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Taste of Europe: Olia Hercules’ braised cabbage

Ukrainian cuisine has not been recognised enough in the UK. There is no better time than now

Olia Hercules' braised cabbage (Photo: Joe Woodhouse)

It is easy to feel wholly helpless when we look at the devastating situation in Ukraine. In a sense, we are. Who are we to hope when we are faced with a man like Vladimir Putin?

Here we are in the relative safety of Britain, miles from this country under siege. It remains catastrophic and despairing, however, and it is painfully
sad to talk to those for whom it is not far away at all, but in the here and now. Such trauma is being inflicted upon them.

How might those of us without guns and endless pools of money support Ukraine and its people? We can donate what we can, share messages of support on social media; some of us will be able to take in refugees. We can
all contribute, even if what we do seems insignificant. It isn’t.

We should also listen. I’ve managed to talk to a handful of Ukrainian chefs and hospitality professionals in the past week. One overarching point is that we might also celebrate the country’s culture, which for so long has been downtrodden. Perhaps it has not been recognised enough in the UK. There is no better time than now.

The Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules, who has written three brilliant cookbooks detailing her nation’s cuisine – Mamushka (described as a culinary tour of Eastern Europe), Kaukasis (a culinary journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan and beyond), and Summer Kitchens (“recipes from every corner of Ukraine”) – and who has been ever-vocal since Russian troops entered her homeland, shares here a simple but comforting dish of braised cabbage that will help us feel better connected to Ukraine.

BRAISED CABBAGE

SERVES 6

1 small white cabbage
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 onions, thickly sliced
1½ tsp caraway seeds
1 large red pepper, thickly sliced
100ml tomato juice
200g creme fraiche
1 tbsp parsley
Sea salt and black pepper

METHOD
Slice the cabbage into 1cm-wide strips and put it into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and use your hands to massage it in well.
Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or shallow, flameproof casserole dish over a medium-low heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt to help release their juices and stop them from burning.
You could also cover the onions with a lid or cartouche (a circle of baking parchment about the same size as your pan) to speed things up a bit.
Cook, stirring every so often, until the onions are soft and turning a deep golden colour.
Add a splash of water if they seem dry or are starting to catch a bit.
Now add the cabbage and caraway seeds and turn down the heat to low.
Cover with a lid and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the cabbage starts softening.
If it gets too dry, add a splash of water. Add the red pepper and cook for another five minutes.
Gently warm the tomato juice in a small pan, then stir in the creme fraiche and add to the cabbage.
Taste the sauce and make sure it is well seasoned, otherwise the cabbage will be too bland and it will not become the cabbage of your dreams.
Cover and braise for another 30-40 minutes – when it is ready, the cabbage should be soft, but not falling apart.
Stir through the parsley and serve.

A recipe from Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine by Olia Hercules (Bloomsbury)

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