Last week, I shared our experiences at a protest and visiting a landscape park in Lviv. But our excitement was not yet done for the day, we ended it at a cooking class. As we prepared for our trip to Ukraine, The Eldest said “wouldn’t be fun to take an Ukrainian cooking class?” To which, we replied, “Sure!” If you’ve read some of my earlier posts from Ukraine, you may remember that my traveling partner is 50% of Ukrainian descent on her father’s side, making The Eldest a quarter. My traveling partner’s mother was of German ancestry but cooked a lot of the traditional Ukrainian foods (many similarities, different names). Being she was the oldest girl in her family of six, my traveling partner began cooking for the family at an early age and was well schooled in the preparation of Ukrainian dishes, American style. So a cooking class to learn the traditional way of Ukrainian food preparation was right up her alley!
The Eldest signed us up for a class taught by Kateryna Lytvyniuk called Sil′ Ukrainian Cooking Class. Sil′ is the word for salt in the Ukrainian language and Kateryna has used salt to weave a metaphor that goes something like this: ‘salt brings out the flavor in food and was used to preserve foods when traveling and traveling brings us together.’ The class was held in Kateryna and Andy’s (her husband) beautiful and comfortable apartment somewhere in Lviv. Andy picked us up at our AirBnb and dropped us off at the apartment while he retrieved another party of three. Meet Kateryna, the instructor for the evening and a professional architect by day who designed the kitchen for her passion of cooking.
While waiting for the other class participants, Kateryna was busy readying the ingredients for the dishes we were cooking: varenyky (dumplings or pierogies), borsch (soup), pampushky (small rolls) and a desert of baked apples with cinnamon and honey. In the photo above, Kateryna is pouring her homemade drunken cherry, a liqueur that is very popular in the Lviv area. With it poured, we made a toast and sipped away knowing it was going to be fun evening!
Kateryna invited us to check out the hors d’oeuvres’ tray with cheeses, meats, dark bread and salo. Salo is a traditional, very popular Ukrainian food that is essentially tender salted pork fatback consumed on a piece of rye bread with slices of garlic and maybe chased with a shot of horilka, a vodka like moonshine. I skipped the garlic slices and washed it down with some drunken cherry and found it was pretty good! After tasting salo, we asked every Ukrainian we met if they like and eat salo, their eyes light up and replied to the affirmative!
Soon the other dinner guests arrived. Meet Oksana, Eddie, and Tania from Australia. Their families were part of the Ukrainian diaspora in Australia with some immigrating as refuges prior to World War I but most after World War II. Oksana and Tania both spoke Ukrainian and shared that they had to go to Ukrainian school every Saturday to learn the language and preserve the culture. They were in Lviv to attend the wedding of a family member. It was fun to listen to their stories and history.
Kateryna gave us all a job to do, some shredded the beets and carrots for the borsch, sliced onions and garlic while others mixed the dough for the varenyky and pampushky. My traveling partner worked on mixing the dough with Kateryna’s assistance. She did have to interrupt her work when it was time for another of the many toasts!
The Eldest sifted the flour for the pampushka and with Kateryna’s instruction, the rolls were ready for the oven.
My job was to stir the onions to make sure they didn’t get over done and to skim the greenish scum off the water where the meat (pork and beef) was cooking in water. It kept me out of the way of the others who were doing the “real” work!
When that job was completed, I rolled out the dough for the varenyky, it was good exercise for the biceps as it took strength to bear down on the dough. With all the Ukrainians in the room, I received a lot of advice on just the right thickness for the dough. Too thin, the varenyky wouldn’t hold the filling; too thick, the boiled varenyky would be too doughy.
After a couple hours of preparation, it was nearly time for the final step, the boiling of the varenyky. But first, melt a lot of butter, fry some onion and bacon to top them off. Health food this is not! But good food it is!
With the counter cleared and the table set we were ready to sample our creations.
First came the big bowl of borsch, a hearty soup made with shredded beetroot and carrots, with beef and pork, and topped with green onion and dill weed. Borsch can be served either hot or cold, with or without meat. It is said there are as many versions of borsch as there are Ukrainian cooks! This version was delicious and very filling.
Next came the varenyky, one of the national dishes of Ukraine. Varenyky is a crescent shaped dough envelope filled with variety of ingredients such as cottage cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, cabbage, and/or meats. They are then boiled for a few minutes in salted water to keep them from sticking together. Before serving they are usually topped with fried onions, bacon, and/or sour cream. If there are any leftovers, they can be fried, my favorite! There are also sweet varenyky filled with cherries or other fruits then topped with sugar or honey or a syrup. For this class, we filled our varenyky with cabbage, mushroom and cottage cheese.
After stuffing ourselves with all the food we could eat and then some, we posed for an obligatory class photo. I guess we passed although Kateryna send us home with some of the leftovers, maybe she was trying to tell us something!
It was a great evening with good food, good drink, good stories and good fellowship. This is what traveling is all about, learning from and about people and their cultures.
Next week join me in Kyiv where we’ll spend the next seven days exploring the Ukrainian capital.
Until then, travel safe.