The general consensus is that Eastern European food is grey, gloopy, and always accompanied with boiled potatoes. But luckily for us, Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules is on a mission to turn the tables.
For her new recipe book Mamushka, Olia has drawn on the culinary secrets of her mother, aunts and grandmothers — a multicultural heritage taking in Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia, Siberia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. The result is a pan-eastern cornucopia of flavour, freshness and colour set to blow away the drab western stereotypes of the region’s cuisine.
Her first dish, this red borsch, is incredibly refreshing in the summer. I guess it’s a hybrid of something that Russians call okroshka (which comes from kroshit, meaning “to chop into small pieces”) and the Ukrainian kholodnyk (“the cold one”).
Olia likes the idea of brining the beetroot first and the process of putting fresh radishes and cucumber in it, too. A small splash of sherry vinegar, and a tiny bit of Tabasco if you can’t find fresh horseradish, to funk it up a little.
• 500g (1lb) beetroot, peeled and halved
• 1.5 litres (2 ½ pints) cold water
• 1 ½ tablespoons sea salt flakes
• ½ tablespoon sugar or clear honey
• 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) vegetable stock
• 1 waxy potato, peeled and diced
• 20g (3/4 oz) fresh horseradish, peeled and grated • freshly ground black pepper
• ice cubes, to serve
• 100g (3½ oz) radishes, finely chopped
• ½ cucumber diced
• 4 spring onions, finely sliced
• 1 tablespoon chopped dill
Mamushka is available at most large bookstores
1 Place the beetroot in a bowl or container, cover with the water and add the sea salt flakes and the sugar or honey. Leave it in your kitchen at room temperature for 2 days to let it brine lightly.
2 Drain the beetroot, reserving the brine. Cut it into thin slices and then into 5mm dice.
3 Place the beetroot, stock and 300ml of the reserved brine in a saucepan, taste for seasoning, then bring to the boil.
4 Add the potato and cook for 15 minutes or until cooked through. Let the broth cool, then cover and chill in the refrigerator.
5 Add the horseradish just before serving (it is so volatile, it will make you cry but will dissipate into thin air quite rapidly). Serve the soup chilled, with an ice cube or two added and garnish with the radishes, cucumber, spring onions and dill.
Words: Paris Bielby | Photos: Kris Kirkham | Agent: United