January 07 was Orthodox Christmas and the second most important winter holiday in Ukraine, after New Years. It is a day for family and close friends.
We spent the holiday in Bar (not a bar, but the town of Bar) with a Ukrainian family. They were the host family of Volunteer who recently completed her service. We have been spending various holidays and events with them for over a year and it always a comfortable place to visit. Host mom is also one of the better Ukrainian cooks we know.
The holiday is about being together and eating and begins on the evening of the 6th. A large meal is prepared, twelve dishes are required and the first one must be kutya; a dish of whole wheat, crushed poppy seeds, honey, raisins and walnuts. It is delicious and healthy, sort of a breakfast or dessert for wood elves, squirrels or those on whole food diets. This is followed by a number of other dishes many including fish, the high-light being stuffed fish, a kind of fish-loaf. A bit ironic as the dish has Jewish origins. This a complicated course where the meat of the fish is removed and mashed together with bread crumbs, vegetables and herbs. Then it is put back inside the fish carcass and baked or steamed. When it is done well (we had the best yet on 2nd Christmas) it is treat. This is followed by any number of other fish dishes, meats (turkey and homemade sausages), root salads, dried or preserved fruits and more. After all this is finished dessert of tort (cake) and tea is consumed. This year there was even the bonus of Christmas plum pudding. Yes, I am still making it and it seems to be getting better each year. Ukrainians like it; it has meat fat, old bread, brandy and dried fruit in it, all popular in Ukraine.
The next morning brings another big meal, though less formal and had in the kitchen. We were served two different kinds of traditional vareniky (Ukrainian raviolis), one stuffed with sour cabbage and the other with preserved plums. There was more kutya, turkey, sausage and the rest of the tort and pudding and toasts to love, health, happiness, luck, success and more. After this second enormous meal in twelve hours, everyone rested a bit before we headed back to Vinnitsia and the family moved on to the village where host mom’s family is from.
We enjoyed ourselves a second time for Christmas in the pleasant home of a family that adopted us as easily as we adopted them. Now we only have Old New years left in this long holiday season.
On another note about food, does anyone have any interesting ideas of how to prepare beets? Yes the deep red to purple tuber of canned fame in the USA. I will be competing in a cooking contest next month where every dish must include beets. We have been running a number of experiments and with some success, but we are still looking for other ideas.
Beet ice cream…you beet it’s good.