A Ukrainian Salad
And a gorgeous borshch, to go with it.
WE ALL DO WHAT WE CAN, don’t we? Get up in the morning during hard times, and keep on keeping on. It’s hard to blame anyone who needs to take a break from worrying and working these days, much less trying to make the world a better place.
But don’t those of us whom the world is treating more gently at any given time have a moral obligation to do better than we think we can?
Here in the Salad Lab, I had prepared an issue to send out today that was simultaneously self-important and blamey regarding the topic of who is and is not responsible for raising awareness and money to help Ukrainian refugees.
Which is to say I was using my lack of food-star celebrity (as well as the millions of followers on social media that I do not have) as an excuse for not trying to do at least a fraction of what I expect of others with more power.
I want to do more. I want to keep on keeping on. Calling out others for not doing more is not the way to do that. So I’ve given myself a time out.
After all, we live confusing times, in which people might hesitate to be vocal about what moves them, especially if doing so might endanger their livelihood?
People have even unsubscribed from this salad newsletter, for it being “too political.” One woman was upset when I wrote about the fact that living through the pandemic was not my favorite activity. (I’m supposed to love the pandemic? No!) And the other remains opaque to me: a man wrote a note to tell me I was “getting too political” after I’d published a love letter to winter citrus salads.
Obviously, people will politicize anything these days.
It takes two kinds of lettuce (🥬 + $$) to keep the Department of Salad alive. The best way to support us: punch the green button.
And food is indeed political, as we were often reminded by the late chef and food and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, who continued visiting places on the map that were enduring great conflict. In a New Yorker piece, Patrick Radden Keefe noted that Bourdain responded to complaints that his show was too political by pointing out that “most cuisines reflect an amalgamation of influences and tell a story of migration and conquest, each flavor representing a sedimentary layer of history. [Bourdain] also points out that most shows about food are premised on a level of abundance that is unfamiliar in many parts of the world.”
But hunger? To me it seems immune to all the things that divide us—something for all of us to fight against, together. So I do wish more big food stars (with giant audiences) and food-policy thought leaders would be as generous with their time (or just their clout). And that’s all I’ll say about that, I promise.
Meanwhile, the great humanitarian chef José Andrés, of World Central Kitchen, who has long been at the forefront of feeding people during terrible times, is once again leading the charge to feed Ukrainian refugees, and inspiring a movement of chefs that is growing locally all around the country.
So much of what I learn about other cultures (especially those I’ve never visited) I get from cookbooks. At a more grassroots level, the cookbook authors Olia Hercules (who was born in Ukraine) and Caroline Eden (among others), are doing what they can to alleviate the hunger of Ukrainian refugees, at Cook for Ukraine.
So today, I’m offering you Ukrainian recipes from Hercules’ and Eden’s books (Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe and Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes, Through Darkness and Light, respectively), both of which exhibit beautifully deep knowledge and love for the land of dumplings and borshch and pampushky (garlic bread) and fermented everything (tomatoes! green garlic! eggplant!).
The first is an Odesan slaw, made with beautiful black radishes (Eden told me you may easily substitute regular radishes, but I found some black ones; they are delicious). The other is a borscht (or borshch) so evocative I cried while eating it, recalling that it is Ukraine’s national dish. In her intro to her recipe, Hercules writes: “My uncle in Moscow would often be asked by his Russian friends: ‘Is it true that Ukrainians eat borshch three times a day?’ He answered, ‘If you guys could make a proper Ukrainian borshch, you would get up at night to eat it.’”
We regularly use food to summon the feeling of a place. Hopefully, making these recipes will conjure even more of a feeling for Ukraine.
*RECIPE: Odesan Coleslaw, from Caroline Eden’s Black Sea
Even though I loved the black radishes, to me the star of this dish was the caraway flavored carrots, which employ no vinegar: they’re both mellow and heady. Eden notes that the character Sobakevich in Gogol’s Dead Souls, “likes his black radishes doused in honey, and this salad reproduces that sweet bitter flavor mix.”
For the quick pickled black radishes
½ pound black radishes, lightly scrubbed clean (you want them to maintain their dark black color)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch of salt
For the carrots
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
good grind of black pepper
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
Cut the radishes into thick matchsticks, keeping the charcoal-colored skin intact. Mix the vinegar, water, honey, and salt in a small saucepan. Stir gently over low heat until the honey is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the sliced radishes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside while preparing the carrots.
Toast the caraway seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant, then lightly bash them using a mortar and pestle or another similar method (not crushing them entirely but releasing the scent more). Tip into a large bowl and whisk in the oil, honey, garlic, water, salt, and pepper. Add sliced carrots, stir to combine; set aside.
Leave both the radishes and carrots in their separate bowls for a couple of hours at room temperature to let the flavors and juices develop. Serve the pickled radish matchsticks—to taste—atop the carrots. (If you don’t use all the radishes at once, place in a sterilized jar and keep in the refrigerator, for 3 or so days.)
*RECIPE: Ukrainian Beet Broth, or Borshch, from Mamushka, by Olia Hercules
Serves 4 (NOTE: for me, this serves more like 6, and I can eat a lot of beets)
Hercules mentions that the stock is extremely important here, but also that in place of beef you may use “a skinny, old boiling chicken.” I used fatty short ribs; the soup is so full of vegetables, that I added over a cup of water to make it more of a soup than a stew. That addition did nothing to dilute the flavor, however. I also added about 1/4 cup of cider vinegar at the end, along with a big squirt of honey, when I was correcting the seasonings.
1 pound oxtail or fatty beef short ribs
1 onion, peeled but kept whole
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 pound (8 ounces) beets, peeled and cut into matchsticks (I sliced them into rounds on my mandolin, then stacked the rounds and sliced them with a knife to make matchsticks)
1/2 pound (8 ounces) potatoes, peeled and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (I used canola)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly grated
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato puree (I used more like a quarter cup)
1 beefsteak tomato, roughly grated or 1 cup fermented tomatoes (I grated a tomato; next time—and I’m definitely making this again—I will use a cup of roughly chopped canned San Marzano tomatoes)
1/2 small green cabbage, thinly shredded
1 14.5 ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoons sour cream
small bunch dill, chopped
Pampushky (Ukrainian bread, recipe featured in the book)
To make the stock, place meat, onion and bay leaf and water in a large pot. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook over low heat for 1 hour, skimming from time to time.
Add the beets and potatoes to the stock, season well with salt and pepper, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the sunflower (or canola) oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring, until the carrot is meltingly soft and starting to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes. (This is a distinctively Ukrainian soffritto technique called smazhennya or zazharka.)
Add the red bell pepper and tomato puree to the onion and carrot and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Stir in the grated tomato and continue to cook until slightly reduced. Add this vegetable mixture to the pot of beets, potato, and broth.
Finally, add the shredded cabbage and beans to the pot and simmer until cooked through. You may want to add some water to thin the soup here, as well as a splash of vinegar and/or a bit of honey, and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream and chopped dill. Pampushky (Ukrainian garlic bread) would also be nice. I have not gone there—yet.
ONE MORE THING
🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬 🥬
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