Category Archives: Ukrainian

Sour Cherry Babka with Quark Cheese & Maple Glaze Recipe


Keep the Metamucil close, because I’m coming at you with this totally irresistible, incredibly addictive Babka with sour cherries, quark/cream cheese and maple syrup glaze. This brioche-like Babka is an awesome culinary cross between Slavic and Jewish Easter recipes. It’s a great sweet bread to make few days in advance of Easter and keep it at the room temperature or in the fridge (while secretly cutting slices at night when no one can see you devouring it with melted chocolate drizzle and ice cream).

The maple syrup glaze made with one of those gorgeous maple products you procured the other day at the SS fair will have time to get absorbed and you can add a fresh layer of it just before serving.

The down side of this yeasted cake is that you have to find half a day to make it. Allow yourself exactly 4 hours and 40 minutes to have the Babka finally baked and cooling. We made it last night, finished at almost midnight, so there will be no detailed pictures of the steps of making the dough, but I don’t think you really need them. I know the leavening part is imputed to often baking flops. Many of home bakers lambaste themselves over it, but you’ll never know until you try, right? When armed with the proper ingredients, right proportions and yeast that IS actually ACTIVE, I see no reason anyone would fail this mission.

On the upside, this Babka is incredibly deliscious and versatile with some extra additions like honey, melted chocolate, butter, maple syrup, caramel, etc. It can be stored at the room temperature for up to three days or for few days longer in the fridge.

Sour cherries give a great fresh tang balanced delicately with the cheese mix (lightened with the quark cheese instead of pure cream cheese and maple syrup to replace sugar) and spongy, yeasty dough. Simple and attainable goodness and a stunning center piece (given you saved your night trips to the fridge for the better days).

Our midnight steps… followed by some blurry final shots…

The boring part is the waiting times for the dough to rise, which on the other hand, gives you time to do many other things in between. Otherwise it’s fun to whisk, rock and roll. But if you feel that you are not yet ready for the challenge and might find the experience still humiliating, just wait till I post something much simpler but equally adorable next week.

Happy Easter Baking!
***
PS: Here are some other good ideas for the Easter breads we’ve posted previously:  
 ***
MAPLE GLAZED SOUR CHERRY BABKA WITH CHEESE
Yields: 10 to 12 portions
Ingredients:
For the Babka Dough:
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup, plus 2 tbsp plus a pinch of granulated sugar
¾ cup warm milk
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
3 cups all-purpose flour, extra for the surface
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for the bowl, pan and lining parchment paper
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp of cream for an egg wash
1 ½ cups pitted fresh, thawed or drained sour cherries
For the Filling:
6 ounces quark cheese
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 egg yolk
¼ cup maple syrup plus 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
For the Glaze:
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp milk
Instructions:
Sprinkle yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar over warm milk in a medium bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Whisk together remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, the egg, and yolk. Whisk into the yeast mixture.
Combine flour and ½ teaspoon salt in the bowl of a mixer. Add egg mixture. Beat on low speed until almost fully combined, for about 30 seconds. Switch to the dough-hook attachment. Add butter. Beat until smooth, soft and slightly sticky, for about 10 minutes.
Butter a large bowl. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface; knead for a few minutes until smooth. Place in bowl, turn to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Make the filling: stir together quark cheese, cream cheese, egg yolk, maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar.
Punch down dough. Transfer to a floured work surface. Let stand for 5 minutes. Roll out to an 18-inch square (about 1/8 inch thick). Brush edges with egg wash. Spread the filling over the dough. Top with cherries. Tightly roll dough like a jelly roll. Pinch seam to seal. Coil into a snail shape on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with egg wash.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Drape plastic wrap over dough. Let stand in a warm place until risen by half, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap. Cut six ½-inch slits into top. Bake rotating halfway through, until golden, for about 55 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake until deeply golden, 15 to 20 minutes more (cover with foil if the top gets too dark). Transfer pan to a wire rack. Let cake cool.
Make the glaze: Mix together maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar and milk. Add more sugar or milk to reach the desired consistency. Drizzle over cake. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from: Martha Stewart’s Yeasted Cheese and Sour Cherry Coffee Cake

