Let’s Talk Food: Savory Ukrainian Recipes

Hey, hey, hey! Let’s talk about food. Yeah? I love talking about food. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ I love cooking, baking, trying out new recipes, and feeding other people. It’s a good thing I enjoy it because approximately 79% of my waking hours are spent in search of food, thinking about food, or cooking food. My kitchen is my office and my happy place. πŸ˜† My favorite time is Sunday afternoon when it’s raining outside, and I’m cozy in my kitchen baking up a tasty treat. Add a podcast to the background and its perfection.

Ukrainian food is super basic and requires very few specialty ingredients. You could probably make most basic Ukrainian recipes with what you have in your fridge and pantry today. But it’s pretty yummy and the ultimate comfort food. Ukrainian cooking is ruled by the seasons. You cook what is available in the season and there are certain dishes for certain times of year. Fall/winter cooking in Ukraine is heavy on potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, and grains. When we first moved here and I wanted to bake with pumpkin in the fall everyone looked at me like I had three eyes. “Pumpkins are for farm animals!” But, western influence has changed a lot over the years and now you can find smaller pumpkins for baking on the market. I’m happy people have come to their senses about pumpkins because fall baking requires it! 😊

I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite (In English) Ukrainian recipes with you. Obviously, the most authentic recipes are the ones passed down from friends and neighbors, but the recipes I’ll share here are also great. Plus, most of them have been a bit westernized so the ingredients will be easy for you to find. There are so so many recipes that could be shared, but I decided to not overwhelm and offer up just a few yummy options for you to try. These recipes have all been tested and approved by my fam, our team, and our boys and are staples in our home. Try them out and let me know what you think! I decided to share only savory foods with you today, and next time we’ll cover sweets and baking.

Soup. Soup is a mainstay of the Ukrainian diet. Most Ukrainians are happy to eat soup every day and even for breakfast! Our kids eat soup in their school lunches every single day and parents would definitely be outraged if it was removed from the menu. Ukrainians gotta have their soup! I’m a massive soup-lover myself, so I can definitely get behind the Ukrainian soup obsession. Most Ukrainian soups are served topped with a spoonful of sour cream. Don’t omit the sour cream! It really does make a difference.

  1. Borscht. Duh. Now, my kids would correct me and say that Borscht is not soup- it’s just Borscht. But, it’s soup-like, so it will go first. Borscht is the National Dish of Ukraine, and there are as many variations of it as there are families. Every person will tell you that their grandma makes the best borscht. Some cook it with beans, some without (I’m in the “without” camp). You can use any kind of meat you like, or go meatless. I don’t really use a recipe anymore when I make borscht, but this recipe was my starting point back in the day. Do give it a go and see what all the fuss is about! Borscht Recipe
  2. Green Borscht. My kids like green borscht better than the traditional red. Green borscht is called “green” because it lacks the red beets but instead is packed with sorrel, a sour green that gives it amazing flavor. It’s also topped with boiled eggs which I was leery of at first, but quickly grew to love. So so yummy! Green Borscht Recipe
  3. Solyanka. This is my all-time most fave soup ever! There’s this little restaurant on the road from our village to Lviv in Western Ukraine that has the best solyanka you’ll ever eat in your life. I was happy to see on our way home from Germany that that little restaurant was still alive and kicking. Solyanka has dill pickles in it, but don’t let that scare you. It’s amazeballs. TRY IT. I highly modify this recipe, but it’s a good starting point. It calls for a lot of different meat, but we use just chicken and salami. Also- don’t skip the olives, lemons, and sour cream at the end. (Any kind of olives will do. You don’t need the special ones called for in the recipe) Here ya go: Solyanka Recipe, Solyanka Recipe in Ukrainian (This recipe is closer to how I make it- but with potatoes. If you can Google translate it, then go for it!)

