White Borscht

Before I was introduced to this recipe, I thought that borscht was always a deep red, beet-based soup. I now know that borscht means “sour.” The sour tang in this soup comes from soaking sourdough bread in the broth, puréeing it, and incorporating it into the finished soup, along with crème fraiche which is stirred in just prior to serving.

I made my first homemade borscht (the beet-based version) for Christmas Eve, and my husband purchased pierogies at a Polish store for the same meal. Luckily, I saw this recipe and he was also able to buy house-made garlic kielbasa for this soup. The quality of the kielbasa is very important because it is used to create the broth for the base of this soup.

This recipe is from The New York Times, contributed by Gabrielle Hamilton.  I followed the recipe closely, but may decrease the amount of butter next time- I’m not sure it was necessary! (but it was quite delicious 😉 ) It was a creamy, indulgent, and delicious upgrade of potato-leek soup. Fabulous cold-weather comfort food.

Yield: 5 quarts, Serves 10 to 12

  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds full horseshoe link of high-quality smoked kielbasa
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 3 pounds leeks (6 long, lively leeks)
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes (about 4)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 large yellow onion, small-diced (about 2 cups)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 (4-ounce) hunk of dense, very sour sourdough bread, crusts removed
  • 1 full tablespoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, woody stems removed, fronds minced

Apple Strudel

My Mother-in-Law makes this delicious strudel every Christmas Eve as part of the traditional Ukrainian 12-course feast. It is always a highlight of the meal for me. 🙂

I used tart apples (Granny Smith) but may use a combination of tart and other firm sweet-tart apples next time. I also used a mandoline to slice the apples. My Mother-in-Law has the magic touch… hers tastes better than mine, of course, but I did use her recipe! Yum.

Yield: One Strudel, about 8 servings

  • 2 1/2 to 3 tart and firm apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • lemon zest from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ground cinnamon, to taste
  • 2-3 T fine bread crumbs, plus more for sprinkling
  • 8 sheets of thawed phyllo dough
  • 1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • strawberry preserves

To Make the Filling:

  1. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. (I used a mandoline to slice the apples 1/8-inch thick.)
  2. Mix the sliced apples with the sugar, raisins, lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon, and 2-3 tablespoons of bread crumbs.

To Make the Strudel:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Unroll the phyllo dough and cover with a damp towel and plastic wrap.
  3. Remove on sheet of phyllo dough and place on a piece of parchment paper.
  4. Brush the entire surface with melted butter, sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs, sprinkle with brown sugar, and dot with strawberry preserves (use very little preserves).
  5. Repeat this process for the next 7 layers of phyllo dough.
  6. After the dough is prepared, place the filling evenly on top of the dough, starting at the shorter end and leaving 1-2 inches uncovered at the opposite end.
  7. Lift the edge of the parchment paper closest to the filling to help roll the dough and form the strudel.
  8. Place the roll, seam side down, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with remaining melted butter.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Ukrainian Winter Borscht with Vushka

We missed celebrating Christmas with our extended family this year. 😦

Traditionally, my Mother-in-Law makes all of us the meatless 12-dish Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast as part of our celebration. It is a beautiful dinner, but a major undertaking. I didn’t attempt to make the complete meal, but I did make a couple of the courses for our celebration at home. 🙂

Our meal began with a (mini) shot of vodka and a bite-sized piece of challah with honey. We ate this Winter Borscht with Vushka (mushroom-onion dumplings) followed by sauerkraut and potato-cheese pierogies, which my husband purchased from a local Polish store, as our main courses. I made my Mother-in-Law’s apple strudel for dessert, post to follow.

This recipe was adapted from Tom Birchard and Natalie Danford of NYC’s East Village restaurant Veselka, via The New York Times, contributed by Julia Moskin. (I gave my husband the Veselka cookbook for Christmas!) I incorporated some of the beets, puréed, into the finished soup. I used dumplings wrappers instead of making the dough for the dumplings. I also modified the Vushka proportions and technique.

I used beets from my CSA share for the soup, made it in advance and stored it in the freezer. I made the Vushka a day in advance and stored them in the refrigerator. The recipe states that the dumplings are optional; in my house they are essential! The soup had a spicy kick which may have been from the fresh garlic, which is incorporated at the end. I enjoyed it but may consider omitting the garlic next time.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the Borscht:

  • 2 pounds beets, trimmed and scrubbed (do not peel)
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 whole allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, more to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • coarse salt
  • mushroom and onion dumplings (Vushka)
  • chopped dill, for garnish, optional
  1. Coarsely chop beets, preferably in a food processor.
  2. In a medium pot, combine beets, 4 cups water and vinegar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beets are soft, about 45 minutes. Strain and set juice aside. (Beets can be used for another purpose, like salad.)(I puréed half of the strained beets in a Vitamix and incorporated them in the finished soup.)
  3. Meanwhile, in a deep pot, combine carrot, celery, onion, stock, bay leaves and allspice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes. Strain and discard aromatics and vegetables.
  4. Combine strained stock and beet juice and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Add sugar, garlic (if using), and black pepper. Season to taste with sugar and salt.
  6. Add half of the reserved beets, puréed, into the finished soup, as desired.
  7. Serve with dumplings and sprinkle with dill, as desired.