Vegetarian Borscht Primer


Now that 2014 Olympic Winter Games are over and 70,000 gallons of what was called classic Russian Borscht were reportedly flushed down with the help of vodka and adrenalin in Sochi, I think I can finally reveal my favorite borscht recipe. This is not to bring your attention back to the Soviet food like a dreary svekolnik, listless shchi or mayonnaise-drenched salads – all of which celebrity food critic Jay Rayner called ‘miserable in every way‘. Rather, I really wanted to share a wonderful recipe of the great vegetarian borscht with cabbage, Porcini, beans and of course BEEEETS, which I guarantee will make your heart beat happily. A Ukrainian friend from Toronto shared this recipe with me almost a decade ago. It was so good it became my vegetarian borscht primer. I made small additions to it over the years (swapping cultivated for wild mushrooms, adding a splash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of spices to create a serious depth Porcini, a touch of organic cider (which I home-made last summer) and cumin can offer in soups. Voila, deep yet clean flavored borscht, which I like to punch with anchovy-garlic-parsley umami-drizzled croutons when serving.
Beets are relatively unpopular in the West, but their liver cleansing, heart strengthening and anti-inflammatory powers have been known in Eastern Europe for centuries, hence the countless varieties of beet dishes which became kitchen staples there. 
Borscht became so popular in Ukraine and Russia, for example, that people were eating it three times a day. A century ago, Russian kids were even served borscht for breakfast. 
One century after. Brooklyn, NYC…
Some of these Russian kids’ descendents are in Brooklyn now waiting to be called yet for another plate of borscht
Here, in North America, the most popular beet soup established under the name borscht (Yiddish) due to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. The name stuck to it and today even the Ukrainian variety from ‘’Baba’’ is called borschtand not borshch. The New York City, namely, Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach or East Villagewould probably be the spots to sample borschtof all kind of origins at once in Jewish, Russian, Polish and Ukrainian delis, dairies and coffee shops. And so would have any other big city’s Russian-Jewish quarter on a smaller scale.   

The origin of borschtis a bit complicated and is closely connected with the cultivation of beetroot in the territory of modern Ukraine. I tend to agree with the narrative from the ‘’Russian Cooking’’ volume from Foods of the World published by Time Inc. in 1969: ‘’Ukrainians insist that they were the originators of borshch, and since there was Kiev when Moscow was a ‘’wheel track in the forest’’ they may be right. Actually, the question of who may justly claim the first – or, for that matter, the best – borshch may never be answered, for there are now more versions than can be counted or tasted. In general, Ukrainian borshch is distinguished from Russian by the presence of tomatoes, pork as well as beef, and a greater variety of vegetables, including garlic.’’  
But who am I to take a stand on the borscht’s heritage? The dish has been a subject of geopolitical irony between Russia and Ukraine forever and it looks like Ukraine has been doing some serious steps to defend what is Ukrainian lately, so there’s probably no need for my rumblings. Besides, to tell you the truth, I am frightened of one of my local Russian acquaintances and don’t want to give too much food for her inevitable anger (just kidding, darling).  Each to their own, and so I cease any further discussion of the origin of borsch and proceed to the recipe.
Now, who wants to know a great Lenten recipe of vegetarian borscht? First of all, allow yourself at least 1 hour to make a good quality borscht. Secondly, it’s important to have the right proportion of vegetables in this recipe. Since it’s hard to measure the size of veggie to a cup volume sometimes, I’d tell you my usual quantity is 3 medium-sized beets, 2 small potatoes, 1 carrot, 1 onion, ½ green cabbage head, 1 can of white beans, ½ cup of tomato coulis for the quantity of liquid mentioned below. When reconstituting dried mushrooms, I save the liquid and add it to the stock for enhanced flavor. I also believe that adding a small shot of apple cider vinegar is balancing the flavor of the borscht perfectly. In many recipes a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar is suggested to add extra sweetness, but I think if you have enough beets, there is no need for that.
It’s very important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others. Finally, timing is crucial not to overcook the borscht turning it from red, crunchy and flavorful to yellow and tasteless. Because of that I could never understand the recipes of borscht that take hours to cook.
Final tips: Borscht tastes better if allowed to sit for a few hours or overnight before serving.
Is delicious hot or cold, with or without sour cream or croutons. It also freezes well.  Enjoy your Slavic cooking experience!
***
VEGETARIAN BEET, CABBAGE, MUSHROOM & BEAN BORSCHT
Yields: 6 to 10 portions
Ingredients:
10 cups (2.5 l) vegetable stock or water
1 generous handful dried Porcini, reconstituted and minced OR 2 cups of sliced cultivated mushrooms
4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil OR sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cup (750 ml) beets, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, julienned
3 cup (750 ml) green cabbage, thinly shredded
1 can (19 oz) or 2 cups cooked navy OR white kidney beans
½ cup (125 ml) tomato coulis OR 1 cup (250 ml) of chopped canned tomatoes
2 tbsp (30 ml) organic apple cider vinegar OR lemon juice
1 pinch of ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
For garnish:
1 bunch of parsley OR 10 dill springs, chopped
1 cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
Garlic-Anchovy Croutons for an extra garnish:
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4-5 chopped anchovies and cook for a minute or until they melt into oil. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant for 1 minute. Add 2 cups of cubed stale bread (gluten free if you like) and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Toast tossing frequently for 3-5 minutes until croutons are golden and crisp.
Instructions:
Note: It’s important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others.
Add the stock or water to a large soup pot and bring to boil. In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté onion with mushrooms for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add sautéed mushrooms, onion to the boiling stock and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Add potatoes, bring to boil and simmer for another 10 minutes.
In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté  beets and carrots for 2 minutes. Add beets and carrots to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add shredded cabbage, beans, tomato juice, vinegar, cumin, pepper and salt to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender, but still a bit crunchy. Check the seasoning and skim any foam. Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaves.  Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with generous dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and parsley or dill. Serve immediately.