Non-Soup Savory Dishes

  1. Banosh. My kids literally jump for joy when I make banosh. And it’s so easy!! Banosh is a famous Ukrainian dish from the Hutsul people of the Carpathian Mountains. When we all go to the mountains together with our team and the boys we definitely make it a priority to have lots of banosh. It’s a dish that holds a lot of special memories for all of us. Now, the recipe I’m attaching is a good base of banosh with bryndza (salty sheep cheese), but banosh is just meh if you don’t add other toppings. We like to add carmelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, bacon crumbles, and a fried egg to the top of our banosh, along with the bryndza. If you can’t find bryndza you can replace it with feta cheese for a similar salty taste. Banosh Recipe
  2. Olivye. This Ukrainian version of a potato salad is straight-up party food. Every holiday, birthday party, and special event is bound to have a big bowl of Olivye and I am there for it. There’s just something super yummy and satisfying about it. You must give it a go. It’s super important to chop everything small and into similar-sized pieces. The uniformity of all the little chunks with the mayo makes this salad something special. No big chunks allowed! So what if today’s not a holiday? Any day is a good day for Olivye. Olivye Recipe
  3. Grechka. If you’re planning to visit Ukraine anytime soon (you’re probably not, but…πŸ˜‚) then you’re going to have to learn to like buckwheat (“grechka”). I’ve noticed that it’s an acquired taste for most Westerners, but I can testify that you really can learn to like it. When we first moved here I was not a fan, but over the years grechka has become a comfort food of sorts. Our kids eat it at school for lunch at least twice a week and all of our boys love it. Enjoy this basic recipe for grechka with mushrooms. The recipe calls for dried mushrooms, but I usually use fresh, as that’s what I have on hand. PS: Despite having “wheat” in its name, buckwheat is actually a gluten-free food. Grechka Recipe

English Recipe Resources. These sites were my go-to websites when we first moved to Ukraine and I realized trying to cook “American” wouldn’t cut it here, but I couldn’t read nor understand recipes in Ukrainian. I learned the basics of Ukrainian cooking from these sites before I had friends to tell me what was up. They all have categories for “Russian and Ukrainian food”. Ukraine and Russia have many, many differences (as Russia is currently showing the world) but when it comes to cooking they share many of the same recipes and flavors. I hope you will try some recipes for yourself!

  1. Natasha’s Kitchen
  2. Olga’s Flavor Factory
  3. Valentina’s Corner
  4. Momsdish

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Five Things That Are Bringing Me Joy

Yesterday we had our first snow πŸ‘πŸ‘. A lot of it melted off, but still, tis the season! I love the first snow. It’s always so pretty and magical. Come February I’m more than ready to never see snow again as long as I live, but December snows are always welcome.

While I’m cozy here in my village house that I love so much, I thought I’d share some things that are bringing me joy this snowy December. Because, why not?

1. Yummy scented candles. I love love love a good candle. Candles bring me an obscene amount of joy, but in the past I could never find nice scented candle here in Ukraine. Until now. Yay! A local company here in Zhytomyr makes wonderful candles and they are making me so happy! I bought a few and burn them every morning and every evening. They smell like Christmas and forests and baked goods and all the best scents of the season. Hurray!

2. Freshly baked bread. A while back I was inspired to make some bread. I make dinner rolls pretty often, but have never been much for making just a basic loaf for slicing. I’m not sure why. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ Anyway, the basic bread we get at the store here is never very tasty, so I decided maybe I should just start making our own. My requirements for the recipe were basically that it would be cheap to make (ie- uses basic white flour, no milk, and no butter) and would make at least two big loaves. I found the easiest, tastiest recipe and am so happy making our own bread! It takes a while, but that’s mostly just rising time. The hands-on time is maybe like 10 minutes total. I’ve been baking it every couple of days and it’s seriously so easy! Here’s the recipe: https://prairiedogwoodcraft.com/blogs/cooking-baking/basic-everyday-bread (FYI, I use oil instead of butter because it’s cheaper…πŸ˜†)

3. An electronic library. We are a family of readers. I think ever person in our family (except Evie, Bmo, and Vlad) goes to bed with a book at night. We mostly read from Kindles because we have no English library here and reading in Ukrainian is not necessarily relaxing. πŸ˜‚ In the past we’ve had different subscriptions to meet our reading needs. We’ve tried Kindle Unlimited and Scribd and they were fine, but expensive and even then we couldn’t find many of the books we wanted to read. We also electronically check out books from our library back in Oregon, but the hold times are so loooooooooong. It just felt like it was always so hard to keep the kids on a steady diet of books without spending tons of money or trying to figure out how to send them with people who would come to visit (heavy!) But then, we were introduced to this amazing online library and oh the joy it is bringing to us all!!!! We just donate $5 every month and we can download tons and tons of books to our Kindles with zero hold times! It’s a serious Christmas miracle. A definite lifesaver for this book-crazy family who’s been without a library for 8 years!

