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.

Stovetop Mushroom Lasagna

This easy and creamy vegetarian stovetop lasagna was very well received by my family. 😉 The original recipe said that it wasn’t as pretty as a typical baked and layered lasagna, but I thought that it looked pretty appealing.

The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Sarah Jampel. I increased the amount of mushrooms and garlic. I also used no-boil lasagna noodles. It is a perfect weeknight dish.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 5 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 12 to 16 oz mixed mushrooms (such as maitake, oyster, shiitake, and/or crimini), trimmed, cut or torn into 1″ pieces (I used stemmed & quartered cremini mushrooms)
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 T thyme leaves
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 to 6 garlic cloves, finely grated or chopped
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 3/4 cups whole milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • lemon zest, plus wedges for serving, optional
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche or thinned sour cream
  • 8 to 9 oz regular lasagna noodles, broken in half (no-boil okay)
  • 4 to 5 oz mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • finely grated Parmesan, for serving
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large high-sided ovenproof skillet (preferably with a lid) or small Dutch oven over medium-high. (I used a large, wide enameled cast iron pot.)
  2. Add mushrooms and cook, undisturbed, until starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 5–7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; mix in thyme.
  3. Meanwhile, finely chop the shallot and garlic cloves in the bowl of a mini food processor.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until starting to soften, about 1 minute.
  5. Sprinkle flour over and cook, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.
  6. Add milk, pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 3/4 cups water, then finely grate zest of 1/4 lemon into pan. Stir to dissolve flour, increase heat to medium, and cook until gently bubbling.
  7. Reduce heat to low, whisk in crème fraîche (or sour cream), and stir to combine.
  8. Add about one third of noodles, pushing down into sauce to submerge, followed by a third of the mushrooms.
  9. Repeat with half of remaining noodles and mushrooms.
  10. Top with another layer of noodles. **Set remaining mushrooms aside.**
  11. Cover with a lid or foil and cook 15 minutes. (If lasagna threatens to boil over, use very lowest heat and/or prop open the cover.)
  12. Uncover; cook, gently lifting and separating noodles occasionally with tongs or a spatula to let sauce flow around, until sauce is thickened and noodles are cooked through, 6–10 minutes. Mixture should be bubbling gently; adjust heat as necessary. Remove from heat.
  13. Heat broiler. Top lasagna with mozzarella and reserved mushrooms.
  14. Broil until cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 2 minutes.
  15. Finely grate more lemon zest over. Sprinkle with Parmesan; season with pepper.
  16. Let sit 5–10 minutes. Cut lemon into wedges, if desired, and serve with lasagna.

Ina Garten’s Wild Mushroom & Farro Soup

Wow. I absolutely loved this earthy, rich, and full-flavored soup. I doubled the recipe to freeze a batch to serve for lunch on Thanksgiving Day. (I trusted Ina Garten enough to double the recipe the first time I made it!) 🙂

This recipe is from Ina Garten’s Make it Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, via thekitchn.com. I increased the amount of garlic and incorporated homemade turkey stock. I served it with sliced sourdough baguette and green salad dressed with mustard vinaigrette. Wonderful.

Yield: Serves 6
  • 1 1/2 oz dried wild mushrooms, such as morels or porcini
  • 3 T good olive oil
  • 4 oz pancetta, diced
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 2 cups (1/4-inch-diced) peeled carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
  • 2 cups (1/4-inch-diced) celery (3 to 5 stalks)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup pearled farro (5 ounces)
  • 12 oz fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems discarded, 1/4-inch-sliced
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 T dry Marsala wine, divided
  • 1 quart chicken, turkey, or beef stock
  • 3 large sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 oz crème fraîche
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. Place the dried mushrooms and 6 cups of water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta, onions, carrots, and celery and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
  3. Add the garlic and farro and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the cremini mushrooms and the 1/2 cup Marsala and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mushrooms have released some of their liquid.
  5. Meanwhile, strain the dried mushrooms through cheesecloth, reserving the liquid.
  6. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and add them to the pot, along with the strained soaking liquid, beef broth, thyme, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.
  7. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer partially covered for 45 minutes, until the farro is tender. Discard the thyme bundle.
  8. In a small bowl, mash together the flour and butter and stir into the hot soup. Simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the crème fraîche and remaining 2 tablespoons of Marsala, and taste for seasonings.
  9. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve hot.

Note: Be sure to buy “pearled” farro; regular farro takes much longer to cook.

Make ahead: Prepare the soup completely. Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat before serving.

Mushroom Tacos with Avocado-Tomatillo Sauce

More tacos to share! I served these full-flavored vegetarian tacos for our Cinco de Mayo celebration this year- with margaritas, chips, and guacamole, of course.

