Cook for Ukraine: Olia Hercules’ springtime recipes | food

For ages, I’ve been talking about the power of eating, of gathering around a table of food to share stories, laugh, sing or cry. It is like group therapy. With my family in Ukraine – my parents’ city, Kakhovka, is under siege, and my brother is in training to fight in Kyiv – I don’t know when I will do any of this again, but in tribute to them and to my country, I urge you to cook and eat Ukrainian food right now. Please see the #cookforukraine JustGiving page to get involved with our effort to make food a force for fundraising.

Nettle, sorrel and wild garlic soup (pictured top)

Towards the end of April and during May, before much is growing in people’s kitchen gardens, the fields and forests of Ukraine are filled with young nettles and wild sorrel. Foraging wasn’t so uncommon in the past, and is now being rediscovered, in Ukraine and elsewhere. This soup, sometimes called green borsch, can also be made with chicken stock and served with chopped boiled eggs.

Prep 15 mins
cooking 1 hour
serves 6

2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 onion
peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 carrots
scrubbed and cut into 1cm dice
1 small celeriac
peeled and cut into 1cm dice
3 celery sticks
cut into 1cm dice
1 leek
white part only, trimmed and cut into 1cm dice
3 big garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
alt and black pepper
6 baby potatoes
100g sorel
75g young nettle tops
(the top few leaves on each stem)
50g wild garlic leaves
sliced ​​(flowers kept for garnish)
3 spring onions
thinly sliced
A handful of chopped dill
A handful of chopped parsley

eme frasheetto serve (optional)

For the oil into a cast-iron saucepan set over a medium-high heat. Once the oil is sizzling, add the onion, carrots, celeriac, celery and leek, and saute, stirring from time to time, for about five minutes: you want them to become caramelised in parts, but not scorched. (If the pan feels too crowded, fry the vegetables in batches.) Add the garlic and cook, still stirring, for about two minutes, until fragrant and starting to color.

Add two and a half liters of cold water and the bay leaf, season lightly with salt and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for about 40 minutes.

Add the potatoes whole and cook for 10 minutes, or until they are soft, then add the sorrel, nettles and wild garlic and take off the heat. Taste the soup and add more salt if needed.

Put a potato in each soup bowl and lightly crush it with a spoon. Ladle over the broth, then sprinkle with the wild garlic flowers (if using), spring onions and herbs. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche, if you like, and a good grinding of pepper.

Cauliflower Fritters

Olia Hercules' cauliflower fritters.
Olia Hercules’ cauliflower fritters.

This simple batter is used all over Ukraine for frying all sorts of things, from chicken or pork schnitzel to whole river fish. I love vegetables fried in this way, too – cauliflower especially. These days, plain white flour is normally used, but buckwheat flour was popular in the past and it’s healthier, and much more flavoursome. I like to eat these with a spoonful of dill-and-garlic-spiked mayo.

Prep 5 min
cooking 25 mins
serves 4

1 small cauliflower
alt and black pepper
1 egg
100ml whole milk
60g buckwheat flour
or plain flour
vegetable oilfor frying

For the dill and garlic mayonnaise
150g mayonnaise
1 garlic clove
peeled and finely grated
A handful of finely chopped dill

Cut or break the cauliflower into small florets, keeping any small leaves, too. Blanch the cauliflower and its leaves in a pan of boiling, salted water: take out the leaves after about two minutes and the florets after five. Refresh both in cold water, then drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Put four tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat – it should cover the base of the pan, so add a little more, if need be.

Meanwhile, make the batter. In a bowl, whisk the egg with the milk, then add the flour, whisk until smooth and season well; if you’re using buckwheat flour, make the batter only just before you are ready to fry, because it turns gloopier by the minute.

Drop four pieces of cauliflower into the batter at a time, making sure they are all thickly coated. When the oil is really hot, bring the bowl over to the pan (otherwise everything will get messy) and carefully drop the batter-coated cauliflower into the pan – depending on the size of your pan, you should be able to fry between oven and eight fritters at a time. After a couple of minutes, turn them over and fry on the other side until the fritters are golden all over, then lift out with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a medium oven while you repeat with the remaining cauliflower and beat. (In between batches, you might need to drain and wipe out the pan with kitchen paper and add more oil.)

For the mayonnaise, mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and serve with the hot cauliflower.

  • Recipes extracted from Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from every Corner of Ukraine, by Olia Hercules, published by Bloomsbury at £26. To order a copy for £22.62, go to

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