A Ukrainian Holiday Mosaic

BY Susan Hallett TIMEDecember 1, 2013 PRINT

Ukrainians in Canada usually celebrate two Christmases—a decorated tree, a visit from Santa, and a turkey dinner on Dec. 25 “for the children,” and another traditional celebration on Jan. 5, which is Christmas Eve to those who follow the Julian calendar.

The main feature of a Ukrainian Christmas Eve is the “Holy Supper” (Svyata Vechera). A bundle of wheat symbolizing the richness of the earth is placed on the table, and bread, which symbolizes prosperity, is used as the centrepiece. The family gathers, waiting for the first star of the evening, the signal for the meal to begin.

The supper has 12 dishes, all meatless, such as beet soup; mushrooms with sour cream; cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, onions, and dill; and dried fruit compote. The 12 dishes are symbolic of the l2 apostles at the Last Supper. 


500 g (1 lb) clean whole wheat kernels, washed in a sieve under cold water
250 (1 cup) honey, preferably buckwheat
250 ml (1 cup) poppy seeds
Pinch (1/8 tsp) salt

Dry wheat on a cookie sheet in a 100º C (225º F) oven for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Wash it again and put in a deep pot. Add cold water(twice as much as there is wheat) and bring to a boil. Simmer, skimming off foam until kernels burst (3 to 4 hours). Add more water if necessary so wheat is always well covered. Add salt. Scald poppy seeds and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and grind, using finest cutter. Add honey and seeds to cooked wheat. 

Mushrooms with Sour Cream

500 g (1 lb) mushrooms 
1 small onion, chopped 
25 ml (2 tbsp) butter 
25 ml (2 tbsp) flour 
250 ml (1 cup) sour cream
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
5 ml (1 tsp) chopped dill

Clean, wash and slice mushrooms. Cook onion in butter until just wilted. Add mushrooms and cook for around 10 minutes. Blend flour with some of the sour cream to make a smooth paste, stir in the remaining cream and add to the mushrooms. Cook, stirring until mixture boils. Add garlic and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for l5 minutes or so. When ready to serve, stir in the dill. Good with potatoes.

Poppy Seed Cookies

250 ml (1 cup) butter 
250 ml (1 cup) sugar 
2 eggs, well beaten 
25 ml (2 tbsp) sour cream 
400 ml (2 3/4 cups) sifted flour
1 ml (1/4 tsp) baking soda
Pinch of salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) poppy seeds

Cream butter and add sugar. Beat until light. Blend in eggs and sour cream. Sift flour with baking soda and salt, then mix in poppy seeds. Add to the butter mixture and combine well. Chill dough for 25 to 30 minutes. Roll dough thin and cut with cookie cutters. Put on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 190º C (375º F) until lightly browned. 

Cabbage Holubtsi (rolls)

1 large head cabbage 
Rice filling (see below) 
Salt and pepper 
250 to 375 ml (1 to 1 1/2 cups) tomato juice 
25 ml (2 tbsp) butter or olive oil
125 ml (1/2 cup) sour cream

Core cabbage and place in a deep pan. Pour boiling water into the hollow to cover the cabbage completely. Let stand until leaves are soft. Drain and take the leaves off carefully. Cut off the hard centre rib from each leaf. Line the bottom of a pot with a few leaves, leaving some to cover the top. Cut the rest of the leaves into two or three pieces. 

Spoon rice filling on each leaf and roll tightly. Arrange rolls in layers in pot. Sprinkle each layer with salt. Combine tomato juice with olive oil and sour cream and pour over the rolls. Cover with reserved leaves. Cover the pan and bake at 180º C (350º F) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until cooked. Serve hot with sour cream and tomato sauce, if desired.

Rice Filling 

500 ml (2 cups) rice 
500 ml (2 cups) boiling water 
10 ml (2 tsp) salt 
1 medium onion, chopped
50 to 65 ml (4 to 5 tbsp) olive oil
Salt and pepper

Wash rice well in a sieve until water runs clear. Add to the boiling water, stir in salt and bring to a brisk boil. Let stand for one minute. Cover, turn off the heat and let stand until water is absorbed. The rice will be partially cooked. Cook onion in the olive oil until light. Mix with rice and season with salt and pepper. Some of the seasoning will be absorbed by the cabbage leaves. Cool.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email:

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