Beetroots in Ukrainian

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes Book

It’s a very welcome side-effect of writing this blog that my friends and family often suggest activities with an international flavour and on occasion proffer gifts that might inject some culture into our lives.

I was particularly delighted by this choice of birthday present from my very close friend, Karma: a book called “Mamushka; Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond” by Olia Hercules. Apart from what I might have gleaned from reading the amusing novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, I didn’t know much about Ukraine at all. Plus, Mamushka is full of fascinating recipes and ingredients that look delicious and unfamiliar (in an enticing way).

One ingredient that I am familiar with, and which I chose to use as my first attempt at some Ukrainian cuisine, is beetroot. We have grown it in the past –the beauties in the pictures are some we grew in Tasmania– but I bought some plump beets from our local farmers market for my foray into the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Beetroot Beet Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes

It turns out that beetroot is a particularly nutritious vegetable, which I’m thrilled to learn because it is a very popular one in our household. I grew up on tinned stuff, which is fine but basically tastes of vinegar. Now we like it fresh, and roasted until it caramelises. We eat so much that we laugh about our pink wee. (Don’t forget I have four-year-old boys…).

Ukraine Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Book

I didn’t start with Cold Beetroot Soup, although I gather it is a classic of the region. Instead I went with a very simple salad that combined intriguing flavours with the beets; balsamic and sour cream dressing with walnuts, prunes and a scattering of coriander.

Ukrainian Beetroot Walnut Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe

I served the salad with quinoa and it was dinner– very delicious and I found it really satisfying. Next time I would reduce the amount of balsamic and add more prunes because they were unexpectedly wonderful in this mix!

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Prunes

I have since done a little research into the culture of Ukraine (this blog gives some excellent insights) and I look forward to trying more recipes from this lovely book. Now, just to decide what clever “beet” pun to use for the title of this post…

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Beet


How to Reach North Africa via the Local Farmers Market

What do you get when you cross soggy socks with worn-out sneakers? Wet feet, of course, so be sure to wear your boots to the market in winter because it can get squelchy underfoot.

Pumpkin Soup North Africa Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Now that we live in a small country town, experiencing its rhythms and quirks, local farmers markets have taken on more significance. I am beginning to appreciate fresh food in new ways, and it may sound crazy but I particularly love choosing produce based on its natural beauty. As a result our fridge often bulges with pink carrots, purple chard and curly kale. Last week, I heaved home a huge, gnarly pumpkin without a thought for how I would prepare it.

Pumpkin Soup Recipe North African Tunisia Harissa Spicy Ingredients

Sadly, I discovered another answer to the question I posed above by simply roasting pieces of it in olive oil. (If you crossed soggy socks with worn-out sneakers, you’d get a fair approximation of the flavour of the pumpkin). I needed to come up with a new plan to turn this hefty vegetable into a flavoursome meal.

So I made a North African- inspired pumpkin soup that packs a spicy punch and really gave this coarse ol’ pumpkin a new lease of life. While it was simmering, I did some reading about harissa, the spicy condiment that really makes a difference to this recipe.

Pumpkin Soup Winter Morocco Tunisia North Africa Recipe

I have used harissa before, as a chilli hit with depth; most notably as a sort of marinade for roast potatoes, a bit like this recipe by The English Kitchen. I had thought it was from Morocco, but have just discovered that it is the preferred sauce of people all across North Africa. It actually originates in Tunisia, the coastal country that is still being rocked by recent tragic acts of violence against tourists.

Tunisia is a country with a rich history and much natural beauty. It features incredible Roman ruins at Dougga and a brilliant pop-culture attraction in the form of sets from the Star Wars films, which were abandoned when filming was completed. And that’s without mentioning the extraordinary beaches and beach weather which draws so many Europeans to Tunisian shores.

Unfortunately, the fear of future assaults means that Tunisia is quickly becoming out-of-bounds for visitors, which will deprive many local people of their incomes. This article in The Guardian, about how brave young Tunisian men faced down a deadly gunman to protect tourists, is heart-breaking.

I do hope peace can be achieved for the ordinary people of Tunisia soon.

What do you get when you cross a North African condiment with a tough pumpkin from the farmer’s market? A smooth, spicy soup that will warm you from the inside during a Southern Hemisphere winter.

