History of Ukrainian cuisine

Ukrainian national cuisine developed in its main features in the early XIX century, and finally took shape in the first half of XX century. Ukrainian cuisine combines great amount of various regional customs. Furthermore, the Polish, Hungarian, Germanic, Turkish, Tatar and Russian culinary traditions had a notable influence on the uniqueness of its recipes.

During its existence, Ukrainian cuisine has come long and interesting path from simple to complex dishes, which have very interesting ways of cooking. Gradually developing, being in close proximity with other nations and with their culinary tastes, the Ukrainians have created their own unique set of products and methods of preparation.

There are thousands of national dishes. Some of them may seem to you extraordinary because of the unusual combinations. Nevertheless you will be surprised by the unique taste which they create.

The centerpiece of the Ukrainian cuisine is bread which is made from rye or wheat flour and baked in the traditional oven.

Salo - is a favourite national product. It is served not only as a separate dish (salted, boiled, smoked and fried), but also as a condiment and fat base for a great variety of dishes, even sweet, combining it with sugar or syrup.

Vegetables play an important role in the Ukrainian cuisine. Beetroot stands on the first place and it can be called a national vegetable. We can name such vegetables as carrot, pumpkin, potatoes, tomatoes and corn, which are also very popular in Ukraine.

There is a big amount of recipes with cherry, plum, pear, currant, watermelon, while these fruits and berries are the most favorite in Ukraine.

Original national dishes of Ukrainian cuisine  have rich historical traditions, can enrich any daily or holiday table and rejoice your family and guests!

Want to try authentically traditional Ukrainian meals? Here are some of the most famous Ukrainian recipes and a brief history of their origin.

Borsch

Every tourist who visits Ukraine wants to taste this dish. In fact, there is no wonder since this soup is cooked in Ukrainian families very often and Ukrainians are experts in borsch. According to a survey of Ukrainians, borsch is the most favorite food of the whole nation (picking up 44% of appraisers).

The history of recipe for traditional borsch goes back to ancient times. Historical facts prove that the beet soup was cooked absolutely everywhere where pich (masonry stove) was in household use. And the name "borscht" did not appear at once: in ancient times this soup was called "brew with herbs". At first, only vegetables and spices were added to this dish, but as it is clear from the modern name, beetroot has always been the main ingredient. The modern word "borsch" is a kind of honor for beetroot, since from the Old Slavic language the word «бърщь» ("borsch") is translated as «буряк» ("beetroot").

Both today and century ago, the cooking process of traditional borscht has includded some rituals. It seems that this soup is easy to make but the housewife knows how to skillfully combine about 20 ingredients and uses some cooking secrets to satisfy her guests' taste preferences. By the way, the taste of the dish is also influenced by the temperature of the products, the sequence of their addition to the soup, the kitchenware used for cooking, and even the mood of the hostess.

There are three main varieties of Ukrainian borscht: red borscht, green borscht, and cold borscht. In general, they have similar ways of cooking but it is the red borscht that became a symbol of Ukrainian national cuisine. Many researchers of Ukrainian culture note that this dish in different ways depending on the region. Thus, due to regional specificities and available ingredients, different recipes appeared: there are Kyiv, Poltava, Chernihiv, Lviv and other recipes for borscht.

Holubtsi

This traditional dish is adored by many Ukrainians. It is usually cooked by stuffing cabbage leaves with minced meat and rice and and then stewing them in tomato sauce. However, the classic recipe for cabbage rolls often varies depending on the region. However, this does not in any way make the recipes for this  delicious and nutritious meal less traditional.

This dish has many historical roots. It is generally believed that holubsi came from the Western European part of Ukraine. However, unusual recipe variations of cabbage rolls can be found in the traditional cuisine of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, and other countries. In some regions of East Asia, there is also a similar meal based on similar products. In Ukraine, beef or pork with the addition of cracklings is usually used as a filling and pickled cabbage leaves are often used instead of fresh ones.

