The heartbreaking tragedy occurring in Ukraine has been all over the news. I watched one segment showing bakers making pierogis to feed Ukrainians as they prepared for battle. This news story made me think. I don’t know much about the traditional foods of Ukraine or what Ukrainians cooks might be making for their families if their lives were normal. As a food blogger, I honor the Ukrainian people by learning more about their traditional foods and sharing my recipe for Chicken Kyiv.
Ukraine is the “breadbasket” of Europe, and its traditional dishes are made with their most abundant crops like wheat and grains as well as their staple vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, mushroom, and beetroots. The Carpathian Mountains also have large meadows where cattle graze, providing high-quality beef products for the Ukrainian people. I researched the traditional dishes of Ukraine and learned one of their iconic foods is Salo, which is cured pork fat. It is dry-salt or brine cured and is similar to the Italian “lardo”. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and the Ukrainians often thinly slice it and serve it over garlic-rubbed rye bread.
At Easter time, Ukrainians make paska, a sweet bread. The classic paska is cylindrical in shape with a creamy frosting and sprinkles on top. On Easter morning, Ukrainians take their paska to church to be blessed. The national dish of Ukraine is borscht, a hot beetroot soup flavored with sour cream and served with savory, garlic pampushky. We are, of course, familiar with this beet soup in our country.
Pampushky are yeasted buns that have a soft, pillowy texture. They are either savory or sweet; the sweet form is loaded with jam, berries, cottage cheese, or fresh fruit, while the savory variety is seasoned with garlic sauce. In my research, pampushky are often compared to our version of the donut.
Pierogis, boiled dumplings, are called varenyky in Ukrainian. Crescent-shaped and wrapped in pastry, savory varenyky are filled with meat, potatoes, mushrooms, stewed cabbage, seafood, or cheese; and sweet varenyky are stuffed with fruit fillings, cottage cheese, poppy, fruit, or berries. I remember with fondness a woman named Teresa who sold home-made pierogis at the Boulder Farmers’ Market. They were delicious.
Prevalent in many Eastern European countries, holodets, a gelatinized dish or aspic, is served with spicy horseradish or mustard. The Ukrainians boil pork, veal, or chicken for at least 4 hours, and then lay the meat on plates, along with carrots, garlic, and other spices. This yields a broth that is cooled into a jelly. I understand tourists are not fond of holodets.
Olivye (Olivier) is Ukrainian potato salad, and one of Ukraine’s most popular appetizers. It is made with potatoes, dill pickles, hard-boiled eggs, chopped chicken or ham, onions, peas, and mayonnaise.
Holubtsi are boiled cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, meat, finely chopped carrots and onions, and spices and served with sour cream. My mother-in-law had Russian-Polish roots, and she made a dish very similar to holubtsi, but she served hers with a tomato sauce. Ukrainians are passionate about deruny, potato pancakes, and, also, serve them with sour cream. Seeing a pattern here? The town of Korosten holds an annual deruny festival, where the local community has even erected a monument to this dish.
Walnuts and plums are abundant in Ukraine, so a popular dessert is walnut-stuffed prunes. The dish I associate with Ukraine is, of course, Chicken Kyiv (Kiev). A classic chicken Kyiv is made with chicken cutlets that have been pounded to a flat consistency and rolled around a log of herb butter, then breaded and fried. My recipe follows. My husband gave it a 10. That’s his best rating.
I send my hopes and prayers that Ukrainian cooks will be back in their kitchens preparing their favorite traditional foods for their families.
Chicken Kyiv Serves 4
Serve with mashed potatoes and your favorite green vegetable.
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, lightly pounded to an even thickness Salt to taste Freshly ground black pepper to taste 1 stick unsalted butter, softened 2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped 2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper All-purpose flour for dusting 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs Vegetable oil for frying Using a sharp knife, slice a pocket into the side of each chicken breast and season to taste with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine butter, dill, chives, parsley, salt, and pepper. Place flour on a plate and dredge chicken in flour, shaking off any excess. Place eggs and panko breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Dip chicken breasts in eggs and then in breadcrumbs, pressing to seal the pockets. Spoon egg over any open spots and cover with breadcrumbs, again pressing to seal. Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet and freeze for 5 minutes. In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch vegetable oil over a medium-high heat until oil shimmers. Add chicken, reduce the heat to medium, and fry, turning only once or twice, until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Cooking tip: If you don’t have a meat cleaver, use your rolling pin. Place chicken breasts on a cutting board and pound with a rolling pin.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
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