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Zakusky for Easter Luncheon

April 21, 2011

Pysanka-Head Girl

Food at holiday get-togethers is the best of eating.  Easter is coming on Sunday. But more importantly, Easter luncheon is coming on Sunday.  When I was a kid and had to sit through Easter service, the Easter luncheon was a reward for making it through the longest service of the year. I’m not kidding – the service clocked in at four to five hours.  I loved what my mom served at Easter luncheon but I think most of my enjoyment came from the relief that Easter service was finally over. Also, we were legitimately starving after a four plus hour Easter service.  Now as an adult and getting to decide if I want to go to service and if I do, whether it’s sneaking in when it’s three quarters of the way done, the reasons why I used to enjoy this luncheon as a kid don’t really apply anymore. Now my love of the meal is strictly about the food.

Easter luncheon is the only one on my list of favourite meals that is all about Ukrainian food. A bountiful table of zakusky, small plates Ukrainian-style, is the main attraction of the meal. I’m a grazer and eating little bites of this and little bites of that is how I love to eat.  Most of the meat served is from the pig; pork has a bit of a monopoly at Easter luncheon. There are platters of different types of kovbasa, Ukrainian sausage. Some of the kovbasa are lightly smoked; some are double smoked; some are really peppery; some are a bit garlickier. Hmm…I think I’ll try them all.  Meat in aspic is a celebratory dish typically prepared for Easter.  My mom uses pigs’ feet as the meat but I’ve also seen other cuts of pork, beef and even chicken. And then there are even more platters of different types of cured meats, hams, and pates (which we call pashtet). I believe the trendy name for all this is charcuterie.  But this meal is not trendy. This is old school.

To go with all that meat, there is a relish type dish of beets with horseradish.  Cooked beets are grated then mixed with freshly grated horseradish and vinegar.  I like mine super, super sharp. That means lots of horseradish. It should clear your sinuses when you eat it. There are little plates of pickled mushrooms and pickled cucumbers.  Then there are potato salads and beet salads.  Sometimes there are beets in the potato salad.  Sometimes there is herring in the beet salad.  My favourite potato salad is served at Easter. There are lots of different variations, but it always has potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, peas and carrots, onions and pickles.  It’s bound with equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream.  There are all sorts of deviled eggs and just plain hard-boiled eggs. There’s also a mayonnaise sauce made with (surprise) mayonnaise, minced hardboiled eggs, chives and horseradish that goes really well with the cured meats.

Being of Ukrainian descent, I’m never sure if Ukrainian food is really good or do I just like it because I grew up with it. But I don’t have any doubts about the dishes served at Easter luncheon. This meal shows off some of the best of what the Ukrainian kitchen has to offer.

Here are the recipes I’m making for Easter.

Potato Salad
Very, very slightly adapted from my Mom’s recipe.

This is the potato salad of my dreams. This is the one that my mom makes.  I think anyone coming from Eastern Europe probably has a variation of this recipe. Backpacking through Europe, I stopped in a small town outside of Prague to have lunch at a local pub. My meal came with a side of potato salad. And it tasted exactly like my mom’s. Exactly. Even the ratio of sour cream and mayonnaise in the dressing was spot on. I was half way out of my chair before I realized I was involuntarily getting up to go into the kitchen to see if my mom was there.  You can find this potato salad already prepared at most Polish delis.  And of course, any Ukrainian mama knows how to make it.  After doing some internet sleuthing, it looks like this salad is typically called Salad Olivier. Smitten Kitchen, a much trusted recipe food blog, had a post on Salad Olivier; their recipe was almost an identical match to my mom’s.  Other recipes I found include meat in the ingredients: anything from pickled tongue (yum!) to chicken to bologna (no thanks!).

If I can give you one tip, it is to really wait until those potatoes have completely cooled before dicing them and mixing in the rest of the ingredients.  When I made this the first time, my best friend, Natalie, and I were craving this salad and so we called our moms and got the lowdown and then set to work.  The problem was, we were starving and a bit impatient.  Letting our rumbling stomachs guide us, we were sure that the potatoes had cooled enough. We started stirring all of the ingredients together and then the diced potatoes started loosing their shape and the whole mixture became a big glop.  What do you get when you don’t let your potatoes cool completely? You get mashed potatoes. Be warned.

I like to use white potatoes since they hold their shape well after boiling and make dicing easy. For the carrots, use the young tender ones that have their greens still attached. Don’t use the fat, soup-stock carrots for this salad.  I like red onions since they add a bit of extra colour to the salad but you could just as easily use white or yellow onions.

These quantities are just guideposts. I like for the potatoes to be at most half of the total ingredients. But if you like more potatoes in your salad or less, it’s up to you.

