Ukrainian Food – Comfort for the Soul
Perhaps I’m biased. I grew up in an area where Eastern European food reigns king: pierogi, halushki, halupki, or whatever names other regions have for those foods. So all of these foods are a form of comfort to me, a reminder of home, of people and places I don’t have near me anymore. In a time where we may need a bit more comfort in our lives, we’ll answer the question – “What are some traditional Ukrainian dishes?”
I sincerely believe that one way to start to understand a culture unfamiliar to you is through food.
Understand the flavors and ingredients that are native to that area and used most commonly. Learn about the dishes and some of the stories behind them, how they came to be.
It’s what we’ve been trying to do with this site, broaden our horizons, not just our palettes.
Ukrainian food Influences & Staples
Because of its location, and size, bordering seven countries, Ukraine has a vast multicultural palette. Influences from Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, Poland and more are strong. The southern part of the country meets the Black Sea which brings its own culinary style with a variety of seafood available.
You’ll find that cottage cheese, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage are all popular in the cuisine. From my experiences at the Christmas Eve dinner table with my husband’s side of the family, mushrooms, barley, and peas are also big.
We’ll take a look at the Ukrainian meals one by one with a little information on each. I’ll include some recipes as well. Some you’ll find here, and some you’ll find from other great food blogs.
My mother in law calls them Palatschinke and makes them for us around Christmas when she comes to visit from Pennsylvania. According to Wikipedia they’re of Greco-Roman origin but popular in the Slavic countries. Greco you say. Hm.
The other names I see, Nalesniki and Nalysnyky are acceptable as well. They’re very similar to crepes. We eat them with butter and syrup. I’ve seen some recipes in looking for which to share that go for a more savory approach and serve with sour cream and dill. So you can really work this recipe into whatever you crave, or put out both options if making for a group to decide how they like them best.
This recipe for Nalysnyky from the site Nutmeg Disrupted, takes the savory approach and adds a cream sauce.
This recipe from the site Serious Eats is Austrian, however it works and looks very similar to the dish we know. If I find a distinctly Ukrainian version or can get my mother in law to give me her recipe, I’ll update at that time.
2. Deruni/Potato Pancakes
They go by many names around the world. Potato Pancakes may resonate the most with people. I can honestly say I’ve never heard the term Deruni/Deruny until today. But growing up in the Coal Region, Bleenie is the name that we know. Just another example of how one item has many different names depending on where you are.
One of our favorite sites, Natasha’s Kitchen brings you a recipe for Deruny.
Stuffed cabbage. This dish goes by many names, but in the Ukrainian culinary culture Holubtsi is more common. Halupki/Halupky I think is more related to the Coal Region of Pennsylvania. I go into more detail about this dish and what is is known as world wide with some variations in my own post, which you’ll see at the end of this post
From the site Tasting Table comes this variation. I am drooling just thinking about them. I definitely need to work on my photography skills on my own so they look this spectacular.
4. Varenyky/Pierogi & A Small Tale
Pierogi are an extremely popular dish, we’ll refer to them as Pierogi, which is what we know them as. Pierogi are dumplings, filled with a variety of delicious foods. Best known (to us) are the potato and cheese combo we grew up with, in the past I’ve also made them filled with sauerkraut, mushroom and bacon; a combination I highly recommend.
For some reason; I have yet to share the recipe we use. My dough and flour covered hands usually distract me from thinking to snap any pictures.
The first pierogi recipe comes from the blog Spend with Pennies. This is somewhat close to the recipe we use.
That Time I Won a Pierogi Eating Contest….
It was the summer of 1992. I was the tender age of 8. (And I promise that when I finally share my own pierogi recipe, this story will move over there.)
That particular day, I was at the public pool, and it happened to be some sort of family or community day. Hungry, I headed over to the concession stand. But I was distracted along the way, “Hey kid! Want to be in an eating contest?”. I was a tiny child, thin as a rail at the time. They must have really been looking for kids to participate. I bolted back to my aunt, who I was staying with, asking to sign me up.
