Follow Me Foodie’s Sunday Night Dinner Series
Follow Me Foodie to a traditional Ukrainian Easter dinner, ideas & recipes!
Христос Воскрес! So last Sunday was an annual dinner that I look forward to so much every year. It was Urkainian Easter (Orthodox date for Easter Sunday). Well chocolate eggs one week and paska the next? I’ll be bringing my basket! But wait, what is paska? Paska is a delicious Ukrainian Easter bread and I only get it once a year home made by my Ukrainian ”family”, so it’s almost like gingerbread cookies or that epic Christmas ______ that you get only once a year. I get so excited I almost can’t sleep the night before. So here’s a behind the scenes look at what happens when I’m not eating out at a restaurant. Follow Me Foodie to a traditional Ukrainian Easter dinner, ideas and recipes!
Dinner before dessert! I’ve been incredibly grateful to have a home made Ukranian dinner at least a few times a year, and this one is prepared by the Pazukha’s… how’s that for a last name? It’s hard to find authentic home cooked Ukrainian food in Metro Vancouver so this is just a peek at what it can more or less look like. Please take what you want from it and I hope you get inspired by some of the dishes, learn something new, or even try making a couple yourself!
If there are no beets on the table, then you’re at a fake Ukrainian dinner. Beets are a Ukrainian/Russian staple and good for digestion, as to why they probably all have perfect bodies. Anyway, this is a very simple beet salad that I’ve always enjoyed. It’s a chilled salad made from boiled and grated beets, garlic, a drizzle of sunflower oil (not olive oil) to coat, and perhaps salt and pepper. Traditionally it’s actually dressed with mayo and my favourite version of this beet salad includes chopped prunes and walnuts.
Ikra iz Baklajanov is a chilled eggplant dip. It’s char-grilled eggplant (not the long Japanese kind, but the big and stumpy dark purple kind), garlic, grated raw tomatoes, onions, and a dressing of plain sunflower oil to coat. Olive oil is more Western Europe, but I’m sure you could use olive oil and it would taste fine. The dip is comparable to baba ghanoush (Middle Eastern eggplant dip), but they have different flavour profiles. The Ukrainian eggplant dip is still very smoky in flavour, chunkier and lighter with its tomato addition rather than tahini (sesame paste) base.
Lucky for you, I was given the recipe for this eggplant dip to share, so please give it a try.
Ikra iz Baklajanov (Eggplant Dip) Recipe
4 large eggplants (not Japanese)
2 large tomatoes
1 small yellow onion
4-5 cloves of garlic to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Sunflower oil to lightly dress
1. Char eggplants using stovetop protectors, putting the eggplant onto the actual protector. This way the outside becomes completely charred and the inside is mushy and smokey. Allow to cool. NOTE: While it’s cooling the eggplant is going to release juices, reserve the juices to use later with the oil to mix the entire dip. The juices make the dip extra smokey. (That’s a secret tip.)
2. Mince the onion.
3. Grate raw tomatoes and include the juices and pulp in the mix for texture.
4. Crush the garlic and mince.
5. When eggplant is cool to handle cut in half and scrape all the pulp out with a knife. You need to be super careful to not get the charred skin, but still get all the pulp close to the skin. Once the pulp is removed, chop it up until it is fairly smooth, but still has some chunks to it. It’s best to avoid using a blender, but keep chopping for some texture. This is not supposed to be the texture of baba ganoush.
6. Mix eggplant with all other ingredients and let stand overnight so flavours have time to absorb.
Lastly is the Originalnaya Zakuska which is “The Original Appetizer” or the chilled cheese dip. It’s made with cottage cheese, garlic, mayo and dill. This is another one of my favourites and it’s almost like a fluffy garlicky cream cheese meets a ricotta and a cottage cheese dip. It’s eaten with bread, but I mix the beet salad with this. It’s totally not a traditional way to eat it, but I think they taste good together. Doing that is probably equivalent to watching someone put cream cheese in their Caesar salad.
I was also given the recipe for Originalnaya Zakuska to share. It’s delicious and would work with many things like salmon, omelettes, bagels or just with a spoon as is.
Originalnaya Zakuska (Cottage Cheese Dip) Recipe
- 400 gr Baker’s Dream Cottage Cheese (This is NOT the regular, salty curd-like cottage cheese. This comes in 400 gr. packs at Langley Farm Market.)
- 3-4 cloves of garlic to taste
- 1-2 tbsp mayo
- 1 tbsp chopped dill to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
2. It’s best made the night before so all the garlic has time to infuse. I warn you, this will give you major garlic breath, but it’s so worth it… maybe not for whoever you talk to afterwards, but who cares?
This is an Ukrainian potato salad called Olivie/Olivye Salad. It’s potatoes, carrots, peas, onions, hard boiled eggs, pickles, mayo, occasionally dill and a type of meat (typically boiled shredded chicken, pork, roast turkey breast or even leftover rotisserie chicken meat). Chef Hamid Salimian once made an avante garde version of this – see his Salad-E-Olivieh.
