Top 20 Ukrainian Christmas Dishes
Ukrainians treasure their traditions and pass family recipes from grandmother to granddaughter. It is especially true for the western part of the country, where cooking loads of food on holidays is a favorite pastime. No joking, there shouldn’t be any free space on the festive table.
Ukrainians still follow the Julian calendar, which means that Christmas is celebrated on 7th January. But Christmas Eve— or Holy Supper—the night before is just as important.
It is also far more symbolical and enshrined in mystery. The majority of the below-listed dishes are served on 6th January. The exceptions are meat-based versions since Holy Supper is always lean.
A Ukrainian can hardly imagine a Christmas Eve without kutia. Made of wheat and honey, it symbolizes prosperity and bridges the worlds of the alive and dead. The traditional plain recipe used to contain only wheat, poppy seeds, water, walnuts, and honey.
The contemporary kutia has a plethora of variations, though. Its taste becomes richer owing to prunes, raisins, and other dried fruit and berries, as well as various nuts. By tradition, kutia is the first dish to start Christmas Eve dinner. The first spoon should be consumed by the head of the household.
This braided wheat-flour bread is typically brought by children who come over to their parents’ on Christmas Eve. Symbolizing prosperity and health, it is sweetened and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Everyone is expected to have a bite.
If you only know one Ukrainian dish, that’s most probably varenyky. A traditional family, especially in western Ukraine, would eat it every Sunday. Available with all kinds of stuffing, they are usually served with cabbage, buckwheat, or potato on Christmas. They would normally be covered with a generous layer of onion-and-oil topping.
On Christmas Eve, it is quite popular to play the varenyky game: a housewife puts a pinch of pepper in the first varenyk, a lump of sugar in the second one, and a coin in the third one. Whoever gets the peppered piece will have a surprise in the coming year; whoever eats the sugared one will enjoy a sweet life, and whoever finds a coin inside will be rich.
While borshch is the most popular Ukrainian soup and is routinely consumed in every household, it is a must on Christmas Eve as well. The only difference is that borshch should be lean on this occasion.
Quite widely spread across the post-Soviet territories, this red beet soup contains shredded cabbage, beans, and tomatoes as well as some vinegar for acidity. Interestingly, there’s no one and only recipe of borshch as each cook is said to have her own secret ingredients she’s not supposed to unveil.
Exclusively reserved for Christmas Eve, vushka – or small dried-mushroom-stuffed varenyky – may be served either as a self-standing dish or as an ingredient of red borshch. In the latter case, they would be floating inside and fished out with a spoon. The heavenly smell of vushkas would fill the entire room as soon as you start boiling them.
6. Mushroom Broth
Another tasty soup consumed on festive occasions is the mushroom broth. It can contain any kind of mushrooms, but tradition has it that these should be penny buns. They render the broth a true aroma and impeccable taste. The broth has a smooth and thick texture due to the flour and sour cream.
Cultural historians claim that holubtsi first appeared in the 18th century and since then never left the Ukrainian festive table. With the name deriving from dove (holub), they symbolize peace and serenity. Available in two variations, these cabbage rolls are consumed with meat on Christmas Day and without meat on Christmas Eve.
Although the ingredients are pretty simple—boiled cabbage, rice, onions and carrots, and meat—the dish can compete with high cuisine, especially when topped with mushrooms in tomato sauce.
8. Jellied Fish
While many know the traditional Ukrainian festive dish kholodets (jellied meat), its fish version is more popular for Christmas. To prepare it, you need to boil trout, cool it down, and then cover it with gelatin.
There are multiple variations of other ingredients, the most common ones being carrots, boiled eggs, and peas. Decorated with a snip of parsley, it is served cold.
His majesty kholodets is typically prepared with chicken or beef in Ukraine. To make it delicious and wobbly without gelatin, you need meat bones too. This dish requires quite a lot of patience as you are supposed to leave it sit overnight to let it acquire the needed texture. Served with unique beet-and-horseradish sauce, it tastes superb.
