Daria Klemick, a member of various Ukrainian groups in the greater New York area, has grown up in a home where cooking with family is a way to spend time together, laugh, and learn about the vast array of foods that help define Ukrainian culture. As with most nations, food is a staple in Ukrainian culture and history; it is a focal point in dances, Easter basket blessings, and holiday spreads. With its roots in the XIX century, Ukrainian cuisine has evolved through time and the various regions have shared characteristics along with those that are unique to themselves. Through time, Ukrainian cuisine has been influenced by Polish, German, Turkish, Hungarian, and Russian recipes, while simultaneously influencing the food in those same locations. It is through this back and forth sharing of recipes that Ukrainian foods have developed into what they are today. Ukrainian cuisine ranges from simple dishes with traditional methods of preparation, to complex dishes with intricate preparations. Among the dishes that stand out are Borsch, Holubtsi, and Varenyky.
Borscht is a favorite food among travelers and tourists visiting Ukraine. This dish is a beet soup that is extremely common at Ukrainian family gatherings. Polling showed that this was the favorite food among the Ukrainian people. This dish has roots that are very old, dating back to ancient times when pich masonry stoves were common in the household. The original name for borscht was "brew with herbs". Originally, it was a simple dish of beetroot and herbs; however, the recipe has progressed to include a wide range of vegetables, but beets are always the main ingredient. Its preparation is actually quite complex. Today, recipes for borscht can include up to 20 ingredients. The temperature at which the soup is prepared, as well as the order the ingredients are added, greatly influences the final taste of the dish. Due to the complexity of the ingredient list, the recipes vary by region largely due to availability. Variations include red, green, and cold borscht. Borscht, along with being widely popular, is featured in many Ukrainian traditions making it a staple in the cultural cuisine.
Holubtsi is another popular Ukrainian dish. This dish is composed of cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice, and tomato sauce. It is believed by many that the original holubtsi recipes originated in Western European parts of Ukraine, and over time many regional variations have arisen. Cabbage roll recipes are also common in the cuisines of Greece, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic. The Ukrainian version of these cabbage rolls uses either ground beef or pork, or a mixture of the two, and pickled or fresh cabbage leaves stewed rather than fired. This dish has great nutritional value in addition to its wonderful flavors. High in protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, lycopene, and folic acid, this dish can be enjoyed guilt free. The traditional recipe involved the meticulous wrapping of the stuffing in the leaves, but a more deconstructed form also exists in the form of patties that are stewed after mixing all of the ingredients together.
Ukrainian dumplings, called varenyky, take many forms with flavor profiles ranging from sweet to savory. The sweet forms are often filled with cherries, rose berries, strawberries, cheese, or jam. The more salty and savory dumplings may have a filling made from potatoes, mushrooms, meat, cracklings, cabbage, or a salty cheese. The shape of the varenyky also vary. They can be found in triangular, round, or crescent shapes. The dough is made from wheat, buckwheat or barely to given different flavor profiles and textures. The stuffing and final construction of the dumplings depends largely on region. For example, mashed bean dumplings can be found in Polissia regions, boiled peas and guelder rose berries are common stuffing types in Poltava, and brine cheese and potatoes are used by villagers in the mountains. Among the favorite fillings are potatoes, cracklings, chese, and dried fruits. Kraplyky, a more lean version of varenyky, is prepared as part of Christmas Eve celebrations. Varenyky has origins in the Kyivan Rus times when it was prepared as a celebratory dish at weddings and obzhynky, which is a harvest festival.
Food is a common element that helps shape the identities of cultures, and Ukrainian culture is no different. Food is featured as a major element of holidays, dances, and family gatherings. The techniques and recipes for Ukrainian dishes vary by region and through time; however, they all share common influences and significance.