Sunday, February 15, 2015

Part One: Ukrainian-influenced salads and appetizers

SLO Veg came through with just the right ingredients for my Ukrainian salads.

"The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine" is a cookbook collection of Ukrainian recipes by Bohdan Zahny. The book was given to me by a cousin from Philadelphia who also likes to cook, after she attended a Ukrainian festival in Philly and spied it. She knew I would love it!

Our grandmother was a Ukrainian immigrant who came to Philadelphia on a ship to live with relatives. She married an older Ukrainian man and together they had 10 children, 8 of who survived. Neither one of them spoke and they relied on their children to translate whenever necessary. As you can imagine, it was hard to navigate through the system in the New Country and obtain services such as medical, financial, educational, employment, etc., so they stayed pretty close to their neighborhood, surrounded by other Ukrainians. My grandmother was deeply religious and raised her children in the Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholic church. She kept up the customs she had grown up with in the Old Country, and recreated the traditional dishes for Christmas and Easter and other religious holidays throughout the year. My mother met my father, who was an officer in the Navy, stationed in Philadelphia, and she was 20 years old when they married and began their travels across the United States. By the time I was born, they had settled on the West Coast, far from any Ukrainian communities. When I was growing up, most kids had no idea what a "Ukrainian" even was! About all we siblings knew was that Mom had an intricate method for decorating Easter eggs, she made an Easter paska, or bread, and decorated it and had it blessed by our Catholic priest. She made cabbage rolls, called "Holopschi", for family dinners and church potlucks, making it her signature dish to bring to any event.

When my mother turned 85, we had a family dinner for her where we all tried to create Ukrainian dishes. It was a fun and creative way to learn something about our heritage and honor my mother, and I have tried to keep the annual family Ukrainian potluck going through the years. The standard has become holopschi made by my brother CC, borscht made by my sister Mac, and some new dish made by me. Last year I made perogies, or varenky as the Ukrainians call it. They are little dumplings filled with potatoes and cheese and any number of other things, depending on the season, I guess. They are filled and then boiled until the dough is cooked through, then finished with a quick saute in butter and onions. Most modern diets don't approve of butter-laden fried foods, so some of my female guests didn't even want to try this dish. The men seemed to love it, though. This year, with time constraints of my work scheduling, I need something less labor-intensive anyway, so I am making some salads and an appetizer. I already made the fish balls and put them into the freezer.

The night before the potluck, I will put together a cabbage-cucumber-apple-tomato salad with a sour cream-vinegar-sugar dressing. I don't recall my mother ever making this particular salad, but she loved to make a sweet and creamy dressing for coleslaw. She also used a lot of tomato wedges and cucumbers in her green salads, so I guess this would be right up her alley. I am also planning to make a carrot and apple salad, using the same dressing. Mom would have put raisins in it as well, so I will too.

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