Sadly, my global kitchen adventures have suffered quite a bit this year as in there haven’t been too many of them. Thankfully, a four day weekend this past Fourth of July meant I was able to try out not one but two new recipes. The first was from the pretty awesome Elote Cafe cookbook which I had already christened earlier this year, so I figured I’d start sharing from a completely new cookbook for both me and you, my readers.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m quasi-obsessed with all things Ukraine. It would mean a lot to visit from a cultural heritage standpoint but I also have no doubt that I would adore both the food and architecture. As soon as I saw the cookbook Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe by Olia Hercules, I made a mental note to eventually acquire it for I don’t really have any cookbooks dedicated to Eastern Europe.
While she lives in London now, Hercules is a native Ukrainian, although she left the country and moved to Cyprus with her family. She is very much a proud Ukrainian but as she mentions in the cookbook’s introduction,
“Despite my strong Ukrainian identity, I have always cherished and taken pride in the cultural diversity that we were so lucky to enjoy in Ukraine. My paternal grandmother is Siberian, my mother has Jewish and Moldovan roots, my father was born in Uzbekistan, and we have Armenian relatives and Ossetian (a region on both sides of the Greater Caucasus Mountains) friends.” As is often the case with cuisines we are not by blood related to, in Hercules’ case, Mamushka is “an ode to all those women (and men) whom I was raised by and grew up with, and the food they lovingly prepared.”
One of the reasons I enjoy Mamushka so much is that Hercules provides so many intimate details of her family, of life growing up just as the Soviet Union was nearing its end, when food shortages were the norm, and certain ingredients were scarce. The photographs are also stunning. They don’t look like they were done in some million dollar test kitchen, but rather taken of meals being prepared in real time by people who simply love to cook.
There were countless recipes I would have loved to try (Ukrainian Garlic Bread, Berlin Cheese Curd Cookies), but more and more I have less free time so I needed to stick with a quick and easy recipe. The Baked Ukrainian Cheesecake was just that. (You can bet that once we’re officially into pumpkin season I’ll be trying the Moldovan Pumpkin Breads.)
This isn’t your traditional cheesecake since there’s no copious amounts of cream cheese involved. It’s not at all overly sweet and as Hercules notes, it features a “silky inside with a delicious caramelized crust on top.” She recommends serving it with a dollop of jam; I actually found that a scoop of ice cream on top really made the taste. It also wasn’t so sweet (only 1/3 cup of sugar) that I didn’t feel any guilt in having a slice of it as my breakfast. Lindy’s Cheesecake, take that!
Baked Ukrainian Cheesecake
Recipe courtesy of Mamushka: a cookbook by Olia Hercules
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for greasing
2 1/2 cups cottage cheese
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup semolina
2/3 cup all-purpose flour or yellow corn flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raisins or golden raisins
-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 2-lb loaf pan with melted butter.
-Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and let the mixture stand for 15 minutes to allow the semolina to absorb a bit of the moisture.
-Pour the cake batter into the greased pan and bake until the cake is firm and forms a golden crust on top, 1 hour. Let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out. Serve it warm or at room temperature, as it is or with a dollop of jam/jelly/marmalade, etc.