Ukraine is known for its chernozem which is a rich grassland soil used extensively for growing vegetables. Called “the breadbasket of Europe,” it contains over a quarter of the world’s chernozem according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Therefore, many Ukrainian dishes consist of simple ingredients since a large part of the country’s population maintains its own gardens to plant all sorts of vegetables, fruits, and herbs which they eat fresh or cook later. While the Ukrainian diet includes a variety of animal-based products, there are many alternative ways to make its traditional dishes vegan.
Having been a central dish on the table for centuries, borscht is definitely one of the most popular Ukrainian recipes, especially among those who love beets. There is even a saying in Ukrainian that translates “when there is no borscht in the house, then there is no food at all,” illustrating the importance of this soup for Ukrainians. Borscht is certainly an easy dish to make vegan since it mostly consists of cabbage, potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, and garlic. Changing the meat broth to the veggie one will still preserve the traditional delicious flavor and a stunning appearance of the soup thanks to the beets. This Ukrainian delicacy is usually served together with pampushki—homemade soft bread with garlic butter poured on top of it.
If you are looking for a vegan snack, you should definitely try making deruny—Ukrainian traditional crispy potato pancakes. Coming from the northern regions of Ukraine, this dish has an incredibly soft interior due to the potato starch that makes the pancakes fluffy and chewy. Deruny is great to cook as a quick breakfast meal since the recipe includes only four main ingredients: potato, carrot, onion, and a little bit of flour. For the best taste, try deruny right after they are cooked and pair them together with a scoop of vegan sour cream or Greek yogurt. You can also add a few spoons of nutritional yeast to the batter for a cheesy flavor.
Traditionally cooked for Sviata Vecheria (Christmas Eve Supper) in many regions of Ukraine, holubtsi, stuffed cabbage rolls, are one of the twelve main dishes prepared for that special day. According to the original recipe, the boiled softened cabbage leaves are filled with minced beef, cooked rice, and sauteed onions and carrots. However, the vegan alternative for this famous dish includes using cooked lentils instead of meat to maintain the savory taste of holubtsi. My family also adds some mushrooms to keep the original flavor of this dish. Due to its nutrient-rich ingredients, holubtsi are incredibly filling and contain a lot of fiber.
If you are a fan of dumplings, varenyky is a must-try dish—the boiled crescent pieces of flat dough with filling are a perfect quick and hearty meal. While learning how to prepare varenyky has become a Ukrainian tradition that is passed from generation to generation, they are easy to cook even in the modern world since they can be frozen and stored for a long time. I still recall those days when I was a child and my grandmother would show me how to fold the dough circles in a half-moon shape around a filling, pinching the edges to seal it. Personally, I also love how versatile varenyky are in terms of filling: the traditional ones are made with potatoes, cabbage, or cottage cheese. Moreover, this dish can be both the main course and the dessert since you could make it as a sweet version by using a variety of berries for filling—cherries and strawberries are the most popular ones during the summer season in Ukraine.
Originally coming from Lithuania, zrazy is a top favorite dish in many Ukrainian households for its simplicity and enriched savor taste. These mashed potato pancakes are stuffed with a variety of fillings, most commonly with mushrooms or cabbage, and served with a spicy tomato sauce or vegan sour cream. Although the original zrazy recipe includes eggs, you could easily make this dish vegan by omitting it and adding a tablespoon of potato starch to the dough instead. Using warm plant-based milk and some oil together with the cooled boiled potato will make the dough softer and more elastic.
While this list includes only a few of the most famous Ukrainian recipes, I am sure that they will give you a great insight into Ukrainian cuisine and what Ukrainians typically like to cook. Just as I built many heartwarming memories about home while watching my mom dice vegetables for borscht or my grandmother knead the dough for varenyky on the countertop, I hope you enjoy making and tasting those Ukrainian dishes.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Victoria Shes via Unsplash