Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Paleolithic Feast - Sviata Vecherya Свята Вечеря

Today, with so many dietary restrictions, it can be difficult navigating the Christmas feast season.  So here is a Ukrainian Christmas meal from the ancients!  Khrystos Razhdayetsia!
Христос Раждається!

After a 40 day fast in preparation for the feast, one comes to Ukrainian Christmas Eve Supper, Sviata Vecherya,Свята  Вечеря. A traditional meal that is meatless, it is also dairy less. Turns out that the meal is really quite Paleo - derived from Paleolithic times - a time before wheat and celiac disease.

The traditional menu varies by region, and of course dietary preference, but there are usually 12 dishes, the number referring to important lunar symbolism from ancient times.

The Ritual Grain and Poppy Seed Pudding called kutia  кутя is the first.  Then borsch борщ,  fish, varenyky/pyrohy вареники/пороги with potato filling, cabbage filling, and a sweet fruit filling, cabbage roll holubtsi голубці made with sweet cabbage, another with sour cabbage, each stuffed with either buckwheat or rice, mushrooms- either pickled or in sauce, bean puree колочена фасоля much like humus, fava beans біб Greek style, uzvar узвар - the compote of dried fruits, and a couple of traditional sweets.

The essential part of this meal is planning.  Remembering the ancients relied on nature for preserving food, absolutely everything gets used, even the liquid from reconstituting dried fruit, grains, or mushrooms.

First, the kutia кутя.  Imagine Paleolithic times, and the nutritional miracle of dried, boiled grains!  Though wheat is commonly used, from traditional regional preferences we already know people have served a similar pudding millet or barley - and it turns out they are good non gluten substitutes.

Then borshch борщ can already be considered a vegan recipe, originally based on a dried mushroom broth, fish stock, or fermented beets and the kvas - beet liquid.  Ukrainian Albertans generally serve delicately slivered vegetables floating in a ruby red broth. Since the meal is already quite fiber rich, some people strain out the cooked vegetables to serve only the broth.

Some people serve petite baked buns called pampushky пампушки filled with sauerkraut or mushrooms, or even buckwheat kasha with the borshch broth. Dipping the pampushky in a flavourful garlic (or other) infused olive or hemp oil is also traditional.

I have been served the most innovative recipes for varenyky вареники.  Substitutes for the dough abound.  Once I was served varenyky made with rice wonton wrappers - delicious, and delicate (must have been a really tender cooking process).  Remembering not to stuff the varenyky with any cheeses, the filling has to be tasty. Traditional varenyky rely on saurkraut, cabbage, mushrooms or a combination of the three.   Little tiny varenyky вушка with mushroom are served floating in the borsch. And sweet fruit or berry filled varenyky of plums, prumes, sour cherries, pears and poppy seeds ground and flavoured with sugar or honey are served as a dessert course.

Holubtsi голубці  (cabbage rolls) can be stuffed with buckwheat kasha, corn and garlic in some regions, rice or barley.  Freezing garden fresh cabbage heads, and then thawing them to use the leaves makes Paleo sense, as does sour cabbage leaves - relying on a whole cabbage head pickled like sauerkraut.

Mushrooms гриби. are such an important part of the meal - especially for the wonderful flavours that infuse the holubtsi and varenyky fillings. The traditional Boletus, porcini, cepes, bilyi hryb, borovyk and others (Canadian honey agaric - pidpenky) are expensive to purchase, but the resultant flavour is amazing. Using the most flavourful for the vushka - petite vareynyky to float in the borsch broth garners the cook compliments early in the meal!

Cabbage is also served in other ways in the meal.  Cooked finely shredded kapusta  капуста (cabbage) may  include dried peas, garlic and mushrooms.  You can also serve hodgepodge горо з капустою.  (horokh z kapustoyou), a baked casserole of sauerkraut and dried peas.

My family enjoys the dried bean puree колочена фасоля (kolochena fasolia ) which is easy to make by mashing canned white pinto beans, adding flavours like pan fried onions and garlic.  Large dried broad beans біб (fava) are served either panfried or casserole baked with garlic and onions, too.

The meal is concluded with uzvar узвар, a compote of dried fruits, however in my home it has become the tradition to serve the stewing liquid as a punch, and the mashed fruits as filling for sweet pastries including makivnyk - the poppy seed roll.

Spadschina Predkiv
The ancient tradition of singing for one's supper has always concluded the Sviata Vecherya with Ukrainian Christmas carols коляди..  Greetings and wishes of good health, good fortune and God's blessing on all the members of the family, whether present or departed,  requires vinchuvannya  віншування, reciting of verses, and toasting with the water of the Slavs - (horilka  горілка) vodka.

This Paleolithic meal full of reverence, beauty and tradition descends from the ancients, wishing health and long life upon us, and our progeny.  As we celebrate this special Good News  with "gathering of the shadows of our ancestors" may we honor this inheritance with wisdom, love and generosity!  Sviata Vecherya! Свята  Вечеря !  May we, therefore, be remembered in the future by our descendants! Grant this, we pray! Slavimo Yoho! Славімо Його!

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