Beat-the-Blues Banana Buckwheat

If you are following the news, you’ll know that things are tense here in Ukraine.

It is exactly times like these that make me crave carb and sugar-laden foods like mac & cheese and brownies.   For so long, I thought that was a bad thing.

But a good friend taught me to listen to these cravings; that my body probably does want certain foods, just not these processed foods.  They’re sooo tempting, but eventually leave me feeling more depressed than satisfied.

Whole foods are designed to nourish our bodies with more than just fiber and protein.  They also naturally contain nutrients that can help nourish us emotionally.

The ingredients in this recipe contain nutrients–amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fats, etc.–that have been found to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm.  Don’t we all need that?!

Beat-the-Blues Banana Buckwheat

1/2 cup of buckwheat groats
1 cup of milk or almond milk
1 banana
1/4 cup halved walnuts
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Heat the buckwheat and 1 cup of water in a shallow pot on low heat until tender, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a frying pan on low heat (about 10 minutes or so).
Once the groats are extra tender, slice a banana into the pot.
Here comes the part where you work up an appetite and release some pent-up emotions: take a mortar and crush those little groats until they are squished.  This can take up to ten minutes, depending on your mood.  Trust me on this – it creates a really nice texture.
Take the 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon and smell it.
Savor the warm aroma.
My friend also taught me the importance of savoring a meal, even before you eat it.  She is very wise 🙂
Sprinkle the cinnamon into the buckwheat and mix.
Spoon the mixture into two bowls, pour the milk on top, and sprinkle with walnuts.
Enjoy with a friend – because we are not made to endure tough things alone.


Egg & Potato

The older I get, the more I seem to appreciate breakfast foods.  This can be dangerous, but I proceed with caution.

There’s no special story behind this recipe, other than it’s cheap and yummy.

Egg & Potato

1 russet potato
1 fresh egg
1 tsp. seasoned salt

Peel and shred the potato.
Rinse the potato shreds in cold water until the water runs clear.
Heat the shredded potato and salt in a wide pan on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a shallow pot with approx. 5 inches of water and heat.
Maintain the heat so that the water is just before boiling, but doesn’t quite boil.
Stir the water to create a whirlpool effect.
Crack the egg into a shallow dish, and pour into the water.
Allow the egg to sit for 4-5 minutes, gently scraping it off the bottom of the pot if it starts to stick.
Once the egg is cooked, gently lift it out of the water, dab with a napkin to remove extra water, and place on the shredded potatoes.

Baba’s Borscht

When I was little,  I had a t-shirt which pictured a soup can that read, “Baba’s Borscht”.   The print had the nostalgia of an old Campbell’s soup can and the familiarity of my own heritage: I’m half Ukrainian.

My Baba (pictured above on the left) loved me, and I loved my Baba.  I also loved her perogies and borscht :-p

She died of breast cancer when I was six, and I do miss her.  Especially being here, the country in which she grew up.

I still have that t-shirt.

Baba’s Borscht

1 large beet
1 large Idaho potato
1 large carrot
1/2 Vidalia onion
1/2 small cabbage
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 lemon
1 tbsp. season salt
1 tbsp. white vinegar
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

Skin and dice the beet, potato and carrot.
Slice the onion into thin slices.
Chop the cabbage.
Put the vegetables and whole garlic clove into a pot and cover with 1/2 gallon of water.
Cook on low until vegetables are tender, approximately 30-45 minutes.
Remove from heat and add dill, salt, vinegar, tomato paste and the juice of one lemon.
Add more salt, vinegar or lemon juice to taste (the amount of these ingredients I add have been different every time I make it).
One thing that’s a constant, this soup – like many others – is even better the next day.

Persimmon Salsa

I honestly cannot remember ever trying a persimmon before I got to Ukraine.  Of course they are not native to Eastern Europe, but they can be found at virtually every outdoor produce market in Kyiv.

At perfect ripeness, persimmons are much like tomatoes: firm, but with a bit of give.  One of the great things about persimmons is that they have neither the slimy seeds of tomatoes nor the fibrous pits of mangos.  They are smooth, sweet and so refreshing!

