Ukrainian Easter Dinner, Ukrainian Easter Bread (Paska) & Recipes!

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!

This is not Ukrainian. This is just havarti/bocconcini, basil, and tomato skewers with cured black olives as a simple hors d’oeuvre. I’m warming you up…

Beet Salad, Ikra iz Baklajanov, and Originalnaya Zakuska… I know. What? None of the above are figure skaters or ballroom dancers.

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions: 

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Method:

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?

Char-grilled bell peppers with garlic dressed in sunflower oil and vinegar.

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.

See! It totally looks like melted cheddar cheese, but it was actually the caramelized onions and carrots with mayo.

All the leftover egg whites from making the Paska (bread) was used for a frittata. Again, not Ukrainian, but why waste?

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.

And it’s never complete without the Shashlik!

The Shashlik or meat kebobs were made with pork which was marinated in vinegar, salt, pepper and onions.

And just like every European culture… what goes with meat? Potatoes.

I don’t know anything about this wine, but it looked sacred… and biblical. Karop is a very traditional Russian wine, but it was never opened, so for now it will remain a mystery.

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.

So dessert is rarely ever just one… that’s just in regards to me personally though. This is Tvorojnaya Paska or Cottage Cheese Paska.

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!

11 Comments

  • John says:

    This is one of my favorite blog posts by you ever. Very interesting to see well-made traditional homemade Ukrainian food.

  • Stacey says:

    Gorgeous! What a feast for the eyes and the stomach!

  • Carol Akiyama says:

    I have to second John. I don’t leave many comments. But this post really impressed me.
    Your incredible home cooked adventures are always my favorite of your posts.
    You lucky girl, keep eating!

  • Bow says:

    Gawd, another great meal you went to, Mijune ! Do you eat well or what ? !!! Wow, the food looks great. I’ve eaten at the Ukrainian Village(on Denman) but not so much variety as this.
    I too love smoked fish and that house fish looks terrific.

  • LotusRapper says:

    Beets eh ? I s’ppose Anna Kournikova must eat a lot of ‘em, then. ;-)

    I love it how you intersperse “non-Ukraine” dishes in the line-up, as if to add some humour into things. I sure wish there are Ukraine restaurants in town that serve foods such as this. I think the only resto that primarily serves Russian/Ukraine/Polish cuisines is Ukrainian Village on Denman (I hope they’re still there afte all these years). And I do miss Hunky Bill’s perogies years later after he retired. I find these cuisines so warming, honest and homelike (even though I’m not Russian/Ukraine/Polish). Let’s hope the remainining restaurants/delis in M.Vanc continue to operate and thrive in the future.

  • Dilara says:

    Wow this all looks so amazing!! I can’t say that I’ve ever had any of these Ukranian dishes though. Maybe I’ll make a friend soon and I’ll get to try it too :)

  • Mijune says:

    @John – wow really?!?! AMAZING! SO HAPPY I posted this!!! I’m so glad you have such a culinary curiosity!!!

    @Stacey – I know!! Cheers to the cooks!

    @Carol – this is great feedback for me!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I’m so glad you like these home cooked adventures! I’ll keep them coming!! I’ll keep eating for sure :)

    @Bow – I know. I’m so spoiled!!!!! Lucky!!! Grateful!! Ukrainian Village I actually went to with the people who made this… it’s not bad coming from them too. I mean it’s different… but still okay!

    @LR – Yes what i had here is very HOME, so you might not find it at restaurants which is the crappy part. it’s like home cooked Indian food… totally different than restaurant stuff!

    @Dilara – Ukrainian Village is an option and in Langley there is a perogy place that is legit! I also wrote about Baba’s perogies! A secret place you need to order from that has no official location!

  • Linda says:

    holy yummers! how jealous do we all get of these great events you get to be a part of :)

  • Mijune says:

    @linda – i know!!! I feel so lucky!!!

  • Emma says:

    What you are calling paska, is really babka. Paska is a bread that is decorated with religious symbols. Babka is the cylindrical shaped bread with raisins. Your Easter dishes are very west coast based and less traditional than the prairie based Ukrainian dishes — which have been passed down generation to generation in very close knit communities. You may have heard of Kalyna country in Alberta — this region has been predominantly settled by Ukrainians and their Easter dinner menu is very different from yours. Traditional foods in the Easter Basket, which will be blessed by the priest would include: Hard boiled eggs, Meat products – ham, roast pork, lamb, Kolbassa – sausage, Butter, Cheese or egg-cheese, Fresh horseradish root, Salt, Paska, Babka, Pysanky. The traditional meal would include: Holubtsi, Pyrohy, Nalysnyky, Pyrizhky, Pickled beet/horseradish relish (Hleim), Studenetz,Vegetables, Salads, and Tortes or Cheesecakes, and the Blessed dishes from the basket.
    Church-goers at Easter Sunday Mass greet each other with Христос воскрес! Воістину Воскресе! (Khrystos voskres! Voistynu Voskrese!), which means “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!”

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