Olia Hercules's latest book is a guide to summertime self- sufficiency
Summer Kitchens is Olia Hercules’s third and most important exploration of the cooking of her native land.
Her first, Mamushka – family recipes and traditional home cooking in the Ukraine – made waves and won prizes. Her second, Kaukasis, confirmed her as a bright new star of the recipe-with-memoir school of food writing.
While the earlier books were groundbreaking, this account of how we might all relearn to live and eat will endure long after recipe books have been replaced by electronic downloads. It’s stirring stuff, and timely.
As a trained chef, Olia runs her own sell-out supper clubs and guest-chefs at high-end restaurants – or she did before lockdown. After settling down as an East Ender with young son, husband and baby, she dug out the makings of a vegetable garden that provides the raw material for Summer Kitchens.
>span class="s3">households that grow their own vegetables. The system has its origins in cattle shelters dug out beside the veg patch, handy for digging in manure. Vegetable dishes – fortifying winter borschts, summer salads dressed with soured cream, and dumplings stuffed with herbs and curd cheese – are the everyday dishes of self-sufficient farming households that managed to survive Stalin’s purges, Khrushchev’s famines and the drift to the cities that followed perestroika.
Store-cupboard recipes include pickled plums, fermented watermelon and dried, smoked pears. Sourdough fans will love her Ukrainian black bread; dumpling addicts will be hooked on varenyky. But it’s the stories that deliver the message. And for those you’ll have to buy the book.
Pitinki with cheese and herbs
Easy herb-stuffed flatbreads much like Turkish gözleme. Olia suggests a flavouring mix of freshly chopped dill, cilantro, spring onion and sorrel (available from a damp meadow or lawn near you). Serve with Ukrainian summer salads. Serves 2-4
150ml buttermilk, whey or water
220g plain flour
100g halloumi cheese, coarsely grated
150g feta cheese, crumbled
(optional) 1 tbsp freshly chopped herbs
Lard or vegetable oil (or dry fry and brush with browned butter)
Pour the buttermilk, whey or water into a large bowl and gradually work in enough flour to make a firm dough. Knead till smooth on a well-floured board. Cover and leave for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the filling.
Mash the halloumi with the feta and your chosen mix of herbs.
Roll out the dough as thinly as possible. Cover half the dough with the cheese mix, leaving a two-finger width of border. Fold over the other half, joining the edges. Cut into 15cm x 10cm rectangles with a serrated pastry cutter or knife. Pinch the edges together firmly, making sure no air bubbles are trapped.
Heat a finger’s depth of lard or oil in a large frying pan over a medium-low heat. Cook the flatbreads for two minutes on one side and one minute on the other. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.
Three Ukrainian summer salads
1. Grate young turnip and toss with chopped spring onion, yoghurt or crème fraîche and a squeeze of lemon.
2. Combine wedges of ripe tomato with mulberries or blackberries and slivered mild onion, with a light dressing of cider vinegar, seed oil, basil leaves and salt.
3. Toss sliced courgettes fried in a little seed oil with a sweet-sour dressing of thyme leaves, tarragon, dill fronds crushed with a garlic clove and salt, a spoonful of honey and enough vinegar to soften.