The recipe was adapted from The Essential Mexican Instant Pot Cookbook: Authentic Flavors and Modern Recipes for your Electric Pressure Cooker by Deborah Schneider. I used a stove top pressure cooker instead of an instant pot, but this filling could be prepared just as easily without using a pressure cooker at all. The creamy avocado sauce was amazing!

The original recipe is for “quesotacos” which the author describes as black-belt street cooking, made by browning a layer of cheese right on a griddle, scooping it up with a tortilla, and using that to wrap the filling. I opted to serve the filling over the shredded cheese in a traditional taco form. This wonderful filling is also used in enchiladas in this book. Yum!

Yield: Serves 4 to 6, with about 1 cup of Avocado-Tomatillo sauce

For the Avocado-Tomatillo Sauce:

  • 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled
  • 2 tomatillos, husked and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup diced white onion
  • 1/2 serrano chile, stemmed (and seeded, if desired)
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • leaves from 2 sprigs cilantro, chopped (about 1 T)

For the Mushroom Tacos:

  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, cut into 1-inch dice (2 cups) (I reserved 1/4 cup of the onion for the sauce)
  • 9 garlic cloves, minced (3 T)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 large portobello mushrooms, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 to 10 oz cremini mushroom, sliced or cut into quarters
  • 8 to 10 oz white button mushrooms, sliced or cut into quarters
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves or shredded fresh epazote
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 poblano chiles, roasted, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 12 corn or corn-wheat tortillas
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese or grated Cojita cheese
  • Avocado-Tomatillo sauce, for serving
  • chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

To Make the Sauce:

  1. In a food processor, combine the avocado, tomatillos, onion, Serrano Chile, water, and salt.
  2. Pulse until fairly smooth, about 10 pulses, scraping down the bowl as needed.
  3. Add the cilantro and pulse a couple of times to combine.
  4. Transfer to a bowl, then taste and adjust seasoning with salt if needed.

Note: The Sauce will keep well for 24 hours, covered and refrigerated.

To Make the Filling:

  1. Place poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  2. Broil the poblano chiles in the oven, rotating every 5 to 7 minutes, until charred and blistered on all sides. (I set my oven to Broil Max at 450F.)
  3. Wrap the chiles in the foil lining, to loosen the charred skin with steam.
  4. When cool enough to handle, peel, seed and dice the roasted chiles.
  5. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker, instant pot, or dutch oven.
  6. Sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until golden brown.
  7. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.
  8. Add the water, salt, portobello mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, and white mushrooms, then stir in the cilantro/epazote.
  9. If using a pressure cooker or instant pot, secure the lip and cook on high for 1 minute. (Alternatively, cook the mixture in a Dutch oven until mushrooms have released a significant amount of moisture and are lightly browned.)
  10. Use the quick pressure release. (I rotate the valve into a perpendicular position on the top of my pressure cooker.)
  11. Set a colander in a bowl. Pour the mushroom mixture into the colander, reserving the liquid in the bowl.
  12. Set the colander aside and return the liquid to the pot.
  13. Bring the liquid to a boil, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until syrupy and very thick.
  14. Return the mushroom mixture to the pot and stir in the black pepper, pepper flakes, and roasted and diced poblano chiles.
  15. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until heated through.
  16. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.
  17. Serve the mushroom filling in warm tortillas over shredded Monterey Jack and crumbled feta. Top with sauce, minced cilantro, and extra cheese, as desired.

For “Quesotacos”:  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly oil, place a tortilla in the pan and toast for about 3 minutes, until golden brown. Turn the tortilla and top with 2 T of Jack cheese and 1 T of feta/Cojita. Continue toasting until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes more. Top with mushroom mixture, sauce, sprinkle of cheese, and pinch of cilantro. Serve immediately.

For a Grilled Corn & Mushroom Variation: Add kernels from 2 ears of grilled corn to the pot after adding the roasted poblano chiles.

Balthazar’s Cream of Mushroom Soup

I was agonizing over what to make my mom for an early birthday dinner celebration. She is the most gracious guest and always says she likes everything she is served- but I wanted to make sure that she was truly pleased. Finally, I just asked her what she would like! (That was simple enough.) “Soup and salad. Perfect in the colder weather. Mushroom soup would be wonderful,” she said. I was happy to find this fabulous recipe from the Balthazar. We ate it with a sourdough baguette and green salad- of course! A Birthday pear and apple galette was our celebratory dessert. Perfect. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from The Balthazar Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen. I decreased the amount of sage, olive oil, and cream, increased the garlic, and modified the amount of each type of mushroom. Earthy and special. Happy Birthday, Mom!! ❤

