I don’t know much about my great-grandmother and great-grandfather in Ukraine. I knew my maternal grandparents, who lived in Ukraine in their youth, then emigrated to Paraguay and many years later to the U.S. But when I try to go back farther than my grandparents, the only thing I can say with any confidence is that I am the descendent of Eastern European farmers. Farmers from Ukraine on my mom’s side and farmers from Belarus on my dad’s.
Family names and family stories have not been passed down to me. My parents did not know their own grandparents, as they were both raised in Paraguay, while my great-grandparents remained in what would become Soviet territory after the Second World War. At the time when both sets of my grandparents emigrated, it was not yet Soviet land. All of their documentation declared them to be Polish, even though no one in the family considered themselves to be Polish.
Ukraine as a conquered land is an old story, but that never makes it less terrible. We are not Russians; we are not Poles; we are Ukrainians. We have our own language, culture, etc. Of the people taking refuge or walking to Poland or taking up arms against Russian invaders, I don’t know any of them, but some of them might be my second or third cousins. But I am comfortable in my own home, consumed by my own problems, as I was saved from this predicament due to the actions of the generations that came before me.
I don’t know much about my ancestry, but what I know is the food. My connection to my ancestors and to modern day distant relatives is in what I eat, the food I was raised on. This is my comfort food, and my mom’s, and I’m sure it was my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s comfort food. If you try, I am sure it will become your comfort food, even if you aren’t Ukrainian.
Ukrainian Cheese Vareniki
IngredientsCheese Filling: *16 oz cottage cheese *1 package farmer cheese (mine was 0.64 lb) *1 egg Dough: *5 cups sifted flour *2 teaspoons salt *1 egg *1 ⅔ cups water *¼ cup sour cream *Melted butter to keep vareniki from sticking together
- Combine all ingredients for the cheese filling in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together egg and sour cream until well combined, then whisk in the water.
- Add in the flour and salt and knead until it is the right consistency. If it seems too sticky, add some flour. If too dry, add more water. Divide the dough into 3 parts.
- Fill a large pot with water and salt and bring to a boil.
- While your water is heating, roll out your dough on a well floured surface until it is 1/8" thick.
- Using either a cookie cutter or an upside down coffee mug, cut the dough into circles.
- Add a spoonful of filling in the center of each circle. Carefully fold in half and pinch to seal the vareniki shut. (My mom’s tip: Get your fingers damp with water if the vareniki are not sealing properly.)
- Once your water is boiling, drop your first batch of vareniki (6 to 10 vareniki, depending on size) into the water.
- Boil the vareniki until they float to the top, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon and brush with melted butter.
- Repeat with remaining batches.
- Serve with sour cream
Recommended wine pairing: Riesling
Ways to Help Ukraine:
- Doctors Without Borders for emergency medical response.
- Voices of Children Foundation to provide provide psychological and psychosocial support to children.
- Care USA for water, food, hygiene care, physiological support and cash assistance, with a priority on women, girls, families and the elderly.
- International Rescue Committee for helping Ukrainian refugees.
- The Kyiv Independent to support Ukrainian journalists.
- Pray for Ukraine, if you are the praying type.
- Write your representatives.
- Attend a protest.
- Bring awareness in person or online.