A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Food

Paskha, the Russian Easter

Like in many European Catholic countries, Paskha is a weeklong festival. For the very religious, there are church ceremonies beginning a week in advance, but the most important days are the last four: Great Thursday (also known as “Clean Thursday,” because this day is dedicated to a thorough spring cleaning), Friday of the Passion, Great Saturday, and finally Paskha itself on Sunday. For some, Saturday is a fast day, broken after the Paskhal vigil church service, which ends at midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning. After that, the Paskha feast can begin!

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The Jew & The Carrot

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This is a public service announcement.

Henceforth, all recipes will be posted on The Jew & The Carrot, the epicenter of Jews, food, and sustainability on the web. I am now a contributor for the “Best New Blog” and “Best Kosher Food/Recipe Blog,” as awarded by the Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards in 2007. I’ll be adding a new recipe or food-related post every week, so be sure to check it out!

In fact, I just wrote an introductory post, Stranger in a strange land, and tomorrow at noon you’ll find an entry on February 23 and my famous vinaigrette. Coming soon: borsht, Pelmeni (both the classic and kosher variations), Ukrainian shwarma, and mushrooms a la Drapkina!

Defender of the Fatherland Day

February 23 was a Soviet memorial holiday celebrating those soldiers who fell in World War II defending Russia against the Germans. Today it has become a sort of Men’s Day (to compliment Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8). Although many Ukrainians don’t celebrate this holiday, our office takes it very seriously and prepares an entire spectacle and feast for the men. The women transformed the office into a Ukrainian kolkhoz (a collective farm during Soviet times, basically a Soviet kibbutz).

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Mimoza salad

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This is a traditional Soviet party dish, so put on your party hat, cause it’s gonna be GRATE! (Sorry, I just can’t help myself. Bad puns are like a disease.) You’ll need:

  • A can of your favorite fish. I used сайра (sorry; I don’t know how to say it in English!), which looks a lot like a sardine and is similar in taste to tuna.
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  • 4 eggs
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 large onion (any kind will do, but unless you’re really an onion nut, I would recommend green or red, as these are slightly milder in flavor)
  • 2 large potatoes (your preferred kind)
  • A healthy amount of mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the eggs, carrots, and potatoes for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the fish into a paste and spread an even layer on the bottom of a plate:

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Cover with a layer of mayonnaise. I don’t love mayo, so I tried to use as little as possible, but this is literally the glue that holds the whole dish together, so don’t spread it too sparingly:

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When the eggs, carrots, and potatoes have finished boiling, let them cool. Separate the egg yolks from the whites, grate the whites, and spread them evenly on top of the layer of mayo paste you just added:

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Here add a very thin layer of mayo (this is the only time it is recommended to be sparse). Next grate the carrots and spread them on top of the whites.

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Add another normal layer of mayo (as before on top of the fish). Chop the onion as finely as possible (very important! I was lazy and left my pieces fairly large, and it proved quite difficult to spread the mayo evenly and to add the next layer to the salad, as you can see in the picture). Add this as the next layer.

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You get the pattern. Spread another normal helping of mayo as evenly as possible. Now grate the potatoes and add them as the next layer.

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Spread your last layer of mayo, again your normal amount. If you’re really not into blander food, and you know you’re going to add salt and pepper eventually, this is the best time to do so. When you’ve sprinkled and spiced to your heart’s content, crush the egg yolks as finely as possible and sprinkle them evenly on top of the potatoes.

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All that remains are the decorations! Dig in and enjoy. Priatnovo apetita!

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Yom Kippur

This was one of the best Yom Kippurs I’ve experienced. I spent most of it with my Dnepropetrovsk family (ie: Sharon, Amir, Ido, and Ori Ben-Zvi). Last night, before erev Yom Kippur, I dined with the Ben-Zvis. It was a lot of fun. I showed up at 4:30 pm and played with Ido and Ori for a while. Then we attacked the perfect meal Sharon made us. Sharon’s family has observed the fast forever (whereas this is only Amir’s fourth year), so she has all these tricks to make it easier. Drink a lot, eat a lot of carbs, very little salt, and finish up with a special recipe. We had chicken noodle soup, noodle kugle, and challah with water to drink (usually you drink juice with meals here). To finish it all off, Sharon broke out this special drink: soak bread in water overnight and then sieve the bread out. This bread-water supposedly keeps you from getting thirsty all the next day. For all I know it worked– this was the easiest fast I’ve ever had! Read the rest of this entry »

Rosh Hashana

Friday, September 26

3 days until erev Rosh Hashana

Since the entire Joint office would have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off, and since not everyone works on Sunday, the office Rosh Hashana celebration was set for the Friday before the holiday. Someone had heard Sharon talk about making sushi for her family, and soon all the women were asking her to teach them (there are quite a few sushi restaurants in the city, but at least in the office, only Lena really goes to any of them. Many people had never tried Japanese food, in fact). Well, one thing led to another, and Friday’s Rosh Hashana lunch was a homemade sushi feast! We all helped prepare, rolling the maki, preparing the sumka (a type of salmon, I don’t know what it’s called in English), setting up the ginger and wasabi, making a platter of all the Rosh Hashana foods– apples, honey, pomegranate, and challah (the sushi was the fish)– and of course, since this is Ukraine after all, setting up platters of pickles, pickled mushrooms, and olives.

It was a wonderful lunch! Everyone had filled out small cards for at least five other staff members, and we all exchanged these. Drinks were poured, and toasts were made. Wine abounded. Everyone was in good spirits, and lunch lasted quite a few hours (as meals here tend to do). Read the rest of this entry »

Baklazhannaya Ikra

This eggplant spread is another very common Ukrainian dish served at most major gatherings. It is even easier to prepare than vinaigrette! What you need:

  • 4 eggplants (keep in mind that Ukrainian vegetables are much smaller than American roid-raging ones)
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 tsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed for juice
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

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