This dish is traditionally known in Western Ukraine, especially the Carpathian Mountains as “Kulesha”, in Romania and Moldova as “Mamaliga” and in Italy as “Polenta”.
Kulesha is similar in texture to cornbread, but is cooked in a saucepan on the stove. As it cooks, it gets very thick and difficult to stir. Baba had a wooden dowel she used mainly for stirring the Kulesha.
Baba and Gedo made it frequently, usually eating it with cottage cheese (or brinza, a cheese made from sheep’s milk) and sour cream. I liked it best sliced in slabs and served with borscht or chicken in sour cream sauce. Give it a try. Get adventurous with the recipe e.g. add fried chopped bacon, onions, peppers, etc.
The bread machine version of this recipe is now posted. If you are feeling more adventurous or do not have a bread machine try the scratch version.
The KOLACH is the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper centerpiece. Three braided loaves, which commemorate the Trinity, are stacked one on top of the other. A candle is set in the middle of the top loaf to symbolize Christ, the “Light of the World”. Its round shape gives it its name - “kolo”, a circle - symbolizing eternity. An old custom was the communal sharing of bread, honey and salt. Starting with the oldest member of the family, small pieces of kolach dipped in honey and salt were offered with the greeting “Chrestos rezdayetsia” (“Christ is born”); they would response, “Slavitey Yeho” (“Glorify Him”).
UKRAINIAN POTATO PANCAKE (DERHUNY)
Baba would make these and sometimes solicit my help to grate the potatoes. It took a few tries to learn not to get my fingers in the way of the grater. Today, the food processor makes the grating so much easier and faster. I still, however, prefer using the fine side of a box grater. The processor just does not produce the same texture. You can always do half with the box grater and half with the food processor. It depends on how pressed you are for time.
Just in time for Easter!
The scratch version of Ukrainian Easter Bread (Paska) that was posted earlier in the month is now available. Head to the recipes to give it a go.
Paska is the traditional Ukrainian Easter bread. Its golden colour and distinct flavour are attributed to the addition of saffron, orange and lemon zest and golden raisins. This is the way Baba made it. Saffron is expensive and not easy to find. It is, however, what makes this bread unique.
The golden colour of Paska is symbolic of spring, the return of the sun, rebirth and the rising of Christ. It is customary to decorate the top with a scrolled cross. Those more creative would add dough birds and more elaborate dough ornaments. On Easter morning, the Paska, and decorated Easter eggs (pysanky) would be taken to church to be blessed.
In the Fall, Baba and Gedo would make sauerkraut from the cabbages they grew. An over-sized mandolin (shredder) was placed over a wooden barrel. The cabbages would be shredded, and layers of salt added. A wooden lid would be placed on top, weighted down with a large rock. By Ukrainian Christmas the cabbage was well fermented and ready to use.
Kapusta was traditionally served as one of the twelve dishes on Ukrainian Christmas Eve. Unlike this recipe, it would be prepared using oil and would include split peas, in observance of the meatless fast.
There is nothing as comforting as a hot bowl of chicken soup; especially, when it is accompanied by homemade egg noodles. This was one of Baba’s specialties. She would make it throughout the year. It was and still is a favourite of mine. (“Homemade Egg Noodles” recipe listed separately.)
Makivnyk is a sweet roll with a poppy seed filling traditionally made for Ukrainian Christmas.
Baba grew poppies in her garden. In the Fall, the dried pods would be broken, and the seeds collected for baking. As a little girl, it was a treat for me to go into the garden, break open a pod and eat the seeds.
Mashed White Beans with Garlic was one of the vegetable dishes often selected to be included in the twelve-course Ukrainian Christmas Eve meal. Baba’s recipe contained a healthy dose of garlic mashed in with the beans. Ukrainians are not shy with garlic.
I remember helping Baba make Khrustyky (pronounced “hroo-sle-key”) for Ukrainian Christmas. This is her original recipe. We all looked forward to eating them. Best made with two people: one to roll the dough; another to fry.
Patricia Caine (nee Rusnak) is originally from Thunder Bay, ON. Both her parents came to Canada from the Ukraine. She has put these recipes together as a tribute to her parents, for her family and Canada's 150th.