I went to see the Ukrainian chef Yurii Kovryzhenko last week. As the country’s leading culinary ambassador, part of his role is touring Europe to showcase its cuisine, which includes borscht, vareniki dumplings, and chicken Kyivs. All, he says, were invented in and made famous by Ukraine.
Yurii was only supposed to be in the UK for 10 days. He arrived in February but is now unable to return home. He and his partner, Olia, have been living at the Ukrainian embassy for a month, but might soon have to leave. They speak to their families every day but are otherwise powerless. Both are doing all they can to fundraise for the war effort and so far Yurii’s ‘Cook for Ukraine’ supper clubs have collected thousands of pounds. There’s more to come, involving some big names (Yurii himself is one, by the way – a celebrity chef in Ukraine).
Yurii was in the process of opening a new restaurant in Kyiv when Russia invaded. He has numerous restaurants, but the most recent was a Singaporean venture.
“I love Singaporean food. I have spent a lot of time there and wanted to bring it to Kyiv,” he says. For now, the place is very much on ice. It is likely to be in ruins when he returns, devastating as that would be.
There are excellent Singaporean restaurants in London. Probably the best known is Mei Mei in Borough Market. Yurii will be focusing on Ukrainian food for the time being though, unsurprisingly. Here’s his borscht, which should be cooked plentifully and shared. This recipe serves up to 10 people – “depending on how hungry everyone is” – and includes duck, quite grandly.
A note from Yurii: “Good borscht cannot be cooked quickly. The more patience, the tastier it will be in your bowl. So if you don’t have time now, save this recipe until you have enough.”
Duck, ½ a bird, cooked
Celery, 1 stalk
Garlic, 1 clove
Beet kvass (fermented beet drink found in Eastern European shops), to taste, from 150g
Soaked white kidney beans, 150g
Bay leaf, 2 pcs
Allspice berries (on sale in Eastern European shops), 4 pcs
First, soak the white kidney beans in water with a pinch of baking soda overnight. It will remove the starch and the beans will boil faster.
Cut the duck into several, mouth-sized pieces.
Make incisions in the skin and place in an unheated oven to bake for about 20 minutes.
Wet the baked duck with a paper towel and place in a saucepan, fill with water, add a bay leaf, celery stalk, and allspice. Cook the broth for about three hours.
When the broth is ready, strain it. Then add the beans, and peeled, sliced potatoes.
Chop the beets, carrots and onions. The optimal proportion is 40/30/30 respectively.
Add oil, salt, place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Pour the beet kvass in at 20 minutes
and let it simmer for another five.
Pickled tomatoes can be an alternative to beet kvass. They must be peeled and pureed.
When the potatoes are parboiled, add chopped cabbage and the smoked pear or prunes.
When the potatoes are cooked fully, add stewed beets with onions and carrots, and a few grated cloves of garlic. Boil a little more.
Stir through, serve and enjoy!