Cabbage rolls have a rich nutritional composition. The classic version of the dish is nutritious and healthy at the same time. The main ingredients of holubtsi are cabbage and meat which are an excellent source of protein and vitamin C. By the way, you can use red or purple cabbage instead of white one to enrich the dish with folic acid useful for the brain and women's health. Carrots and tomatoes also contain useful nutrients (vitamin A and lycopene).

As you see cabbage rolls are a nutritious dish that will still your hunger without overloading your stomach. The recipe does not usually require frying, just stewing, which makes it popular with those who follow healthy eating habits. Regular use of cabbage rolls will help improve your family's immunity and prevent cold-weather illnesses like colds and the flu. Holubtsi are not just a dish but a real source of healthy nutrients!

Cabbage rolls can be cooked in two ways: usual recipe (by wrapping minced meat in cabbage leaves) or lazy recipe (by mixing all ingredients together and forming them in cutlets, which are then stewed). Mushrooms or your other favorite foods can also be used as a filling.

Kholodets

This is a unique cold dish which Ukrainians cook both as everyday and festive meal. In short, kholodets is a jellied meat broth that includes pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables. There are also recipes for the fish jelly made based on fish broth. So kholodets is a traditional Ukrainian appetizers that resembles salted jelly and can be eaten alone or served with mustard/horseradish.

The irony of this dish is that though kholodets takes a long time to cook (including long thermal treatment) it preserves a large amount of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients. For example, ready-made kholodets contains a large number of:

- B-group vitamins (useful for blood and nervous system);

- Lysine amino acid (promotes immunity);

- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (improve nervous system function);

- Glycine (useful for brain cells);

- Collagen (enhances skin condition).

All these helathy components contain in kholodets following the classic recipe. If you add to kholodets some vegetables, herbs or other foods, you can further enhance the useful properties of the dish. The main rule of Ukrainian housewives is to use only fresh ingredients.

It is believed that the first recipe for kholodets appeared in Northern Ukraine where hunting was widespread. Hunters took kholodets, smoked meat and dried fish along because they knew that at any moment the jelly could become a nutritious soup. They knew about the healthy benefits of the meat broth, which was thoroughly boiled for the best jelly-forming ability. Moreover, it was the long-time cooking that allowed to get out of meat and bones those useful substances that could not be found in other foods.

In Kyivan Rus it was customary to cook the nourishing jelly the next day after big feasts. Cooks gathered meat left from the feast, boiled it, poured the prepared mass into molds and cooled it. At first such a jelly was considered a second-rate meal which was eaten mostly by servants. But in a short time, kholodets was eaten by absolutely everyone.

After several centuries of culinary experiments, kholodets variations can be found in different cuisines of the world. For example, the French cook kholodets using the classic recipe while adding vegetables and boiled eggs. In some countries there are recipes for sweet khodelts where coffee, cocoa, fruits, and chocolate are added.

Varenyky

Varenyky are traditional Ukrainian dumplings filled with a variety of ingredients. They can be sweet (with sour cherries, guelder rose berries, strawberries, cheese, jam, etc) or salty (with potatoes, mushrooms, meat, cracklings, cabbage, salty cheese, etc). 

In fact, dumplings are truly a versatile dish. They can have different shapes: triangular, round, and crescent. The dough can be cooked from wheat, buckwheat, rye, or barley unyeasted dough. Ukrainians from different parts of the country love different varieties of dumplings and different fillings. For example, Ukrainians from Polissia love to stuff dumplings with mashed beans, people who live in Poltava fill their dumplings with boiled peas and guelder rose berries, and mountain villagers use brynza (brine cheese) and potatoes as a stuffing. Among the most favorite and authentic fillings are potato, cracklings, cheese, sour cherry, as well as cabbage, buckwheat porridge, and dried fruits. There is also a a lean version of the dish which is prepared especially for the Christmas Eve and is called “kraplyky” or “kreplyky.”

Traditionally dumplings are served with sour cream or dairy butter and fried onions. Varenyky with sweet fillings are topped with sweet syrup, honey, and berries. By the way, sour cream is usually served separately, since dumplings are eaten hot.

