I want to marry a man who cooks. I don’t have much natural skill in the kitchen, and I definitely don’t enjoy cooking for one, but its so much more enjoyable when you cook with someone who has expertise! [And no, I don’t have marriage on the brain, but it seems like everyone in Ukraine wants me to be hooked up, and so far this has been my best ward against Ukrainian men—they expect the domestic kind of wives, who cook, clean, raise the babies, and make it all look easy. The chances of this are slim for me, so my first response is always “does he cook?” and when the answer is inevitably no, there’s no hard feelings when I turn him down. Strategy, my friends, you have to have strategy to dodge the marriage question here!]
Lately I’ve been cooking a lot, and its become less of a pain as I learn what I can make with a limited amount of ingredients. The only thing that gets old is the repetition… the only vegetables available this time of year are onions, potatoes, and peppers if you’re willing to pay more for them. Sometimes I can find tomatoes or cucumbers, and if I go to the bazaar there’s always beets and cabbage. But as for fruit, its bananas. Occasionally oranges. Nothing too exciting.
Luckily, Olha (who was taken to calling herself my Ukrainian mother) has decided to teach me how to cook Ukrainian food, which has been a blast. Once a week she comes over to show me how to make Borsch with whatever ingredients I could find at the bazaar or in the shops. I’ve even learned how to make it with salo (the fatty part of bacon), which adds a lot of flavor. She’s not your traditional Ukrainian woman—she has her own business (two in fact!), and isn’t exactly a homemaker either. She’s been widowed for five years, and has no plans for remarriage (despite plenty of offers, haha!) She’s told me many times how much she values her independence, and thinks its great that I make use of mine and travel the world. But she worries about me starving, or eating instant food (which she says will kill me), so she’s taken it upon herself to teach me. I’m a very willing, grateful student, plus leftovers in the fridge are always a joy to wake up to : )
I’ll share a Borsch recipe with you someday when I’ve perfected my own, but for today I’ll share the art of making “Vareneky”(what we would think of as pierogies in the US). The funny thing about Ukrainian recipes is that there is no recipe—nothing written down or passed along, and no definite system of measurement like we use in the US. When Ukrainians want to learn a new recipe, they go to their friend’s house and watch it made once, and then replicate it on their own the next time. This method is bewildering to me, because I love measuring spoons and cups because they help me worry less about botching a recipe. I’m going to share the process of making vareneky with you, but now at least you know why there are no measurements!
Peel 5 potatoes, and boil them until they’re soft enough to mash. Dice an onion and fry it while you wait for the potatoes to boil. Then mash the potatoes, add the onions, and add salt and pepper to taste. (You can also add garlic if you want, but I didn’t have any when we made these, so I didn’t). Then once its all mixed, you put it in the refrigerator to cool. (Or on the balcony if you’re Ukrainian, because the balcony chills things faster with the current weather we’re having!)
Then take some flour, one egg, and some water, and mix. This makes the dough, which needs to be a pliable but not sticky. Add flour and water until you get the right mix (hopefully more experienced cooks will know how to achieve this without precise instructions). We made the dough in a 9 x 13 sized pan, and used probably 2 cups flour total, but that’s a guesstimate).
Then roll out the dough (if you’re really classy, you can use a wine bottle instead of a rolling pin like me!) until its thin. Then flip a cup over, and use it to cut out circular shapes of dough. Take the potato/onion mixture out of the fridge (or off the balcony) and heap a spoonful onto a circle of dough. Then fold the dough over, and pinch the sides together to make sure it doesn’t leak. Once its shut, you take both sides, and pull them around behind the pierogie until they meet in the back—seal it shut there, too.
Repeat this process until you run out of dough (or filling). Then place as many as you want to eat in a pot of boiling water, and wait until they float. (Place the rest in the freezer, to be saved for another meal). Once the pierogies are floating, wait a few more minutes just to be sure the filling is hot. Then strain them, put them in a bowl, douse them with sour cream (and any extra fried onions, if you had any left) and enjoy! Смачнього! (The Ukrainian version of “Bon Appétit!”)
This is my best interpretation of the recipe, which was communicated to me in Ukrainian. I have yet to try it on my own, but when made with Olha, the vareneky were incredible!
In addition to Borsch and Vareneky, I’ve also mastered: Banana Bread (self-taught and self-perfected, and yes I’m boasting), Tacos (easy but yummy), Fried Zucchini (another recipe Olha taught me in the summer when the zucchini were plentiful!), Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies, whose fame has spread to other volunteers’ kitchens (thanks for the recipe and brown sugar Mom!), Cornbread (thanks to my sister-in-law), Chili-Cheeseburger Casserole (thanks to Michelle), and the most recent addition to my cooking repertoire… Baked Egg Boats! They were so yummy (and easy) that I thought I would share my success (and brag a little while I was at it).
To start off, here’s a picture of the delicious outcome (and the website because I have to give credit to the blog where I found the recipe!):
RECIPE FOR BAKED EGG BOATS
Here’s what you need:
- 1 huge baguette or 4 little ones (basically, any kind of bread that you can remove the center of and cook something inside)
- 5 eggs
- 1/3 cup heavy cream (if you’re shopping in Ukraine,вершки works just fine)
- 4 ounces pancetta, chopped and fried to a crisp (Ukrainian modification: use ковбаса
- 3 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (just use a tasty cheese fellow PCVs!)
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper for flavor
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit, or 175 degrees celsius
- Cut into the baguette, until about 1/2 inch to the bottom, and pull out the stuffing
- Crack the eggs and mix the cream into a bowl, and lightly beat together. Then mix in the remaining ingredients (onions, cheese, pancetta/sausage)
- Pour the mixture into the baguette(s) and place on a baking sheet
- Bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown, and then season with salt and pepper
- Allow it to cool 5 minutes, and then devour. Best eaten with a huge class of orange juice.
And there you have it—easy and incredibly tasty, the perfect meal for Sunday brunch. I highly recommend it.
My next cooking project involves learning how to cook meat—its hard to buy meat in Ukraine (unless you buy the reallllly fresh stuff at the bazaar, practically still bleeding), and I never know what exactly to make with it. I can make something decent with chicken, but I want to learn how to cook beef. And maybe even fish, fish is very easy to come buy in Ukraine if I only knew how to prepare it. Do you have any easy recipes I could make? If so, send them my way!
Thus concludes the cooking saga; I hope all is well where you are 🙂