  • 1 ounce dried mushrooms (porcini, morels, or shiitakes)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 large sprigs of sage
  • 1 large yellow or sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 20 oz white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 12 oz shiitake mushrooms stemmed, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 6 cups organic chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  1. Soak the dry mushrooms in 1 cup of warm water for 20 to 30 minutes, until plump.
  2. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter to remove grit and reserve, along with the reconstituted mushrooms, until needed.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Bundle the rosemary and sage together and tie with kitchen twine. When the oil is hot, add the herb bundle and sizzle for a few minutes on both sides to infuse the oil.
  4. Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown.
  5. Turn the flame to medium high to high and add the white mushrooms and shiitakes.
  6. Cook for 10 minutes, during which the mushrooms will give off their liquid (which should evaporate quickly due to the high heat) and deflate significantly. Stir occasionally.
  7. Add the chicken stock and the dried mushrooms along with the soaking water.
  8. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs, then add the cream and butter.
  9. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. (I used an immersion blender.) Return to the pot and keep at a very low simmer until ready to serve.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Herb-Roasted Turkey with Wild Mushroom Gravy


When we moved to Long Island, one of our Thanksgiving family traditions was to purchase a fresh turkey from the local butcher.  Last year, when I had a second refrigerator for the first time, I purchased our turkey at Trader Joe’s because it was brined, and because I could store it.  My husband was skeptical.  It was the best turkey EVER.  We did it again this year, and we were not disappointed.

The Wild Mushroom Gravy was beyond amazing.  My brother helped prepare it, and he was very proud with the results.  This recipe is from Food and Wine.

Herb Roasted Turkey

For the Turkey:

  • 1 loaf of ciabatta, about 1 pound (if cooking the turkey upside-down)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme, plus 4 large sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage, plus 4 large sprigs
  • coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • One 19- to 20-pound turkey, neck and gizzard reserved
  • 1 large apple (I used a Granny Smith)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch-thick wedges
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large celery rib, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for rubbing
  • 2 cups of chicken stock

For the Gravy:

  • 2-3 tablespoons small dried porcini pieces (or mixed dried wild mushrooms)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 24 oz golden chanterelles or a mix of cremini and oyster mushrooms, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 3 large shallots, minced
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth, plus pan drippings
  1. Let turkey stand at room temperature for one hour. Remove from packaging, drain brine, if applicable, and dry with paper towels.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small bowl, beat the butter with the garlic, chopped thyme and chopped sage and season with salt and pepper. (See note below if roasting the turkey upside-down.)
  3. Season the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. Rub two-thirds of the herb butter under the skin and under the neck flap. Place the remaining butter in the cavity along with the thyme and sage sprigs. Tuck the wing tips under the bird and tie the legs together with kitchen string (optional).
  4. Tuck one half of the apple, rounded side out, under the neck flap, place the other half in the main cavity. Fold the neck skin under the body and secure with a skewer.
  5. Put the onion, carrot and celery in a large roasting pan. Set the turkey in the pan and add the neck (and gizzard).
  6. Rub the turkey all over with olive oil.
  7. Roast the turkey in the lower third of the oven for 30 minutes.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 325° and continue to roast, basting occasionally, for 2 to 3 hours longer, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165° when inserted in an inner thigh (I have had great success using the temperature probe that works through the oven.).
  9. Transfer the turkey to a carving board and let rest in a warm place for at least 25 minutes and up to 1 hour.
  10. In a small bowl, cover the porcini with 1/4 cup of hot water. Let stand until softened, about 10 minutes.
  11. In a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the chanterelle mushrooms and the shallots and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown and tender, about 8 minutes.
  12. Lift the porcini from the soaking liquid and add to the skillet. Cover and remove the skillet from the heat.
  13. Set a coarse strainer over a medium bowl. Pour in the juices and vegetables from the roasting pan and press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Skim the fat off of the juices and reserve 2 tablespoons. (I use a fat separator.)
  14. In a large saucepan, stir the reserved fat with the flour until smooth; cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
  15. Gradually whisk in the strained juices and the stock and bring to a simmer, whisking.
  16. Add to the mushroom mixture and simmer over low heat, whisking often, until no floury taste remains, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  17. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy.

2016 UPDATE:

Note: To modify this recipe and cook the turkey upside-down:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection. Place the roasting pan on a rimmed cookie sheet.
  2. Prepare the turkey and pan as described above.
  3. Slice the ciabatta horizontally and butter the cut sides of the bread generously.
  4. Set a V-shaped wire rack in the roasting pan and place the slices of bread side-by-side lengthwise, buttered-sides up on the rack.
  5. Place the turkey breast-side down, so it rests on the bread (not directly on the rack). Place in oven and roast 60 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and, using silicone oven mitts, carefully flip the turkey breast-side up.
  7. Add the stock into the pan. Season the skin with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, preferably on convection.
  9. Continue to cook, basting occasionally with pan juices, until the thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees.
  10. Let rest one hour before carving.

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