Olga Trusova, our very first supporter on Kickstarter, is our guest blogger here. Enjoy her mouthwatering description of a traditional Svyata Vercherya meal in San Francisco. If you have recipes, meals, and photos to share about your Ukrainian food traditions, please share!
On January 7th, we celebrated Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas. Twelve meatless dishes were served with the first rising star during Svyata Vecherya. Since there is only a handful of places like Veselka in the Bay Area (Renaissance, Fandorin, Russia House, and Babushka, among the few), I decided to cook this traditional Ukrainian Christmas feast at my home in San Francisco.
Born in Odessa to a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father, I consider myself an Odessitka above all. Odessa, a Ukrainian city on the Black Sea, combines the cultures and flavors from various parts of the world, brining traditions and passions of Ukrainians, Russians, Moldovans, Armenians, Georgians, Greeks, Jews into one delicious party. Borscht and pirogi, wine and lavash, brinza and gefilte fish - these are some of the staple foods of an Odessit, and they deserve a separate blog post all together. But for Svyata Vecherya, I decided to focus on cooking traditional Ukrainian food for my friends and family, as a way to celebrate my mother's heritage and to give American folks a chance to try authentic Ukrainian dishes.
Our twelve course meal consisted of kutya, zakuski (sauerkraut, pickles, herring, smoked fish, pickled mushrooms), borscht and garlic pompushki, vareniki with sour cream, honey cookies and Russian candy, accompanied by whortleberry mors, kvas, rose-hip drinks, and lots of vodka. When it comes to borscht, I can talk for hours about my love for the beet soup. It seems like every family in Ukraine has its own borscht recipe - I, of course, follow my mom's and will not reveal its secret ingredient to anyone. Kutya, on the other hand, deserves some explanation. It is kind of a cross between pudding and porridge, made with poppy seeds, poppy milk, toasted walnuts, wheat berries, honey, raisins, and served cold primarily during Christmas. If you know the history of kutya, please share it, as kutya is quite fascinating and seems to be a very ancient creation (maybe even an early aphrodisiac).
Zakuski, or appetizers, were purchased from the Royal Market & Bakery on Geary Street - a small "Russian ghetto" in San Francisco, where I get my Russian/Armenian food fix from time to time. My neighbor Mary brought an amazing homemade herring from the Nordic House in Berkeley. My friend Kara brought potato and cheese vareniki, or dumplings, prepared according to her grandmother's recipe. We were very lucky to have such an amazing feast and such a joyful Christmas this year!
Of course, for an authentic Svyata Vecherya, a cook uses only local ingredients. It's an opportunity to dig into those pickled and preserved goods that make winter so comforting. So I'm already thinking about how to adapt our next Christmas meal to my life in California. Looking at the Epicurious seasonal ingredient map of where I live now, I see so many exciting ways in which I can stay close to this land as well. Avocados, kumquats, kale, swiss chard are among a few exciting foods in season at the moment. What would Svyata Vecherya look like with those ingredients in place? After all, this pescaterian meal was created in celebration of Christmas, for being grateful for the gifts given throughout the year, and for gathering the family together during one of the coldest months of winter to enjoy many dishes prepared with what the land provided.