Salmon and caviar are other Ukrainian/Russian staples… along with Vodka. This was a house smoked salmon and a house cured salmon. When I say “house” it was actually smoked and cured at a house and not at a restaurant or retailer. The fish they caught themselves too. The caviar is eaten alone or over bread with that Originalnaya Zakuska (cheese dip) above.
Hello Mexico! Actually, no. This is still Ukrainian, but doesn’t it look Mexican? This is Pechenochniy Tortik (Liver Cake). It looked like whole wheat tortillas layered with melted orange cheddar cheese in between and cheese on top. I thought the white sauce on top was sour cream. This was new for me, but I was very excited to try it.
The “tortillas” are actually beef liver “crepes” layered with caramelized onions and carrots that are mixed with mayo and hardboiled egg yolks. In this version the egg yolks were only sprinkled on top and the “sour cream” spread is mayo. It was served chilled and it was very soft, but not creamy or mushy. It’s not like pâté, but the liver flavour is in the aftertaste. The layers are still very distinct and you can bite through each one as you eat it and they’re slightly brittle, but not crisp. It’s sliced like a pie and is considered an appetizer.
The seafood for the night was this Cedar plank smoked salmon which was marinated in some sugar and salt and a bit of honey. I don’t think this is unique to the culture, but salmon is very popular in Ukraine in general.
This is Makovyi Knysh or Ukrainian Poppy Seed Roll and it’s popular at Christmas, but I see it year round. I found one at Polonia Sausage House I really liked too. There’s a lot of cross over in Ukrainian and Polish food. I love poppy seed and I have to prevent myself from just eating the poppy seed part and leaving the rest. The poppy seed part sometimes has walnuts, raisins or almonds in it, or sometimes instead of poppyseed it can be all walnut paste/filling. This can be eaten for breakfast or dessert and the level of sweetness varies.
It’s made with cottage cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla, raisins, lemon zest, and sour cream. This one was topped with walnuts and it is flourless for any gluten-free folks. It’s a very creamy, dense and heavy cheese cake and it’s very cheesy, rich and quite sour in flavour compared to most other cheesecakes. It’s not a light fluffy cheesecake and not comparable to an American New York style cheesecake either since it’s cottage cheese. The texture is thick and a bit mushy and very moist so it’s nice to have texture from the other ingredients.
And this! This is what I look forward to most. Not that dinner wasn’t amazing, but this is really my favourite part. This is the original Paska – Ukrainian (or Polish) Easter Bread or Ukrainian Sweet Egg Bread. For a few years I was calling them “Ukrainian Houses” and it wasn’t until the last couple years that I realized that they weren’t houses and weren’t supposed to resemble houses. Oops. I guess it could be compared to raisin bread, challah or stollen, but I can also see all the Ukrainians glare at me for saying that and vise versa. It’s different, but just to give a frame of reference, it’s in that family of breads.
Speaking of families, I can’t share the recipe for this because it’s generally a big deal and based on somewhat “secret family recipes”. It’s made only during Easter and families would typically bring them to each other’s houses as gifts, or to trade. The host will also give some to their guests.
There’s a common belief that you have to be in a good mood and frame of mind to make the bread. So if you don’t feel like doing it – don’t. That theory reminded me of cooking. If you’re pissed off that day, the food won’t taste as good. It sounds cheesy, but it’s a labour of love… just like blogging!
Paska is a sweet yeast bread made from flour, sugar, butter, eggs, lemon juice and zest, salt, vanilla, cognac or vodka, and milk or cream. Sometimes it has orange zest and it may contain raisins, cherries or fruit, but it’s not Christmas cake! The tops are covered with icing and sprinkles. It’s not that sweet so I wouldn’t really consider it a dessert because I could have it for breakfast. It is a sweeter type of bread and it is quite rich, but you don’t realize it until after finishing a loaf (which I’ve done many times). It’s best eaten 3 days after baking when it’s slightly dry with a crumbly texture and not bready, soft, fluffy or stretchy. The flavours also need time to absorb. From my Ukrainian sources, almost anything you buy at the store won’t be as good and so far they haven’t found one they could recommend.
Making Paska is a very time consuming and labour intensive process so you really have to commit to making it. It’s about 1.5 hrs of initial kneading of the dough and then you have to let it rest for a few hours until it raises and doubles in size. From there you put them into the baking forms and traditionally it would be in tin cans that you save up. Once the tins are filled with dough they have to rise once more and double in size again. They bake for 45 minutes to an hour and only on one rack. The recipe is very finicky and although I’ve enjoyed the same one year and year, made by the same person using the same recipe, it tastes different each year. It’s not shocking though, kneading, climate and mood affects anything you cook or bake. I did find a recipe here, but I can’t guarantee how good it will be! Good luck!