The history of varenyky recipe goes back to the times of Kyivan Rus. Back at that times they were called pies (translated from the Old Russian language as "wheat bread"). The modern Ukrainian word "varenyky" comes from the verb "varyty" (“boil”), ie to cook in boiling water. Today Ukrainians cook this dish for no reason and centuries ago it was festive in nature: honored guests were treated with varenyky at weddings, banquets and obzhynky (harvest festivals). In ancient times, varenyky were a symbol of Masliana (Cheese Week) and symbolized a prosperous life.

In modern Ukrainian cuisine, one of the most widespread recipes for dumplings is the one with potato stuffing. But until this vegetable was brought to Ukraine from South America in the sixteenth century, varenyky were mostly filled with cabbage (stewed or sauerkraut) and cheese and dill.

Nalysnyky

Nalysnyky are a delicate traditional dish cooked using egg batter and diverse fillings. It is cooked in two stages: first, pancakes are fried and then they are filled with the stuffing made in advance. Pancakes also are symbols of Masliana (Cheese Week) and they are cooked everyday during the holiday season. But Ukrainians have come to love them so much that they cook nalysnyky for breakfast, dinner and even serve them during holidays.

Wheat, buckwheat, corn, semolina and other types of flour are used to make the batter. It resembles the consistency of thin sour cream or drinking yogurt. This will ensure pancakes can be fried quickly in a pan on both sides and get thin, soft, and tender. As a result, you’ll have a dish with a balanced taste of filling and dough.

When it comes to pancake fillings - there is a place for imagination. They can be filled with berries, mushrooms, cheese, meat, caviar, fish, sour cream, honey, etc. By the way, If you are going to eat only pancakes - the dish is called “млинці” (“mlyntsi”) and if you plan to put the stuffing inside - then you should call pancakes - “налисники“ (“nalysnyky”). 

The history of this dish goes back to pre-Christian times. The very word «млинці» ("pancakes") has the roots «млин» ("mill"), that is, a product made of ground grain. At the same time, almost all nations on the planet have their variations of recipes for pancakes and their fillings. But despite this popularity, the history of the recipe is covered in secrets. Scientists say that first pancakes could be cooked in Egypt or China, but the homeland of yeast pancakes is probably the territory of the slavs. To confirm this theory, they describe a large number of rituals and traditions connected with pancakes as a symbol.

First of all, a pancake symbolizes the sun, good crops, successful marriages, and healthy children. Historians claim that this dish was also identified with the celebration of the Spring Solstice - a day when the day grew longer, as if conquering the dark night. Since the Spring Solstice signifies the death of winter and the arrival of summer, pancakes were usually an important meal at burials and funeral repasts. This dish was also used when girls told fortunes trying to find out the name of their fate.

When Christianity was spread throughout the territory of modern Ukraine, Ukrainians started to celebrate the Cheese week just before the Lent. During this week they could eat pancakes every day. Today, there is still a tradition when son-in-law visits his mother-in-law to eat pancakes in the middle of the week on Wednesday. In gratitude, the son-in-law invites the mother-in-law and father-in-law on the second day - on Friday.

Syrnyky

Syrnyk is a sweet pancake made of farmer’s cheese, flour, and eggs. This is a delicious, healthy and sweet dish can be served as a breakfast for a large family.

To prepare syrnyky, you need to mix cheese, flour, eggs, and sugar, and shape the mass into balls. Then fry these balls in dairy butter or vegetable oil (a modern alternative method of thermal treatment is to bake syrnyky in the oven). This is a traditional recipe that can be complemented by anything to the taste of the hostess. For instance, you can add raisins, nuts, etc. The dish is served with sour cream and powdered sugar. Ukrainians also like to eat syrnyky with preserves, jam, and honey.

The main ingredients of syrnyky are the reason why they were so popular. The thin is that homemade cheese was widely available, especially in the countryside. It is unknown when exactly this recipe appeared, but it has already been freely mentioned in ancient cookbooks of the XVIII century. Because syrnyky are easy to cook, have affordable and inexpensive ingredients, they were and still are highly popular.

What is common in each dish on this list? All of them are very tasty, useful and help keep the Ukrainian traditions alive. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy them!


An interesting question to think about

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#1 The main ingredient of traditional Ukrainian borsch is

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