ukrainian cuisine: 14 posts

Pumpkin Rice Pudding with a Millet Variation

The fall market in Ukraine is all about pumpkins–the delicate yellow squashes that resemble melons, orange rounds large enough to become Cinderella’s coach, elongated butternuts, green pebbly varieties with white flesh, and so much more. In the customary fashion of a Ukrainian market, the sellers offer small pieces of pumpkin to prove that theirs is the sweetest, the ripest and the most fragrant.

Sampling pumpkins at the market in Poltava, I realized that many varieties taste of violets. This floral-fruity note makes pumpkin an interesting ingredient in sweet and savory dishes. I like to roast pumpkin cubes tossed with garlic, chili and cumin as well as coated in honey and sprinkled with walnuts. I make minestrone with beans and bacon–or use pumpkin in delicate pureed soups with pears and cardamom. Its flavor is subtle, but it’s surprisingly assertive.

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Ukrainian Apricot Cheesecake (Syrnyk)

If I had to choose a favorite dessert, it would be cheesecake. If I had to choose a favorite fruit, it would be apricot. So, why not put the two together? The creamy cheese filling contrasted with the luscious fruit and crumbly pastry makes for a perfect summer treat.


Syrnyk, from the Ukrainian word for cheese, syr, is a local favorite. There are hundreds of variations, from the sumptuous Lviv-style syrnyk covered with chocolate glaze to the crustless cheesecake usually baked for breakfast. (Yes, Ukraine is the place where cheesecake can be had first thing in the morning.) But when I found a recipe in my great-grandmother’s cookbook for an apricot syrnyk, I was tempted enough to brave the heat wave and fire up the oven. The result was worth it.

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Chocolate Cake with Pistachios and Apricots

The romance that appeals to me has a dark side, such as the poetry of Paul Verlaine, novels by Mary Shelley, gowns by Elsa Schiaparelli and Alexander McQueen, and music by Modest Mussorgsky. In perfume, dark romance is expressed in fragrances like Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin, Caron Nuit de Noël, Arquiste Nanban, and Guerlain Vol de Nuit. If I extrapolate this idea even further into flavors, then it would be my dark chocolate pound cake with pistachios and apricots. It’s darkly romantic and decadent.

Bitter chocolate is complex enough to be paired with a variety of other flavors, but the combination with pistachios and apricots is one that I love for its harmony. Apricots give a tart floral note, while pistachios hold their own. Their sweetness becomes more pronounced against the dark chocolate foil.

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Jasmine of Angels, Jasmine of Madonna

Of all the names by which philadelphus is known–summer jasmine, farmer’s jasmine, mock orange, the loveliest ones are the Italian monikers of this sweet smelling blossom, Fiorangelo or Gelsomino della Madonna. Angel flower or Madonna’s jasmine.

In Ukraine we call it simply zhasmin, jasmine, and the jasmine of my Bois de Jasmin is this very plant. No summer image existed in my mind apart from its blossoming clusters leaving white petals in my hair and its heady perfume clinging to my skin.

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Cucumbers and Honey

Have you ever tasted a slice of cucumber dipped in honey? The combination reveals that at its heart, cucumber is  a fruit.

While the pairing of cucumber and honey may sound like an invention of young Danish chefs, it’s a classical Ukrainian duo and the ultimate taste of summer. By the time my great-grandmother was ready to harvest the first batch of cucumbers from the vines, the mild acacia honey would become available at the market, and the two went perfectly together, an earthy green and floral fragrance and the taste of sea and violet leaves in one mouthful. I couldn’t even unravel which nuance was of the cucumber and which of the honey.

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Latest Comments

  • Karen A in Pumpkin Rice Pudding with a Millet Variation: My current favorite recipe is from Istanbul and Beyond by Robyn Eckhardt, Meatballs with Pumpkin and Spice Butter. So so tasty! I have made it with ground lamb, turkey and… November 13, 2019 at 5:04pm

  • Karen A in Power to the Pumpkin in Art and Perfume: Love the article and comments! When Like This came out I got a sample and wrestled with getting a full bottle but didn’t. The ad with her reading the poem… November 13, 2019 at 4:58pm

  • Fleurycat in Power to the Pumpkin in Art and Perfume: Thanks Mara, I tried “Like This” several years ago and was surprised by the pumpkin aspect of this fragrance, and as I remember it wasn’t overpoweringly gourmand. I will have… November 13, 2019 at 3:56pm

  • Fleurycat in Power to the Pumpkin in Art and Perfume: Yes, please do! The scent is lovely but not overpowering. Of course it’s nice anytime, but this and several other Sanitas masks are especially nice as a first step in… November 13, 2019 at 3:51pm

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