This was my first time delving into Ukrainian food and as such I enlisted the help of an expert. Ukrainian born Nadia over at The Kat and the Falling Leaves lives in Toronto, cooks (and blogs) everything from healthy weeknight meals to her childhood Ukrainian favorites and loves to salsa dance! We spoke months ago about Ukrainian cuisine and she gave me some great insight. I was intrigued most with the regional differences within Ukrainian food as well as the similarities within Eastern European dishes as a whole.
As she mentioned,“Different regions in Ukraine had been invaded by many different empires/nations throughout centuries and that’s what had influenced dishes that are typical for that specific region.
For example, the city of Uzhgorod is on the border with Hungary and they would have lots of dishes with lamb; the city of Lviv was part of Poland at some point – their borsch for Christmas Eve will be a clear beet soup eaten with “ushki” (tiny dumplings with mushrooms), in my city of Chernivtsi the Christmas borsch has beans and lots of vegetables.
The city of Donetsk which is close to Russia has lots of pies – big and small, sweet and savory. Ukrainian south had been under Turks – they have lots of dishes with eggplant, sweet peppers and stuffed grape leaves. The Black Sea region is known for their seafood (for obvious reasons).
Fun Fact: Mila Kunis is from this city… I couldn’t figure out why she kept showing up on my google image search of Chernivtsi. Now you know!
My region was part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, then it became part of the Duchy of Romania, then part of the Soviet Union and now is part of Ukraine. The Austrians left us with delightful coffees and decadent pastries, Romanian influence is seen in dishes like “mamalyga” (Romanian polenta) and we eat universally Ukrainian dishes (soups, breads, pyrogy, cabbage rolls.) My city had one of the largest Jewish communities in Ukraine – the whole roasted stuffed fish that I wrote about is also served on high Jewish holidays, the dish called “Gefilte Fish”.
Ukrainians are major pork eaters – that goes back to Turkish invasions. Turks used to raid villages and take away everything – produce, farm animals, grains. Since they didn’t eat pork (they are of Muslim faith) and left the pigs untouched and that’s how we became known as “salo” (pork fat) eaters.
The incorporation of ingredients or adoption of dishes within a national cuisine as a result of conquest is an element of international cuisine is very fascinating to me! It’s incredible the ability to track the origin of dishes through the movement of an ethnic group or people and something I don’t think I’ve touched on or really investigated in this project before.
Nadia speaks to the diversification within Ukrainian cuisine from north to south and east to west but also the overlap and intersection of dishes between the Slavic nations (Serbia, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia and Belarus). The extent of my knowledge up until now had been Polish pieorgi and borcht… but each of the countries has their own take on them as well as a myriad of other dishes from cabbage rolls to babka. As Nadia said, “Mind you, there is nothing is Ukrainian cuisine that is eaten in Ukraine only.”
So while there were countless dishes I could try my hand at, for my culinary jaunt through Ukraine, Nadia suggested I make “nalysnyky” (or crepe-like pancakes), which can be either savory or sweet. I chose to go with sweet nalysnyky (pronounced Nah-less-knee-key). *Here is Nadia’s recipe for savory ones!
These nalysnyky are filled with cottage cheese and went wonderfully with a little fruit jam on the side! They are very easy to make as well.
Simply make crepes like you would normally (about 8-10) and then fill with a layer of the cheese mixture. This recipe called for 2 cups cottage cheese, 2 egg yolks, whipping cream and a little dill. Roll the filled crepes and place in a casserole dish lined with foil. Spoon over 1/4 cup melted butter between each layer. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.
There you have it, Ukrainian nalysnyky and as they say in Ukrainian, “Smachnogo!” / “Смачного!”! Thank you Nadia for your insight and helping me learn about Ukrainian cuisine!