4. My Teenagers. I’m telling you what: mothering teenagers is so.much.fun. Why did no one ever tell me that?? Right now we have 2 3/4 teens in the house. Addie is 17, Ezra is 16, and Hava will be 13 this month. They are just so wonderful and they bring me a huge amount of joy. They are funny and fun to be around. They each have their own quirks and opinions. They are growing into wonderful people and I just love living with them. I treasure our evenings when we the littles (and Bmo) are in bed and we can sit (with our amazing candles) and just chat or watch stupid SNL videos, or The Office together. I know our time together is growing shorter and shorter so I have this feeling of wanting to steal as much time with them as I can. They make me happy.

5. Π”Π°Ρ…Π°Π‘Ρ€Π°Ρ…Π° (DakhaBrakha). DakhaBrakha is a Ukrainian folk band that I love. ❀️ They sing in the style of traditional Ukrainian music, but with a modern, creative twist. They are so funky and fun and we love them. This past week they did a concert in Zhytomyr and you better believe we were there! They were amazing in concert- so talented. You should give their music a try! You can see a video of them performing in Oregon here.

What’s bringing you joy these days?

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Kolobok Party πŸ˜‹

Kolobok Party πŸ˜‹

We had the best time making our own Колобок ❀️ Thanks to our favorite Kolobok film for the inspiration
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GbM1mKgpFY

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My McDonalds Alter Ego

Yesterday I had McDonalds for lunch, and it was delicious. Big Mac Meal with Coke, thank you very much! Don’t mind if I do. πŸ˜‹

Something interesting has happened to me over the past (almost) seven years of living in Ukraine. I have developed an alter ego when it comes to McDonalds. This change came upon me almost immediately upon moving to Ukraine, and while for some years I was embarrassed to admit it, I now fully embrace the McKrainain version of myself. No shame. No hiding. This is me- with ketchup.

Let me explain.

I feel like the US has this thing going on where everyone publicly denies their love for McDonalds, and yet McDonalds thrives and thrives. Last year they reported a revenue of more than 7 BILLION dollars…in the US alone! Soooo…as much as we might hate to admit it, someone’s gotta be eating all that McD’s…

I get it, I get it. It’s not necessarily the cool place to be seen at. I mean, if I was at McDonalds in the US and someone I know walked in, I’d feel like I kinda owed them an excuse. “Ummm Jed just really loves McDonalds. Of course I think it’s gross, but he’s just gotta have his McRib! I much prefer Chipotle, but you know…anywaysss…” (It’s so much easier to throw Jed under the bus, since he’s literally impossible to embarrass. Not that I take advantage of that. Ahem…) πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ

I have a friend who lives just up the hill from McDonalds in our home town in Oregon and I feel like I would do just about anything to make sure she never saw me in the drive-thru. Is it just me? Why all the McShaming? You gotta admit their fries are the besssssst. Come on, don’t be shy!

So yeah, when we lived in the US I was totally on the bash-McDonalds-bandwagon. But then, something about moving 6,000 miles away from everything familiar made me shift my perspective. Can’t imagine why.

In our city, McDonalds is the only American chain restaurant to be found. It’s also the only drive-thru, so there’s that. A couple hours away in Kyiv you can find KFC (but no biscuits or coleslaw, so yeah, not the same), Dominos, and maybe a small Baskin Robbins? But I think that’s it. And in our town, McDonalds is all we’ve got.

Upon our arrival in Ukraine with 4 littles and zero language skills, those Golden Arches spelled “HOME”. Once the jet-lag wore off and we kinda began to realize we were here for good, we couldn’t get there fast enough. Anytime we felt homesick or sad or helpless or stupid, a double cheeseburger and fries was what the doctor ordered. The food tasted the same. The menu was super similar. We could order basically in English and they could “mostly” understand us. In those early days, McDonalds not only filled our bellies, but it reminded us that we were not just the dumb Americans who couldn’t even grocery shop without feeling stupid. We were smart people with friends and family who loved us and a whole history of not-stupidness behind us. Seriously, Guys, nothing brings on humility stronger and faster than moving to a foreign country where English is not the official language. It’ll bring you down about 50 notches in the first 10 days. Ouch.