What’s Up Egg? It’s Easter Time(s)


It is trendy for the food blogs to mimic magazines’ practices. Fellow bloggers advance their recipes weeks before the holidays, forcing themselves (and their families) to enjoy festive food way before the holiday arrives. So they can finally relax and watch TV quietly during the actual holiday, satisfied that their readers have been informed. I still have to learn how to do that. In the meantime, I am placing this little web log about our past week-end activity, and retrieve into the process of the Easter eggs coloring.
Orthodox Easter celebration: Niko Pirosmani’s  art & old Russian poster of 1900s via Wikimedia

Officially, Easter has passed as a holiday, but what about Bulgarian, Cypriot, Greek, Ukrainian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and other people of Eastern Orthodox faith? (I have a sudden flash of memory from ”The Curse of the Jade Scorpion”movie, when people are placed in a trance where the name Constantinopleis uttered.) Well, for people of the Orthodox faith or tradition, who will celebrate their Easter on May 5th this year, it ain’t over yet. (HA, I am not so late with my news, get it?)

Easter Eggs in art, old posters and postcards via Wikimedia Commons.
Coloring eggs is a custom going as far back as to the times of Mesopotamia, when the early Christians stained eggs red to represent the blood of Christ and rebirth. From the Greek Easter κόκκινα αυγά, to Russian krashenkas, to Ukrainian pysankas, to even Fabergé tsar imperial Easter eggs, there are so many traditions, decoration techniques, rituals and applications related to eggs during Easter times!
Tapping Eggs, F Sychkov, 1917

The following method of coloring eggs might not render you some state of the art Ukrainian ”Pysankas” (above), but I’m sure it will satisfy your Easter egg need big time. Dying eggs is easy, inexpensive and sooo entertaining – kids, adults, even grandparents love to do them! No need for decal or chemical food dyes. Simple, fast and very traditional. The most important part of it is to collect enough of dry onion peels, so you can prepare your own dye. Don’t worry, the eggs will not smell like onion. I usually collect the peels during the year (whenever I remember) in a brown paper bag. When ready, cover the peels with cold water, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Voilà, your dye is ready.

Once the dye is prepared, go ahead and boil the eggs in it for a nice marble tint. Or, go for an extra mile and craft original sunprint eggs with some botanicals. For that, you will need a bunch of little green leaves, flowers, petals, or, a handmade mini-decal from paper. Once your collection is ready, take some nylons, affix your selections to the egg, tie with knots on both sides carefully, submerge into the room temperature die, bring to boil and boil for a minute. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
Rinse with plenty of cold water and release the eggs. Use as a decoration and/or a part of your Easter breakfast/lunch/dinner. We had them for brunch with some crêpes and smoked salmon:
And don’t forget to do some tapping to see whose egg is left unbroken:
RED EASTER EGGS
Ingredients:
12+ onion peels (the more the better)
12 white eggs
Instructions:
Pack the onion peel in the sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for about 10 minutes to release the maximum of color. Put aside and let cool to the room temperature. In the meantime, prepare the eggs. Fix them in nylons with botanical decals, if applicable. Submerge the eggs into the dye carefully, making sure the onion dye covers the eggs. Bring to boil, then turn off the heat and wait for 10 to 15 minutes. Chill the eggs under cold running water, place in the bowl, remove the nylons and decals and let the eggs dry. Once the eggs are dry, feel free to slightly rub them with olive oil to give them a nice shine.
Easter Greetings, B. Kustodiev, 1912
Happy (Belated) Easter Everybody!