When I was eighteen, a childhood friend and I went to Russia together. We’d been friends when we were young, but had barely seen each other as teenagers. I am sure it must have been more complicated than this, but as I remember it, she basically rang me out of the blue and said ‘Do you want to go to Russia this summer?’ and I said yes.

I had lived in Siberia as a child, but didn’t have any memories of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where we were planning to go. It was only when I looked at a map that I registered that the place where we had lived, Bratsk, was about 3,250 miles east of Moscow, which perhaps explains why we weren’t exactly popping over there regularly. It probably goes without saying to those of you who aren’t as geographically idiotic as me, but Russia is bloody massive. Incomprehensibly, awe-inspiringly, mind-bendingly huge.

So that’s why my childhood memories of Russia are mostly of snowy wastelands and apartment blocks and queueing for hours to buy meat and nearly being blown away by gale-force wind before my father caught my arm and held me like a balloon (true story), as opposed to of cities like Moscow.

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The food, though? I don’t really remember much of the Russian food I ate as a child. I remember what my mother fed us, but that was whatever she could get her hands on, rather than anything particularly authentic. When I went back when I was eighteen, though, we stayed with Russian hosts and got some of the real deal: I remember us both being slightly taken aback at being served bowls of fuchsia borscht with sour cream for breakfast one day. We ate chicken stew with cabbage and dumplings, drank vodka at stupid hours, and tried as much Russian chocolate as we possibly could. There’s a fairly intense tea culture in Russia (which was a bit unfortunate for me as I really don’t like tea) and everywhere we went we had cups of it pressed upon us in welcome as we crossed the threshold.

You may have noticed that I am rambling on about Russian food despite the fact that the title of this post clearly states that this recipe is Ukrainian. My only defences are a) Ukraine is very close to Russia so I reckon I can at least try and make the argument that they have similar cuisine (based on no factual knowledge) and b) eating this, I was reminded incredibly strongly of the Russian food I ate when I was eighteen, which then sparked this rambling reminiscence.

Hey, it’s my blog, I can write whatever rubbish I like.

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Source: I picked up this book – Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & beyond, by Olia Hercules – on a complete whim. I haven’t had much of a chance to explore it yet, but there are loads of interesting looking recipes.

Notes: I messed around with this a bit, so this version isn’t exactly echt, although I did so based more on what I had in than thinking that any real changes needed to be made.

Ingredients:

Basic tomato sauce – whatever your usual recipe is will be fine, as will sauce from a jar if you are pressed for time
1 large Savoy cabbage
250g minced beef
250g minced pork
150g brown rice, parboiled for ten minutes and drained
seasoning
(the original recipe called for 40g barberries, but to be honest, if I can’t get it at the supermarket then I am not going on a special trail for it and I have no idea where you would get barberries from).

to accompany

sour cream
dill

Method:

  1. Make your tomato sauce (or open up your jar), and pop it into the base of an oven proof dish. Preheat your oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.
  2. Carefully tear around twelve large leaves from your cabbage, and blanch them for three minutes in a large pan of boiling salted water. Refresh them in cold water, and then drain them as thoroughly as you can on kitchen paper.
  3. Mix your beef, pork, and rice together in a bowl (I always find this easiest using my hands) and season liberally. Place an egg sized lump of the mixture onto a cabbage leaf, fold the leaf up around it to make a parcel, and place the parcel in your tomato sauce. Repeat until all the mixture is gone. I am absolutely terrible at this sort of thing but found it completely fine – it’s easier than it sounds.
  4. Pop your dish in the oven and cook for around half an hour, or until each parcel is cooked through. Serve hot, with a bowl of sour cream and dill alongside.