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Not your baba's dinner

Ukrainian comfort food doesn't have to be stodgy

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With cooler weather and shorter days, the desire for warm and cosy meals grows. From Grandma's apple pie to mashed potatoes, comfort food takes many forms.

To me, no food comforts more than a Ukrainian-themed meal with family gathered at the table. As a Ukrainian kid growing up on the Prairies, perogies, cabbage rolls, sausage, borscht and freshly baked bread were part of every special-occasion meal.

Luckily, at least one or two of these items also made an appearance at just about every family gathering. I definitely give thanks for a Baba and parents who patiently pinched all those perogies and rolled all those delicate cabbage leaves.

As any fair or folk festival demonstrates, you don't have to be Ukrainian to love food with eastern European roots. There's usually a long lineup at the perogy vendor.

But aside from simply boiling frozen perogies, it can seem difficult to bring these great flavours into meals at home without investing hours and expecting to consume a rich meal loaded with calories and fat.

These recipes provide options to add to your repertoire that are easy enough for everyday meals but also impressive enough to serve when entertaining.

Try the perogy casserole in place of mashed or scalloped potatoes. Leftovers even make a great breakfast served with a little lean sausage.

The borscht features root vegetables, abundant at this time of year, and the extras freeze well.

Cabbage roll rice is a complete, one-dish meal in itself and incredibly simple to prepare in comparison with rolling cabbage leaves, which don't always co-operate.


Cheesy Perogy Casserole

6 cooked lasagna noodles (regular or gluten-free)

500 ml (2 cups) cooked mashed potatoes, plain

15 ml (1 tbsp) vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped finely

1 egg, lightly beaten

250 ml (1 cup) 1% cottage cheese

250 ml (1 cup) grated cheddar

Salt and pepper, to taste

Sour cream and green onions, optional garnishes


Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F).

Sauté onion in oil in saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine mashed potatoes with cooked onions, egg, cottage cheese, half of the cheddar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Line a 9-by-13-inch (22.5-by-30-cm) baking pan with parchment paper or mist with cooking oil spray. Place 3 lasagna noodles across the bottom. Spread potato mixture on top. Cover with 3 remaining lasagna noodles and sprinkle with remaining cheddar.

Bake for 30 minutes. Place under broiler for about 3 minutes to melt/brown the top further. Serve garnished with sour cream and green onions, if desired.

Makes 9 servings.


Cabbage Roll Rice

500 g (1 lb) extra lean ground beef

1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt

1 medium onion, diced

500 ml (2 cups) chopped cabbage

1 796-ml (27-oz) can diced tomatoes

180 ml (3/4 cup) long-grain brown or white rice

250 ml (1 cup) sodium-reduced vegetable or beef broth


Season ground beef with salt and brown in large saucepan with lid over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add onion and continue to cook for a total of about 10 minutes.

Add all remaining ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until rice is tender.

Makes 8 servings.


Beet Borscht

15 ml (1 tbsp) canola oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

500 ml (2 cups) red or green cabbage, chopped

5 ml (1 tsp) salt

1 large potato, chopped

8 small beets, peeled and chopped or grated

1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped green beans, optional

1.5 l (6 cups) reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken stock

1 796-ml (27-oz) can diced tomatoes

750 ml (3 cups) water

15 ml (1 tbsp) white vinegar

125 ml (1/2 cup) light sour cream, optional

15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh dill, optional

Salt and pepper to taste


In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium. Add onions and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add celery, carrots, cabbage and salt and sauté for an additional 8 to 10 minutes.

Add potato, beets and green beans, if using. Pour in stock, tomatoes and water.

Add vinegar to give tartness and keep the colour of the beets.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Serve garnished with a little sour cream and fresh dill, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.


-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2013 D5

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