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A taste of the Ukraine

Jo Names

In our wonderful, diversified country, we have melted and blended many cultures. Right here in our own Grass Valley live Jean and Ivan Kochan, a couple who has blended Ivan’s Ukrainian background with Jean’s American one.

Jean, who has lived in Grass Valley 23 years, has led an interesting life. She raised two children, owned the Cedar Ridge Ladies Shop for many years, and, prior to her retirement, was director of social services for Meadow View Manor.

She is now making beautiful quilts, gardening and cooking Ukrainian dishes for her beloved Ivan. Regarding her many trips to Ukraine with Ivan, she says the country is beautiful and the people warm and kind. She says learning to enjoy Ukrainian food was easy and is particularly fond of borsch, a traditional soup from Ukraine.

Ivan came to this area through a most circuitous route, leaving Ukraine in 1944. He lived in Slovakia, Austria, Germany and Canada before arriving in the United States in 1955. He completed his Ph.D. at Stanford in microbiology and was a research associate there. He taught both at Baylor and Miami University.

During his time with Miami University, they “lent” his services to the Wright State University Medical School in Dayton, Ohio, where he developed their microbiology department.

After retiring in 1989, he wrote a book on microbiology in the Ukrainian language which is being used in colleges there today. In 1995, he moved to Grass Valley to be near his daughter, Christine Foster.

Jean and Ivan met in 1996 and were married in 1998. In addition to his many other talents, Ivan creates lovely wood carvings.

But I haven’t come to the part of this page which is going to appeal to the “foodies.” So here are the recipes. I hope you enjoy this taste of Ukraine.


Borsch is a national soup of Ukraine. It is a mildly tart soup with vegetables, predominantly beets, and flavored with a rich meat broth.

This standard recipe is the one most commonly used and variations can be made to suit one’s taste. For the meat in the stock, you may use beef or pork, or a combination of both.

11/2 pounds pork, trimmed of fat and cut in bite-sized pieces

12 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cans pickled beets with juice

1 small carrot cut in thin rounds

1 medium potato, diced

1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

1/2 cup cooked white beans or green beans, cooked

2 to 3 cups shredded cabbage

3/4 cup either canned diced tomatoes, tomato juice or tomato paste

1/2 clove garlic, crushed (optional)

1 tablespoon flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream with chopped dill to taste

Cover the meat with the water, add salt. Bring slowly to a boil, skimming foam and fat from the broth as it cooks. Cover and simmer for 11/2 hours. Add the onion and the beets; cook 10 to 15 minutes.

Add carrot, potato, celery and beans and continue to cook another 10 minutes. (When using the white beans, they should be added after the cabbage is cooked to retain their color). Add cabbage and cook until tender – do not overcook!

Stir in the tomato product and the garlic (if used). For a thicker soup, blend the flour with 3 tablespoons cold water until smooth. Blend in some of the hot soup and then add the flour mixture. Then taste.

Good borsch should be pleasantly tart but not sour. Add salt and pepper and bring to the boiling point for 2 to 3 minutes. When serving, pass a bowl of sour cream with dill for topping.

Creamed Mushrooms

Ukrainians hold a particular fondness for mushrooms, and collecting them is part of the fun! Here is one of the many things they do with them.

1 pound mushrooms

2 tablespoons chopped onion

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup sweet cream

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dill, finely chopped

Clean and slice mushrooms. Gently cook the onion in the butter until barely tender. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Make a smooth paste with the flour and the chicken stock; stir in cream, and add mixture to the mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until the mixture boils.

Add salt and pepper, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 3 minutes. Add the dill just before serving. This sauce can be thinned with more stock, cream or a combination of both, and can be served over mashed potatoes or meat.

Baked Buckwheat Kasha

In the United States, the word kasha refers to roasted buckwheat groats, but in Ukraine it is used in a broader sense for various grains, such as buckwheat, millet and oats. Of all cereals, buckwheat occupies the foremost place in the dietary habits of the Ukrainian people. Buckwheat kasha is to the Ukrainian what oatmeal is to the Scotsman.

Baked, this grain is favored as a substitute for potatoes or as a main dish in combination with a protein or as an accompaniment to a clear broth. It is also used as a stuffing for both meat and vegetables. Buckwheat groats can be found in a variety of sizes of grinds and can be found in markets which carry health food or organic items.

Cooking time varies with this dish depending on the age and moistness contained in the buckwheat. Bear in mind the finished product should be moist with the kernels separate and fluffy. If at the end of the cooking time the kasha is “mushy,” increase the oven temperature to 375 F and cook until the correct consistency. This dish has a lovely nutty aroma while baking.

In this recipe, the kasha is baked, and can be used as a cooked cereal or fried after it has been cooked.

2 cups buckwheat groats

4 to 5 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

4 cups boiling water.

Rinse and pick over the groats (you would be looking for small stones as in dried beans) and let dry in a colander. Place groats and melted butter in a shallow pan or on a cookie sheet and brown lightly in a moderate oven (350 F for about 10 minutes) stirring frequently until they have a nutty aroma. Keep an eye on them at this point so the butter doesn’t brown.

Then put the groats, salt and water in a pot and simmer until some of the water is absorbed, approximately 10 minutes. Next put groat mixture into an oven proof dish and cover.

Place in 400 F oven for about 45 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 F and continue to cook until all water is absorbed the kasha groats are separate and fluffy.

Medivnychky (Honey Cookies)

One of the sources for Ukrainian honey is the nectar from the previously mentioned buckwheat plants. These cookies are customarily taken as a house gift when visiting friends or family in Ukraine.

Jean says these cookies are crisp when fresh baked but soften and are great “keepers” when stored in an airtight container.

1 cup honey

1 cup sugar

4 cups flour, divided into 2 equal parts in separate bowls

2 egg yolks

2 whole eggs

11/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Walnut halves (optional)

Bring the honey and sugar to a boil in a medium sized saucepan. Immediately add 2 cups of the flour and whisk briskly until well blended. Cool mixture until just warm to the touch. Add egg yolks and eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after every addition.

Sift the second 2 cups of flour with the other dry ingredients. Add to honey mixture and mix thoroughly. Shape walnut-sized balls of dough and place on greased baking sheet. If desired, press walnut half into the top of each cookie. Bake at 325 F for approximately 20 minutes or until done.

See you next time! Bon appetit!!


Bring out your main dish salads!

I am still looking for some salads which make a whole meal for summertime eating. If you’ve got a particularly good one and are not averse to sharing it with our community, please send it to me.


Very sorry about the scone “problem” last week. For some reason my computer spoke gibberish to The Union’s computer and the ingredients became muddled. The correct recipe was published the next day, but if you missed that, please e-mail me and I will get the correct recipe to you!


Jo Names is The Union’s food columnist. She can be reached by e-mail at livewhyre@usamedia.tv or by phone at 272-6727.


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