It was the first recipe I learned as a child, and it became my signature dish. I was extremely proud to be able to make these sweets for the whole family all by myself. They sort of disappeared from my adult menu. I don’t even remember when I made them for the last time. A request to make them for the coming Fat Thursday surprised me. I had no idea they are traditional carnival sweets! For me, making them was another chance to reminisce about my childhood, family, home… Thank you.
Lviv syrnyk is the most popular dessert in Western Ukraine. It is a Ukrainian cuisine treasure and existed way before its worldwide popular counterpart Japanese souffle cheesecake. Both of them belong to the same category of desserts — light, fluffy, dreamy, and amazing with hot bitter drinks like black coffee and tea. Unlike Japanese cheesecake, Lviv Syrnyk is made with real homemade cheese with high-fat content. It is flavored with fresh lemon zest and juice and glazed with chocolate.
Made with relatively low-moist fresh cheese, traditional syrniki don’t need a lot of flour. Less flour helps to maintain low-carb diet and appreciate the natural taste of cheese in cooked pancakes. Syrniki are light textured, soft and fluffy, with only a hint of sweetness and vanilla. Serve them hot or warm, simply with a dollop of sour or whipped cream. The more elements you add, the more exciting this dessert becomes. You can add fresh seasonal or preserved berries and fruits. On top of the cream, sprinkle syrniki with sliced and toasted nuts, or cocoa nibs, or any other crunchy crumbs to add more texture and flavor variety to the dessert.
As I mentioned earlier, Salo in a Jar (сало в банке) is a highly popular way of wet curing salo at home, and there are recipes with cold and hot brine. But where the idea hot brine comes from? Can I speculate that someone impatient decided to try it hot? The result was somewhat in between cured and cooked salo, which is another widely used cooking method for pork belly in Ukraine. Cured with hot brine salo was so pleasing that the recipe quickly became popular. Using sous vide allows full time and temperature control in this recipe.
Even though true salo comes from the back of the pig, a thick pork belly with one or two thin layers of meat is what most of Ukrainians consider a treat as well. In any case, it’s a good start for homemade salo in Texas. There are different ways to make salo: dry and wet salting, using cold and hot brine, making it cold or hot smoked. Adding other ingredients to salt rub or brine changes the recipe from region to region. In Kharkov and Poltava region, I’ve seen salo made with salt and garlic only. In Western regions, black pepper and paprika are added to salt. The recipe below is my first experiment with local pork belly and dry salt rub and covers both variations.
I don’t have an explanation why we’ve never made dumplings with red and black currants at home. My Mom used to add currents to the sauce, but never fill dumplings with them. It’s funny that I am tasting this well known version of Ukrainian varenyki only now, so far from home, in Texas, where currants are exotic! I asked myself why dumplings with tart cherries and currants are so popular in Eastern European countries. I think, the key is the intensity of sweet and sour flavors rounded with soft dough and a little bit of cream or butter. Many other fruit and berries change its flavor when cooked, but tart cherries and currants keep it well and tease our taste buds with every bite!
Buckwheat is mostly unknown in the U.S., or at least in Southern states. Which is one the most mysterious culinary facts for me. Since we are conscious about gluten tolerance and actively discover ancient grains, doesn’t this Eastern European delicacy deserve to trend worldwide?
Buckwheat is one of the healthiest ingredients that makes the most delicious main and side dishes. It is available in bulk sections of supermarkets, sold either unroasted or roasted. Each form requires specific cooking methods and timing and can’t be substituted in recipes. Unroasted buckwheat grain is relatively soft. Even raw and dry, you can bite and easily crumble it with your teeth. It’s flavor is very subtle, and it makes a porridge when cooked with hot liquid. Good roasted buckwheat has darker tannish color and a very hard grain that doesn’t crumble. When cooked, it has fluffy texture and rich earthy and nutty taste.
Dark tart cherries are one of the most traditional fillings for Ukrainian varenyki — sweet dumplings served with fruity sauce, or melted butter and honey, or sour cream and sugar. Their recipes vary from region to region. Varenyki I remember were mostly made with the dough enriched by soured milk or whey and eggs. There are also recipes using only boiling water for the dough. All of them have the same goal — a dumpling with a soft and pleasant texture.
Korovai is a traditional Ukrainian bread baked for weddings and anniversaries. Like in many other Eastern-European cuisines, it symbolizes family union. The recipes and decorations vary from region to region and depend on occasion. See recipe notes for more information.