This casserole is a celebration of vegetables! Look at the list of ingredients. Their variety is stunning! That’s why the complexity of this dish flavors conquers the taste buds of vegetarians and carnivores alike. Just like any other layered dish, benefits from being cooked in advance, set in a refrigerator for a few hours and reheated portioned right before serving. It helps to develop flavors and keep colorful layers presentable.
It’s already scorching hot in Central Texas. But early in the morning, the light is golden and gentle, and the air is still fresh. Socheni and some tea in a shadow of live oaks filled my morning with dear flavors, nostalgic images from the past, and piece. And it was good.
If you recognize the pastry in the picture, you and I probably belong to the same culture and generation. Most likely you are smiling and wishing you could get one of those right now. I bet you are thinking about your school years and other favorite cookies and pastries from a long time ago, aren’t you? Socheni, aka Sochniki, don’t need any introduction to those who know what they are. The rest of people would probably pass them by as they look pretty rustic and not as attractive as modern pastries. This phenomenon is an illustration how much we treasure our childhood food memories. They stay with us forever.
The texture of cheese curdled with ocean water is fantastic. It is creamy-soft and, for the lack of a better word, juicy, even after straining most of the whey. I could never get the same results when making ricotta with mozzarella whey or acidic water. The ratio of salty ocean water to milk may seem scary, but this ricotta tastes surprisingly sweet with only an intriguing trace of saltiness and minerality.
Lviv syrnyk is the most popular dessert in Western Ukraine. It is a Ukrainian cuisine treasure and existed way before its worldwide popular counterpart Japanese souffle cheesecake. Both of them belong to the same category of desserts — light, fluffy, dreamy, and amazing with hot bitter drinks like black coffee and tea. Unlike Japanese cheesecake, Lviv Syrnyk is made with real homemade cheese with high-fat content. It is flavored with fresh lemon zest and juice and glazed with chocolate.
In my family, we never used eggs in our raw molded cheese paskha. So I was surprised to discover other recipes with eggs as well as with cooking paskha this way or another. All traditional variations are pretty decadent — a lot of milk fat not only in the cheese but also in added cream and butter, which is expected after the fast when these foods were forbidden. I hesitated to use raw eggs and based this modern version of fresh cheese paskha on one of the traditional Ukrainian recipes with cooked egg yolks. I thought why not to start with Creme Anglaise, which is egg yolks, sugar, and cream cooked together.
Since the kefir culture started living in my kitchen, I have fresh kefir products (drinking, strained, and soft cheese) in my fridge all the time. When they are handy, I find more amazing culinary uses for them all the time. The moment I saw a kulich recipe where farmer’s cheese was an ingredient to add to the dough, I knew I have to try it with my kefir cheese. I also wanted to try an idea I saw a few time online (don’t know who the author is) for forming this Easter bread as a flower, sunflower or daisy. The result is amazing! There is a faint hint of cheese. The texture is so creamy, a comparison to Japanese Souflee Cheesecake came to my mind. It is still a sponge, but the sensation of crumb melting in your mouth is incredible.
Antipasti, or little cold and hot appetizers used to be served before the main course with the intention to whet an appetite. Modern eating habits have changed. A variety of small plates often replaces a complete meal. This warm artichoke and seafood salad with melted cheese is an example of how versatile this traditional combination of ingredients is. Slight preparation modifications and you can serve it as a warm salad or appetizer, or with pasta, or on pizza. No herbs, spices, or other strongly aromatic ingredients overpower the delicate flavors of artichokes and seafood. Moderate seasoning and good extra virgin olive oil are all we need to make this dish shine.
Made with relatively low-moist fresh cheese, traditional syrniki don’t need a lot of flour. Less flour helps to maintain low-carb diet and appreciate the natural taste of cheese in cooked pancakes. Syrniki are light textured, soft and fluffy, with only a hint of sweetness and vanilla. Serve them hot or warm, simply with a dollop of sour or whipped cream. The more elements you add, the more exciting this dessert becomes. You can add fresh seasonal or preserved berries and fruits. On top of the cream, sprinkle syrniki with sliced and toasted nuts, or cocoa nibs, or any other crunchy crumbs to add more texture and flavor variety to the dessert.