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Crunchy ferments, stuffed spuds, garlicky beets: Olia Hercules’ recipes for Ukrainian winter vegetable sides


Ferment salad

This winter salad is less a recipe than an assembly job, and includes shop-bought ferments. It’s inspired by how we traditionally serve kraut and other vegetable ferments in Ukraine in winter: with aromatic, unrefined sunflower oil and thinly sliced onions.

Prep 10 min
Soak 15 min
Serves 4

100ml cider vinegar
1 small handful dried cranberries or barberries
300g sauerkraut
(or beetroot kraut)
200g brined cucumber pickles
1 fennel
, trimmed and finely sliced
2 celery sticks, finely sliced
2 apples, cored but unpeeled, finely sliced
½ small banana shallot or ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp unrefined sunflower oil, or 1 tbsp sesame oil mixed with 1 tbsp neutral oil

Heat the vinegar with 100ml water, bring to boil, then remove from the heat, add the berries immediately, cover and leave to plump up for about 15 minutes. Drain, but don’t throw away the liquid – it can be used in salad dressings or to pickle other things; thinly sliced red onions come to mind.

Mix the fermented and fresh vegetables and apples, add the onion and rehydrated berries, then arrange on a platter and drizzle over the oil. Serve with anything rich and sweet: a roast bird or pork, or roast pumpkin.

Beetroot in walnut and garlic paste

I found a version of this recipe in an old book of hutsul cooking, hutsuls being the Ukrainian highlanders, but this type of paste is also very popular all over Georgia, where it is called pkhali. You can roast the beetroots, but I’ve reverted to boiling them until just cooked; there is a gentleness to boiled beetroot that softens the strength of the garlicky nut paste.

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Prep 10 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4

6 medium beetroots
Salt
150g walnut halves
, or whichever nuts or seeds you have
2-4 garlic cloves (to taste)
3 tbsp sherry or red-wine vinegar
½ tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
A few big handfuls of watercress or steamed greens
, to serve

Bring a large pan of water to boil, add the beetroots and cook until tender, about 40 minutes. Drain and, once cool, peel off the skins and cut them into wedges.

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Spread the nuts across a baking tray and put in the oven for about eight minutes, until toasted through; smaller seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin will take about five minutes. They are done when golden and taste delicious.

Put the garlic and a generous pinch of sea salt into a mortar or spice grinder, then pound or blitz to a paste. Add two-thirds of the toasted nuts, then pound or blitz again. Gradually add the vinegar and honey. Finally, mix in the oil, to give you a gloopy nut paste.

Toss the cooked chopped beetroot in the nut paste and taste, adjusting for salt, vinegar or honey as necessary. Chop the reserved walnuts and sprinkle over the top, then serve on a bed of greens such as watercress or sorrel.

Potatoes stuffed with mushrooms and feta

This is an old-fashioned recipe. In Ukraine, mince would be mixed with the mushrooms, but I think this works equally well without meat. You can boil the potatoes the day before, keep in the fridge, then fill and roast the next day.

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Prep 25 min
Cook 50 min
Serves 4

4 medium waxy potatoes
300g portobello or chestnut mushrooms
15g dried wild mushrooms (optional)
3 tbsp olive oil or butter, plus extra to finish
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped, or 1 leek, trimmed and finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper
2 fat
garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or grated
50-100g feta, frozen to make it easy to grate
2 tbsp creme fraiche
½ small handful fresh dill
, chopped

Put the whole potatoes in a pan of cold salted water, bring to a simmer, then cook for 20-30 minutes (depending on their size), until they’re very easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.

Grate the fresh mushrooms on the coarse side of a box grater. Blitz the dry mushrooms to a fine powder in a spice grinder (this will bring a delicious intensity).

To make the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and a generous pinch of salt, and cook until it starts to brown. Add the fresh mushrooms, cook on a medium heat for five minutes, then add the mushroom powder, if using. If at any point the mixture seems dry, deglaze with a small splash of water. Cook for another five minutes, then stir in the creme fraiche and dill. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7. Drain the potatoes and let them cool. Slice a sliver from one side to make them stable in the tin. Create a well in the top of each one by gently scooping out roughly one and a half tablespoons of the flesh. This can go into tomorrow’s bubble and squeak.

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Put a quarter of the filling into the well in each potato, transfer them to a baking tray and brush generously with oil. Roast for 20 minutes, or until brown on the bottoms and sides. You may want to cover the mushroom filling with a small piece of foil, lest it dries out.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and finely grate the feta all over them. Serve with some simple kraut or the fermented salad above. Being Ukrainian, I like to serve these with a bowl of cold creme fraiche on the side.



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