10. Cured Herring
The symbol of Christianity, fish is the base of many traditional festive dishes in Ukraine. While you may, of course, buy the ready cured herring, a true Ukrainian woman would die of shame to do so.
Instead, she would prepare the herring on her own, adding onions, lemon, and oil. The dish is usually decorated with a snip of dill and pieces of tomatoes. It makes a perfect match with pepper horilka, a strong spirit.
As simple as it gets, this salad is made of boiled beetroots, carrots, potatoes, pickles, onions, canned peas, and sour cabbage, all dressed with an oil of your liking. It is a great option for Christmas Eve due to being lean, while it also makes a nice company to meat dishes on Christmas Day itself.
12. Baked Potatoes
Potatoes are boiled, baked, roasted, and fried in Ukraine. There is such a variety of potato-based dishes that you can go for a different one every day for a whole year before you repeat any.
On Christmas Eve, it is most common to have potatoes baked as unpeeled wedges, sprinkled with sunflower oil, and seasoned with dried parsley, garlic, or dill. Absurdly simple, it is always the best match for pickled tomatoes, cabbage, and cucumbers, which are also a must on the festive table.
Drinking soda would be frowned upon by every Ukrainian granny. For Christmas, you just have to have uzvar. Made of dried fruit—usually, plums, apples, and pears—honey and (sometimes) lemon, it is mildly sweet and sinfully delicious.
Another mouthwatering Christmas drink, this berry beverage has a unique thick texture owing to potato starch. Although various berries may be used, cherries are the most preferable basis in Ukraine. Traditionally, kisel was prepared with oats left to get sour along with a piece of bread. The name itself derives from the word sour.
If there is heaven, they definitely serve pampushky there. Slightly resembling donuts, these deep-fried yeast patties are served savory (topped with garlic) to go with red beet borshch and sweet (stuffed with cherries, jam, or poppy seed) as a dessert.
Pampushky make a perfect marriage with uzvar and are pretty dangerous if you’re on a diet. If their stuffing wasn’t enough, they are topped with sugar powder to look even more seductive. I have not met a single person who would say no to pampushky, honestly.
16. Sweet Colorful Jelly
There is one more dessert to be served on Christmas Eve—fruit jelly. Special powder mixtures to make one can be bought in a range of colors and tastes, so making it is a piece of cake. Jelly is traditionally served in glass bowls and decorated with preserved fruit or berries.
17. Pampushky – Based Sandwiches
Unsweetened pampushky without stuffing, cut into halves, are sometimes used to replace bread as a sandwich base. On Christmas Eve, these are spread with mayonnaise and topped with sprat fish, a slice of lemon or tomato, and a leaf of parsley for visual appeal.
18. Layered Liver Cake
As this dish is a meat-based one, you shouldn’t expect it to be served on Christmas Eve, only on Christmas Day. Consisting of some infinite number of minced liver pancakes, it is layered with a mayo-and-carrot spread and cut into pieces the way a sweet cream cake would be. You can encounter this dish at a New Year’s party too.
19. Olivier Salad
Olivier is not only a Christmas highlight but the central dish of any celebration or family dinner in Ukraine. Consisting of boiled and finely chopped potatoes, carrots, sausages, eggs, pickles, onions, and canned peas, it is topped with mayo.
They say you cannot just get away with a portion of Olivier—you need to prepare a tub full of it and then try to finish that within a week.
20. Minced Meat Pancakes
Same as with the previous two dishes, this one makes its entrance at every festive table. Christmas can hardly be imagined without these sour pancakes as well. Known in quite a few variations, they are most popular as fried pancake triangles filled with minced pork or beef. Oftentimes, cup-served thin chicken broth accompanies them.
A valuable tip:
If you plan to visit Ukraine on the Christmas holidays, make sure to wear roomy clothes and be ready to skip any diet you’re following. You won’t be able to leave the table with your pants belted, believe me.
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