour. Waiting for the dish to cook to doneness, sing songs, make up your face, take care of your hair and nails — in other words prettify yourself before serving the dish. When the potatoes are cooked, add a glassful of sour cream and shake the pot for the sour cream to go through all the layers all the way to the bottom. Wait for another ten minutes and serve with vegetables and meat arranged on the plates in a beautiful way.
A good mood at the table for the whole family is guaranteed!
Photos have been taken at the restaurant Kolyba
in Kyiv by Oleksiy Onishchuk