Persimmon Salsa

1 persimmon
4 vine ripened tomatoes
1/2 cup chickpeas
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. chopped red onion
1 tsp. salt
juice from 1/2 lemon
hot sauce to taste

Peel and dice the persimmon (I eat the skin, but don’t particularly like it in the salsa).
Roughly dice the tomatoes.
Finely chop the garlic.
Combine all ingredients and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Serve plain as a salad, or with your favorite salsa accompaniment (pictured above over hearty brown rice).

Vegetable Fried Buckwheat

Buckwheat, or Kasha, is an extremely popular grain here in Ukraine.  It is super cheap and has a really distinct texture & flavor.  Other than enjoying the occasional buckwheat crepe, this ingredient was never really a part of my diet in the US, so I’m looking forward to discovering new ways of using it.

In this recipe, I’m substituting buckwheat for rice in the traditional fried rice recipe.  Because buckwheat is naturally more flavorful than rice and soy sauce & ginger aren’t exactly readily available here, I’m using less seasoning than I typically would with fried rice.

Vegetable Fried Buckwheat

2 cups buckwheat
12-14 oz. frozen veggies
1/2 onion, chopped
5-10 button mushrooms, sliced
2 eggs
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. season salt

Pour the buckwheat, salt and 2 cups of water into a pot with a lid.
Cook, covered, on low-medium heat for 10 minutes.
Add frozen veggies and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, sautee the chopped onion and garlic for five minutes.
Add sliced mushrooms, and cook another three minutes.
In another pan, scramble eggs and cook on low-medium heat until done.
Mix all ingredients together.

Butternut Squash Grilled Cheese

The first–and only–time I had savory “french toast” was in Ukraine a couple years ago.

I was staying with the sweetest couple for a few days, and the wife made savory french toast to go along with her soup.  I never thought to do this, but it’s a nice way to moisten, crisp and flavor bread without the use of pure fat, exchanging it for a bit of protein.

So instead of using butter on the bread for my grilled cheese, I dunked the slices into an egg batter.

I also added avocado as a throwback to my time in Haiti.  Bread, avocado and eggs was a favorite breakfast of mine there; heavy on the avocado, which was right off the tree.  Delicious!

Although they don’t grow in Ukraine, I found surprisingly good avocados in the grocery store around the corner.

Since I’m on the subject, I’m not ashamed to plug GSI Haiti, a small non-profit organization that promotes education & community development in rural Fond des Blancs.  It is run by very committed local staff & teachers who are in need of continued support.  Please visit them online at

2 slices of bread
1 egg
1  tbsp. buttermilk
1/2 cup butternut squash (cooked & mashed)
1/2 tsp. marinara sauce
1 slice swiss cheese
2 tbsp. feta cheese
avocado wedge
onion wedge
salt to taste
1/4 tsp. lemon juice

Slice the onion and sauté on low heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes.
Beat the egg and buttermilk well.
Dip the bread slices in the egg batter and cook on medium heat
Heat the mashed squash and add marinara sauce (I’ve been using spicy marinara instead of other spices, since it is less expensive and already includes oregano, pepper, chili powder, etc.).
Once the squash is sufficiently heated, remove from heat and add salt & a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Once one side of each bread slice is cooked, flip them and add swiss cheese, feta, avocado slices, onions and mashed squash on the cooked side of one of the slices.
Place the cooked side of the other slice on top of the sandwich.
Once the bottom slice is fully cooked, flip the sandwich until the other side is cooked.

Egg Stuffed ‘Shrooms

Today is Orthodox Christmas!

I’ve decided to make a mushroom dish in honor of one of the most prominent traditional Christmas dishes, the oushka.

Oushka are basically mushroom-filled perogies, but they are folded like tortellini and only made for Christmas.  They’re pretty special.

I was not motivated to make this intricate dish–with all the rolling, cutting, boiling, and expensive dried mushrooms–so here’s what I made…

Egg Stuffed ‘Shrooms

1 tbsp. finely chopped onions
1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt, to taste
1 egg
3 button mushrooms
marinara sauce

De-stem the mushrooms and finely chop the stems (leaving the caps intact.
Sautee the chopped mushroom stems, onions and garlic until the onions are transparent, about 5 minutes.
Remove the mushroom mixture from the heat.
Add salt, egg, and mix well.
Fill the mushroom caps with the egg mixture and place in a frying pan.
Cook, covered, on low-medium heat for 10 minutes, or until the egg is no longer runny.
Serve with warm marinara sauce.

a peace corps volunteer's vegetarian-on-a-budget culinary attempts in Ukraine