Evie and Daddy on a McDonalds Date

Over the years we’ve come to rely less on McDonalds to ease our pains, and it’s become more of a special treat. We take our kids there on dates. On the rare occasion when Jed and I are in town together without kids, we go there and it feels like our special secret. It tastes like home, even though we rarely ate it till we moved away from home. Oh, the irony.

Another thing to note is that McDonalds is a totally legit place to eat in Ukraine. You would never be embarrassed to find one of your friends at McDonalds in our town. McDonalds is always a good idea here. It’s something special and it’s different than any other restaurant in our city. I feel zero McShame while in Ukraine. Bring on the burgers!

But, the minute the airplane touches down in the US, all that changes. I instantly become a person who wouldn’t even consider McDonalds. I am so high above McDonalds I can’t even be bothered to watch their commercials. All that grease! Why I never!

Is it because I don’t want to waste my time eating food in the States that is readily available in Ukraine? Is it because I’m surrounded by so many much tastier restaurants in the US and McDonalds isn’t special there? Or does the high schooler in me so readily succumb to peer pressure that I slide back into my old prejudices as soon as I return to my old stomping grounds?

I could dive deeper into how all the parts of my personality shift from one continent to the other, but I’m not in the mood for introspection today. Let’s just say, that my McEgos are just one facet of the confusion that comes with living cross-culturally. What is widely acceptable to me in one place, does not always make the cut in the other. We’ve all become part chameleon over the past 7 years, I guess.

What about you? Have you ever traveled overseas? Did you have a hankering to eat at places that were familiar to you? Did the Golden Arches beckon? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on food as “home” and on McDonalds in general. Because why not? πŸ˜†

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10 Things I’m Learning

Every day is an adventure around here. You just never know what the day will hold! We are definitely in the trenches right now with our new guys, but are seeing little signs of progress along the way. There were a few weeks in there when I woke each morning with great fear of what the day would hold. I don’t feel that as often anymore. The days (and nights) are still unpredictable, but the better we know our guys and the better they know us, the more tools and relationship backbone we have when the rough moments come. Things are looking up, slowly but surely!

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Things I’m learning right now:

Routine routine routine. Nothing beats a good routine. Our guys thrive on it like nobody’s business. They seem so much more at peace when they know what’s coming next.

Routine routine routine can also turn around and bite you. In other words, a change up in the routine can really throw a wrench in their day. Yikes.

Double (or triple) every recipe, every time.Β 

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Keep the bedside loaded. Anton sleeps better if all his fidget spinners (even the broken ones) are at his bedside during the night. He just likes to know they’re there.

Time spent on character building is time well spent.Β When it comes to homeschooling, character training comes first. It is not a waste of time to spend time on character building. Good character is what it’s about! Who cares if our kids are super smart but lack character?!

A load a day keeps the mountain away. One load of laundry a day keeps things manageable. Two a day is even better, but at least one must happen or we drown.

Outsource cooking. Vladik cooks a big ol’ pot of soup every week with his teacher, we pay a neighbor lady to make lunch once a week, and I’m currently teaching Addy to cook dinner one night a week. In a world where most everything has to be made from scratch and I’m feeding 10-13 people 3 times a day, these kitchen respites are saving my life.

Spiritual Disciplines matter. We have no business walking into our day without putting Jesus in His proper place in our lives. We need him for every breath.

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Sleep is overrated. Between Anton’s middle-of-the-night roamings, Boris’ middle-of-the-night screechings, and Evie’s middle-of-the-night feedings I’m learning to hold on to sleep reeeeeeeeal loosely.

All people are precious. People will not know they are precious unless someone tells them and shows them they are precious. It’s easy to say, but harder to live. At times it seems our guys want to make themselves as unloveable as possible, but still, in those moments, we must show them that they are precious and loved. Every time they rage or yell or cry or harm themselves it is communication. In those moments they are crying out “Do you love me? Am I lovable? Do I matter to you?” Ruslan asks in words, “Do you love me, Mama?” Anton asks with his eyes, forehead touching mine, eyes searching. My prayer is that in those moments, no matter how tired I am, no matter how hard my buttons have been pushed, no matter if my feelings have been hurt- my prayer is that my answer will always be “Yes. You are precious and I love you.”

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