6 medium white potatoes (about 2-3 pounds)
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup frozen green peas
half of a large red onion, peeled and finely diced (about 1 cup)
4 pickles, diced
¼ cup chopped, fresh dill
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes whole. You can either peel them prior to boiling or after. I prefer peeling them after they have boiled and cooled. Once completely cooled, dice the potatoes.

Cook the carrots and peas in a steamer or in boiling water. They should be vivid in colour and just slightly softened. The peas will take less time than the carrots. If you’re cooking them together, add the carrots first and then when almost done, add the peas. You can toss the peas in still frozen.  My mom uses canned peas and carrots in her salad; this is a fresher option.  Let the peas and carrots cool.

Add all of the vegetables and eggs to one large bowl that will give you enough room to mix easily.
Mix the sour cream, mayonnaise and fresh dill together in a separate bowl. Add the dressing to the large bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the salad gingerly but thoroughly.  I say gingerly because you don’t want to mash everything together. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasoning if needed.  This salad tastes better after the ingredients have mingled together for a bit. Set aside in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.

Beets with Horseradish
Adapted from Olga Drozd’s Tsvikly recipe on her site Ukrainian Classic Kitchen

This recipe can be easily halved. It does make a bit – enough to fill 4 500 ml jars.
You can also adapt the recipe based on how sharp you want the relish to be. The original recipe called for ½ cup freshly grated horseradish. I like the relish to be searing hot and ½ cup of horseradish was not going to do it. I upped the amount of grated fresh horseradish to 3 cups.  I started at 1 cup and moved up from there, tasting between additions until the relish was hot enough for me.  To grate the horseradish, I used the bigger grates on my microplane.

10 medium beets
3 cups freshly grated horseradish
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
6 black peppercorns

If your beets have stems, trim them down to just 1 inch.  Leave the roots intact.  Scrub the beets thoroughly. Add them to a pot of water, making sure they are completely submerged. Bring the water to a boil and cook the beets until they are tender. When you can stick a fork into a beet, they are ready. It took an hour of cooking before the beets were tender enough. Drain and cover with cold water to cool them off.

When they have cooled completely, drain them again, slip off the peel and cut off the stems and roots.  Grate the beets. I use the medium sized star-shaped ‘grates’ on my box grater. But it’s up to you on how you like the texture of your beets. You can just as easily use the larger size grates.  Mix the grated horseradish into the beets.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and peppercorns and bring to a boil.  Strain the liquid over the beet mixture. Stir until well combined.  Mix and pack into jars. Seal and store in the fridge.  Allow the relish to stand for a day before enjoying.

Pickled Mushrooms
Very slightly adapted from Traditional Ukrainian Cookery (Trident Press, 1957)
By Savella Stechishin

This is a quick pickle for mushrooms that’s ready to enjoy the day after you make them.  Your mushrooms should be in good shape:  the caps should be smooth, firm and white.  The caps should be closed (no gaps between the underside of the cap where it meets the stem).  Smaller sized mushrooms can be pickled whole; if some of the mushrooms are a wee big, then they should be cut in half.  But please note that the mushrooms will shrink a bit after they are cooked.

1 pound small button mushrooms

1 small onion, thinly sliced
fresh dill sprigs (optional)

2/3 cup white vinegar
½ cup water
5 peppercorns
1 small bayleaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I used grapeseed oil; canola oil would be a good choice, too.)

Clean and wash the mushrooms.  Leave the stem attached to the cap.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the mushrooms and cook for 15 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool.

Now onto the pickling liquid. The amount of liquid you’ll ultimately need will depend on the size of jar (or jars) and how tightly you pack the mushrooms.  I packed the mushrooms into two jars, 500 ml each.  I had to double the recipe for the pickling liquid to have enough. If you like milder mushrooms, use equal parts water and vinegar.   Combine the vinegar with the remaining ingredients, except the oil.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid and set aside to cool.

Pack the mushrooms into the jar, layering with the sliced onions. If you choose to use the dill, layer it in as well.  I love dill and I loved how the mushrooms were ‘dill-y’ tasting. But if you’re not a fan or you’re not sure if you’ll like that taste, then I would leave out.  The dill taste is distinct.

Pour the liquid over the mushrooms and then top off with the oil so that the mushrooms are completely submerged.  Put the lid on and store in the refrigerator. After 12 hours, the mushrooms will be ready to enjoy.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nelly permalink
    April 25, 2011 8:03 pm

    I’ve passed the mushroom recipe on to mama and she is super excited to make it for the boys. Not letting the potatoes cool – you only make that mistake once.

  2. December 20, 2011 10:51 am

    Hi–My mouth was watering! I am familiar with the zakusky tradition as my family is Czech. Your potato salad also looks very familiar. We don’t put the peas in but it cannot exist without pickle and egg. We also add mustard. It is always a hit whenever I serve it.

    BUT–I am writing to thank you for the beetroot with horseradish recipe. I can’t wait to try it.

    Great blog! Can’t wait to peruse and read more.



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