The diversity of Ukrainian food is reflected in the use of a variety of ingredients, their different colours and the rich flavours in the food that give an indication of the incredible Ukrainian culture that has formed a huge part of the lives of many Ukrainians. To further understand the Ukrainian culture, I decided to explore the cuisine by attempting to make Гречаники (Hrechanyky), which are fried buckwheat patties. The word Гречаники comes from the Ukrainian word for ‘buckwheat’, which is ‘гречка’. The recipe I used came from a website (http://www.enjoyyourcooking.com/main-dish-recipes/hrechanyky-ukrainian-buckwheat-fried-patties.html) I found after desperately searching “Easy Ukrainian recipes” on Google – finding simple recipes that wouldn’t stretch my student budget was a difficult task, as I also had to bear in mind my atrocious culinary skills. After much consideration, I purchased the buckwheat from Planet Organic and set off home; my head held high and all of my hopes, dreams and achievements in sight.
Of course, all of that came to an end when Sunday morning arrived. I had invited my Ukrainian group over for lunch to eat the patties with me to help immerse them in Ukrainian culture too. After waking up at 6am to prepare (the food and also mentally), I set out my ingredients, took a deep breath and tentatively began preparing the ingredients.
The ingredients before I ruined everything.
Boiling the buckwheat was no easy task. The lady who helped me to find the roasted buckwheat in Planet Organic told me to “boil it like rice,” so I poured the buckwheat into my saucepan of water and watched it boil. However, the enormity of the task was totally underestimated as I had no idea that a) the saucepan was too small for the entire bag of buckwheat and b) the buckwheat would burn and stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
The buckwheat teetered over the edge of the saucepan as it boiled, and with growing anxiety, I watched helplessly.
Fearing the worst, I finally decided that desperate times called for desperate measures and switched to a bigger saucepan.
The burnt buckwheat stuck to the bottom of the saucepan and at the same time, my TV chef aspirations went out of the window.
As the buckwheat was boiling, I prepared the chicken by firstly slicing it and then bashing it in with a knife on the chopping board in a last-ditch attempt to make it look like minced chicken, although it looked more like a physical representation of disappointment and failure. After creating the “minced chicken”, I started grating the onions into the bowls, which only made me cry harder as I poured the over-boiled buckwheat and the “minced chicken” into the bowls with the onions. At the same time, I was frantically looking through the recipe, trying to figure out where I went wrong and wondering how I ever got through first year living in self-catered accommodation.
After throwing an egg into the mixture and adding salt and pepper, I mixed it again, ignoring the strange feeling of huge chunks of chicken beneath my fingers. Remembering that there may be some vegetarians in my group, I decided to make another, much smaller batch of the mixture except without the chicken.
Confession: this photo of the vegetarian batch was cropped to hide the fact that I cracked an egg onto the table.
After making the mixtures, I used a spoon and shaped small bits of the mixtures into patties. I then covered the entire surface area of each patty with plain flour and tried to fit as many patties as I could into a single frying pan. At this point, my friends from my group had started to arrive so I had to turn the heat down low and channel my inner Usain Bolt to race down and back up the stairs to let them in before the patties started being fried.
The flour-coated patties, before they started burning.
Luckily, I have amazing friends, and they helped (read: took over) with the cooking whilst I tried to set up the dining table. Fortunately, Colleen is a great chef and saved the rest of the patties from burning whilst ensuring that I didn’t give anyone further food poisoning.
Another confession: the brightness of this photo was adjusted to hide the burnt areas of the patties.
So, what have I learned? I’ve learned that when a recipe tells you to use medium heat, you don’t turn the hob up to the highest temperature. I’ve learned that I should’ve paid attention in my food technology classes. I’ve learned that Ukrainian food is delicious, and I’ve discovered that the way the patties tasted reflected the strong and welcoming nature of Ukrainians and their interesting culture. But most importantly, I’ve learned a lot over the past week about the hopes and dreams of many Ukrainians, and this Global Citizenship Programme has been a life-changing experience I will never, ever forget.
By Jade Li