Pumpkin Soup Recipe North African Tunisia Morocco Harissa Recipe Spices

Many Cha Cha’s North African Pumpkin Soup

Serves 2


3 cups pumpkin, peeled and diced

1 tomato, diced

1 Spanish onion, diced

1/4 cup red capsicum

1 cup chick peas (from a tin or soaked overnight)

2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely

1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, grated

1/4 preserved lemon rind, rinsed and chopped

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped

1 teaspoon harissa (or more, to taste)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Fresh chilli, chopped (as a garnish, to taste)

Plain yoghurt, to serve

In a medium saucepan, sautee the onion, garlic, ginger, cumin and bay leaves in the olive oil. When the onion has softened, add the tomato, lemon, harissa and a tablespoon of coriander; continue to stir on a medium heat until the tomato has disintegrated and you are left with a sort of paste. Add the pumpkin and capsicum and stir to coat them both with the paste, continuing to stir for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cover the vegetables with water and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.

Remove bay leaves, add remaining coriander. Mash or puree the vegetables, then add chick peas and heat through. Check that your seasoning and spice suits you: add more harissa or salt if needed.

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt plus a garnish of chilli if you like it hot (it’s a mild-to-medium dish as is).

Bon appétit!

Pumpkin Soup North African Moroccan Recipe Spicy

From Pamplemousse To Tap Taps in Haïti

My parents have a funny little tree that produces funny little citrus fruits that we’ve never formally identified. One day I decided to investigate further and I found myself in Haiti.

Not really, of course. But those squat, round fruit with the pithy yellow skin and tart flesh reminded me of images I found online of Haitian chadeques or pamplemousse. Pamplemousse! A marvellous word (pronounced pomp- le- moose), it’s simply French for grapefruit, which is used in the Caribbean nation to make a distinctive gloopy jam.

Since the fruit on my folks’ tree is not great for eating, I decided to try a version of the jam using this traditional recipe as inspiration. I am a huge fan of marmalade but the addition of almond essence and anise seemed so outside my experience; I was very curious to try this tropicana-style spread.

I chose to add lemons and limes for a very zingy brew, and I made two batches of jam. I left one batch with all the solids remaining in the jam (as per the traditional method), while I strained the second lot. 

This second, syrupy concoction spent a few months in a jar until today, when I was inspired to drizzle it over a cake. Using the most basic cake recipe possible, I simply used quantities as they appeared in my cupboards (about 2 cups self raising flour, 2 cups sugar, 200g butter and 3 eggs), all mixed together and then baked in a moderate oven. For in-depth analysis and tips for the best possible drizzle cake, see here; you can probably do much better than mine.

My cake is slightly over cooked and here is why: while it was in the oven I did some reading about Haiti. This small country is a fascinating place and even its location was thought-provoking to me.

Did you know that Haiti is the only nation in the world to have been founded by slaves after a revolution? Its culture is made up of French, Spanish and African influences (I have looked at some culture and baking from this region before). Christopher Columbus wrecked his ship on rocks there on Christmas Day, 1492, thinking it was India. Haiti is mountainous and populous, and hasn’t recovered from the history-making earthquake of 2010 that killed many and left many more vulnerable to cholera. Its politicians are amongst the most corrupt in the world, its citizens amongst the most poor (only about 12.5% have regular access to electricity). Yet Haiti is also nestled in the clutch of islands known to be the preferred holiday destination for the world’s rich and famous, see: Mustique, Saint Barths and Barbados.

It also has one of the most vivacious transport services I have come across: converted trucks and decorated buses called Tap Taps (because that’s how you let the driver know you want to get off). Check out the website of photographer, Jan Sochor, for a sensational series of Tap Tap photos.

Meanwhile, my children wouldn’t let me drizzle the Pamplemousse Syrup onto the cake because “I only like sauce on sausages” so I had plenty of citrus drizzle to spare. I was pleased with those unusual Caribbean flavours and I can imagine that sweet grapefruit jam would be a welcome treat in Haiti. 

Most of all I was thrilled that my parents’ funny little fruit tree could take me on an imaginary journey and help me learn some new things about a place so far away.