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Aha, Borscht! Oho, Varenyky!
Borscht is a dish of traditional Ukrainian cuisine that has won a trully international fame. though often served in russian and polish restaurants abroad, it is of an Undeniable ukrainian origin. varenyky is another ukrainian dish of a wide fame. reading the essay that follows will make your mouth water.
Volodymyr Suprunenko, courtesy of Baltia-Druk Publishers.
The list of traditional Ukrainian dishes which have been cooked in Ukraine for hundreds of years — pampushky, halushky, kovbasy, pechenya, uzvar, to mention but a few, attests to the variety and wholesomeness of Ukrainian cuisine.
Borscht arguably tops the list of the most popular traditional Ukrainian dishes, and you will surely find varenyky to be high on the everyday foods agenda wherever you go in Ukraine.
More than any other traditional dish, borscht reflects the Ukrainian national character and to some extent even the Ukrainian national and ethnic history.
The traditional image of the Ukrainian Cossack with a long lock of hair on the otherwise shaved head, long, handlebar moustaches and a tobacco pipe in the mouth becomes complete only when you add a plate of borscht on the table in front of him.
Varieties of borscht are as many as there are specific geographical and cultural regions of Ukraine in the south, north, east and west of the country. There is though “a common denominator” of borscht all across Ukraine, no matter where you go.
Some variants of borscht include up to twenty ingredients, among them: cabbage, red beets, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, beans, pumpkin, marrow squash, all sorts of green things like parsley or parsnip.
The color of the dish is very important too. The color of true borscht is supposed to be a range of various shades of red.
In the southern land of Odesa and its environs borscht has, among its ingredients, duck, chicken and even fish! Odesa is well known for its “multiculturalism”, and borscht also reflects these “multicultural” influences.
For the Ukrainians of Poltavshchyna borscht goes with halushky (sort of dumplings). In some cases, it is just one big halushka that goes into your plate of borscht.
When the process of cooking is nearing its finale, a final touch is required. It is called zapravka or zatovka. Without it, borscht will not achieve that rich flavor which makes it truly borscht. Zapravka (from the Ukrainian verb zapravlyaty, which has several meanings, one of them is “to season” food) also varies from place to place and from cook to cook. A popular zapravka is made of small pieces of hard pig fat, chopped onions and garlic which are fried slightly together and then added to the fiery borscht.
In some places people make a dish called “white borscht”. It is cooked in an amount of water, taken from a deep well, a chicken is boiled with chopped carrots and whole onions; when the chicken is cooked and the soup cools off, chopped hard boiled eggs are mixed into a good measure of thick sour cream, and then are added to what now becomes borscht.
In fact, there is such a thing as “green borscht” too. No beets are used for it either. Its main ingredients may include sorrel, nettles, parsley and other green things, potatoes, carrots. Chopped hard boiled eggs, green onions and sour cream are added when the green borscht is served.
In the Lands of Zhytomyrshchyna, Rivnenshchyna, and Volyn mushrooms come to the fore as one of the more important ingredients used to make borscht. Mushrooms can be boiled or fried separately and then added to the borscht too. If you cook your borscht in wintertime, you can use dried or pickled mushrooms.
In the regions of the Carpathian Mountains borscht is as popular as elsewhere in Ukraine. Mushrooms and beans regularly feature among the ingredients.
But most of the recipes contain such ingredients as cabbage, red beets, potatoes and carrots.
Enjoy your true borscht in Ukraine!
Varenyky is one of the traditional staple foods of Ukraine. In fact, many people would find life drab and lacking in good quality if they don’t have their varenyky as often as they can.
Varenyky feature in folk tales, in sayings and riddles.
It is not only Ukrainians who make dumplings stuffed with all sorts of eatables. Russian pelmeni, Uzbek manty, Georgian khinkali, Italian ravioli, Lithuanian koldunay, Argentinean empanadas all have fillings of some sort. Some of them resemble Ukrainian varenyky.
Another name for varenyky in western Ukraine is pyrohy, particularly if they are stuffed with soft, cottage cheese.
In the opinion of the cognoscenti of varenyky, only wheat flour of the finest grind can provide the right kind of dough for varenyky. Some varenyky makers believe that neither eggs nor salt are any good for making dough — freshly curdled milk is particularly good for making the dough with. The dough must be kneaded long and well to make it springy and yet soft, and not of too thick consistency — the consistency must make it possible to roll the dough thin — that’s how your varenyky will be likely to come out right.
Then the dough is left to “rest” for a little while covered with a piece of damp cloth for a half hour. The dough is rolled smooth and thin shape, pieces cut out of the dough and a tea spoonful of the stuffing is placed into the center of each would-be varenyk, the edges are carefully and thoroughly sealed over the filling by being pinched together.
The filling is the soul of the varenyk, and its skin must be resilient and strong enough to keep the stuffing inside until the moment the varenyk finds its way into your mouth. What is chosen for the stuffing depends on the season of the year, local traditions and personal tastes. Ground meat, soft cheese, cabbage and mashed potatoes are probably among the most popular fillings for varenyky; among the more exotic ones we find mashed beans, dried pears, poppy seeds, boiled buckwheat; a wide variety of berries, fresh and dried, provide excellent fillings for varenyky (varenyky with sour cherries are fantastic!).
Varenyky is a natural, wholesome food — you till the land, you grow grain, you make flour from this grain, you go to the forest and collect berries — and you don’t depend on anybody else for your food!
Varenyky stuffed with soft cottage cheese is something special again. It’s a great treat both for the young and the old. Such varenyky have eggs and sugar added into them, and when they are boiled and then served hot, they are lavishly buttered and thick sour cream is heaped on top. Once you start eating them, you stop only when you feel that you are going to burst at your seams.