They were potato and cheese filled, slathered in butter and lightly fried. Whoever was running the contest yelled GO and that was that. Ten, I ate TEN full sized, potato and cheese stuffed pierogi in just under 60 seconds… This tiny 8 year old won the under 10 co-ed division pierogi eating contest. I was a self proclaimed star.
While unfortunately the media missed this historic event (enter sarcasm), I have no photos. Thanks to a quick request of my late mother’s friend who sent me photos belonging to another friend, I do have photos of the Minersville Pool from the 1990s.
So, immerse yourself in the summer of 1992 while thinking of a hot July day, people coated in tanning oil laying by the pool unaware of the dangers of the rays casting down upon them, everyone smoking their preferred brand of cigarette, permed hair full of Aqua Net, and a bunch of kids with their faces smeared in butter after losing an eating contest to yours truly.
Here’s a photo of me at 8, taken from the photo book my grandmother kept of me. This was the winter before my big win. Check out those pierogi eating muscles.
Afterwards I bought a strawberry crunch ice cream bar to celebrate my win. Remember, I was hungry….
Bonus Pierogi Recipe:
There are also dessert pierogi, filled with cherries or blueberries.
This recipe for Blueberry Pierogi from the blog, Curious Cuisinière, looks absolutely delightful.
In all my decades eating pierogi, I’ve never had a sweet version. This post may just be the push I need.
Salo is comprised of fat slabs which cure in a combination of spices for 3-4 days. Reportedly it is usually served with Rye bread and Vodka. I have seen a restaurant in Kyiv, Ukraine that also includes horseradish along with the Salo.
Salo is an incredibly popular dish in Ukraine. It even has its own festival in the town of Lutsk and there was a museum dedicated to it in Lviv. As I write this in March of 2022, that museum is listed as closed for obvious reasons. I’m not sure if it closed prior to the current circumstances or only recently.
While this dish doesn’t particularly appeal to me, the spices, bread, horseradish, and the vodka might just be tempting enough.
If you decide to create this popular dish, this seems to be a flavorful recipe from the blog, Gastro Senses. The garlic and red pepper flakes should create a punch of flavor.
And Finally: 6. Borscht.
There was no way I could do a post about appreciating the cuisine of Ukraine without mentioning its National Dish. Borscht is a sour soup, with beetroots as one of its main ingredients, giving it an easily distinguishable red hue. It can be served hot or cold.
Popular in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, the other ingredients vary by region. In Ukraine, popular ingredients in the soup include beef, pork, salo, beetroots, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, tomato paste, parsley, chives, dill, bay leaves, allspice and black pepper.
Here is a recipe for Bortsch from Melissa K. Norris. She dives into more of the history and benefits of the dish, an interesting read if you want to understand more.
Our Ukrainian food and drink adventures
Potato Pancakes or as we know them, Bleenies. I can attest to these working each and every time and being oh so delicious.
Holubtsi/Halupky/Halupki has some Polish influence as the site I got it off of is from a family with mainly Polish roots. But I make it with my own Ukrainian roots so that counts, right?
Chicken Kiev, though it takes a great deal of time all together, 75% of that is time spent freezing the components so they are firm to prepare them for their next step. We highly recommend this dish.
Ukrainian Food – Final Thoughts
This is merely an introduction, dipping your toe into the cuisine of the Ukrainian people. We started this journey not only to broaden our tastes but to broaden our horizons. As I said above, I think a wonderful way to start to chip at the iceberg of a culture is through its food. The ingredients and stories behind the dishes tell you more than you could have imagined.
I hope this post did some justice to the foods of Ukraine. I could go on for sure, but that would be a much longer post. However, if you want to see more, or you’re familiar with the foods of Ukraine and want me to add any, PLEASE comment below! We are best able to understand what you want to see more of when you let us know!!!
And share this post with friends who love food from around the world. We appreciate each and every one of you, especially those who made it to the end of this post!