Spoonfuls of Germany

Not all borshch is pink

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Mlyntsi with bell peppers

As the author of a German cookbook I encounter a great deal of stereotypes and misconceptions. But in all honesty I must admit that I was guilty of unsubstantiated prejudice about Ukrainian cuisine, which, like all other East European cuisines, I believed to be heavy, fatty, and starchy.

A few months ago I found out that Annette Ogrodnik Corona, author of The New Ukrainian Cookbook, lives nearby. I seized the opportunity to get to know a fellow cookbook author (we have the same publisher, Hippocrene Books), and learn more about Ukrainian cuisine, so I invited Annette for a cooking session together.

Her book became my nighttime reading for the two weeks prior, and I loved it. I realized that Ukrainian and German cuisine both suffer from overlooked diversity. I flagged dozens of recipes that I want to try: Beet Caviar, Country Paté, Crimean Yogurt Sauce… I also made Perekladanets, a yeasted egg bread with a stuffing of walnuts and dried fruit, and found it delicious. The New Ukrainian Cookbook won the 2012 Gourmand Cookbook Award for Best Eastern European Cuisine book in the United States, and I can absolutely see why.

Mlyntsi with two toppingsFor our cooking session, Annette made Green Borshch with Sorrel, and Mlyntsi (Griddlecakes) with two toppings: savory with bell peppers, and sweet with sour cream, jam and strawberries. Luckily she let me nibble on a couple of rejected oddly shaped ones because I would not have made it through the photo shoot while the wonderful smell of the soup was filling the kitchen. For dessert I made Lemon-Rice Cake, based on a recipe from an 18th-century cookbook classic by a pastor’s wife from the Bavarian city of Augsburg.

When we finally sat down for our German-Ukrainian lunch, we mainly talked food politics. Annette said she made a point of including recipes from all the different ethnic groups in Ukraine, well aware that this could rub some people the wrong way. This reminded me of the debates I had with myself whether to include recipes from areas like Silesia or East Prussia that formerly belonged to Germany. “Recipes, like birds, ignore political boundaries,” wrote James Meek in his excellent 2008 article in The Guardian about the story of borshch. Yet at the same time, the recipes one includes in an ethnic cookbook, and what one says about them, can trigger political reactions. Herein lies the best proof that a cookbook about a country’s cuisine is much more than food on a plate.

What I took away from all this was a newly discovered love for Ukrainian cuisine, and the lesson that you cannot say anything about a cuisine unless you’ve had a good taste of it.

Sorrel Borshsh

Sorrel or Green Borshch

From The New Ukrainian Cookbook by Annette Ogrodnik Corona

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large onion, peeled and grated

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

8 cups chicken broth

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

6 cups finely shredded sorrel

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

½ cup light cream

½ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

Slices of hard-cooked eggs and sprigs of dill for garnishing

1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium-low, and gently sauté until soft and golden but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the carrot and continue cooking another 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Bring the soup back up to barely a boil and add the sorrel, dill, and parsley. Cook just until the sorrel has wilted, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat back down to low and remove 1 cup of soup and pour it into a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. Pour the light cream into a small bowl and add the sour cream and flour and whisk until smooth and creamy. Stir this mixture into the reserved cup of soup, and then add mixture to the pot, stirring all the while. Continue cooking the borshch another 2 minutes. Serve ladled into individual bowls garnished with slices of hard-cooked eggs and sprigs of fresh dill.

Makes 6 servings

© Annette Ogrodnik Corona

Lemon-Rice Cake

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