For the Vushka (Ukrainian Mushroom & Onion Dumplings):

Yield: 80 to 100 dumplings

For the Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cups chopped button mushrooms
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the Dough: (I used Shanghai-style dumpling wrappers instead)

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, more as needed

To Make the Filling:

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Let soften, about 10 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid and mushrooms separately.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until golden but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add button mushrooms and cook, stirring, until mushrooms have released their liquid, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drain liquid.
  4. In a food processor, combine both kinds of mushrooms.
  5. Spoon in porcini liquid, leaving behind any silt in bottom of bowl.
  6. Pulse together until finely ground but not pasty: about 3 or 4 pulses. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

To Make the Dough: (I used dumpling wrappers and continued at Step 8)

  1. In a small bowl, combine egg yolk, oil and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water and whisk 1 minute.
  2. Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in center. Add a third of the egg mixture and lightly mix in with fingers or a fork. Repeat 2 more times.
  3. Using hands, fold dough together until soft: if crumbly, gently work in more water; if sticky, add flour.
  4. Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead 3 minutes.
  5. Form into a ball, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate 45 minutes.
  6. Lightly flour a work surface and a pan or board for the finished dumplings. Divide dough into 3 sections.
  7. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll each section out until very thin and in a rough rectangle.
  8. Use tip of a sharp knife to cut dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. (I used a 1 1/2-inch square cookie cutter as a guide. Each dumpling wrapper yielded 2 squares. If using square dumpling wrappers, each one may be able to make 4 squares. Next time!)
  9. Cover the cut dough with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out.
  10. Drain any excess liquid from filling. Place 1/4 teaspoon filling in center of each square. (I found it helpful to pre-scoop the filling and place it on a cutting board because it dried it out slightly.)
  11. Wet the edges of the dough and fold squares in half to form triangles, sealing filling inside.
  12. Pinch the 2 opposing corners together to seal tightly, use water if necessary.
  13. Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with plastic wrap or a floured surface: do not stack.
  14. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  15. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook dumplings until they float, 2 to 4 minutes. (If cooking frozen dumplings, cook until they rise to the surface and add 2 minutes.)
  16. Drain and serve in hot borscht, about 10 per serving, or just with sour cream.

Traditional Ukrainian Easter Bread Podil’ia Style (Podil’ska Paska)

Happy Belated Easter! We were very lucky to enjoy beautiful weather yesterday. 🙂

I like to bake new Easter breads to serve for our holiday breakfast. This year, I looked through my Ukrainian cookbook collection for a paska (Ukrainian Easter bread) recipe.

My mother-in-law has given me several Ukrainian cookbooks and there were many variations of paska to choose from- all quite different from one another depending upon the region of their origin. Traditionally, a paska or babka is an essential part of an Easter breakfast. Many are beautifully decorated with a cross, braid, or birds. This version is more of a cake, with batter, and did not have dough that could be used to decorate the top.

The recipe was adapted from Festive Ukrainian Cooking by Marta Pisetska Farley. According to the book, this paska recipe, from the northwest province of Podil’ia, is at least a hundred years old! It is a golden paska, reminiscent of the sun, and is similar to a sponge cake.  It was very rich and indulgent.

Yield: One 9 or 10-inch cake

  • 1 cup dry white bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 10 large or extra-large eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 4 T powdered sugar
  1. Line the bottom and sides or a 9, 10 or 12-inch springform pan with parchment paper. (Because I used a 9-inch pan (smaller than the original recipe suggests), I cut 7-inch tall pieces of parchment paper to line the sides of the pan, buttered on the portion lining the walls of the pan and sprayed with cooking spray above the walls of the pan.)
  2. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F, preferably on convection.
  3. Sift the bread crumbs until fine, then sift again with the flour baking powder, and spices.
  4. Add the grated lemon and orange zest.
  5. Separate the eggs.
  6. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the egg yolks with the granulated sugar until thick and pale, about 3 minutes.
  7. Add the vanilla and beat again.
  8. Fold the bread crumb mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
  9. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold them into the batter until no white streaks can be seen.
  10. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until set or a toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour. (I was afraid that the cake would fall if I checked it too early- and baked it for 1 hour.)
  11. When fully baked, keep the cake in the oven with the door ajar, and allow to cool slowly. (The cake may fall slightly. Mine did!)
  12. When cool, remove the parchment paper and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar. Serve.

Easter Paska

Happy Belated Easter! We had unseasonably warm weather and bright sunshine on Easter Sunday in New York. 🙂 In the afternoon, we visited a local swan to admire her impressive nest.

I made this buttery and eggy Eastern European Paska to enjoy for breakfast over Easter weekend. My daughter braided the dough for the decorative cross. She did such a great job! 🙂 It was such a light and fluffy loaf- really delicious. We ate it topped with butter and jam. It was also recommended to eat with kielbasa or leftover Easter ham.

This recipe was adapted from King Arthur Flour.com. I used a bread machine to knead the dough and omitted the sugar topping. It could have been used as a beautiful centerpiece as well.

Yield: 1 large loaf

For the Bread:

  • 1 cup (8 oz) lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons/2 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups (21.25 oz) all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt

For the Topping:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • coarse sugar, like turbinado, optional (I omitted the sugar)
  1. To make the dough: Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough. (I used a bread machine.)
  2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until it’s noticeably puffy. (I placed it in a warming drawer on the “proof” setting.)
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; divide it into two pieces, one twice as large as the other. Take the larger piece, roll into a ball, and place it into a well-greased 9″ x 2″ round pan.
  4. Divide the other piece of dough into three equal pieces, and roll each out into a 20″ strand; use the three strands to create one long braid. 
  5. Place the braid around the inside edge of the pan, or use it to form a cross over the top of the larger piece of dough. 
  6. Cover the loaf and let it rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. (I used a proofing oven.)
  7. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F, preferably on convection, with a rack in the center.
  8. To make the topping: In a small bowl, beat the egg with the water. Brush the mixture gently over the top of the risen loaf, and sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake the bread for 35 to 45 minutes, or until it’s a rich golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool before cutting.

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