French Toast with Currant & Rosehip Syrup

I bought my first loaf of bread at the market today!

I had previously been quite intimidated.  Because many items are behind the counter in these little Ukrainian market shacks, it is difficult to point or explain what one desires, unless one know what it is called.  And I sure don’t.

But I came across a stall that had all the different types of bread labeled with a name and price, so I thought I’d take a crack at it.

I shoveled up to the window and stood in silence.  The lady behind the counter was pre-occupied by recording something in her notebook.   Did she know I was there, but didn’t want to be bothered?  Maybe she had closed up shop for the day and was balancing the books?  Is there a hint here that I’m just not getting?

I managed a “zdrasvutsyah” and hoped that she wouldn’t yell at me (partially because I don’t like being yelled at, and partially because I would have no idea what she was saying).  She returned the greeting and continued working on her books.

Okay, then.

After several long seconds, she looked at me.  Her eyes spoke English; they said, “what do you want?”  I sounded out the name of the bread that I wanted.  Bingo!  She understood.

The next thing I knew, I had paid 60 cents for a fresh, warm loaf of bread.  Oh, the simple things in life!

French Toast with Currant & Rosehip Syrup

3 tbsp. fresh currants
4 tbsp. rosehip syrup
1/2 persimmon
2 slices of bread
1 egg
2 tbsp. cream
1 tbsp. creamy goat cheese

Place the currants in a shallow pan and add 5 tbsp. water.
Heat over low heat while gently crushing the berries with  your trusty pestle.
Add chopped persimmon.  Persimmons have quickly become my favorite fruit here, and will add welcomed sweetness to balance the tart currants.
After 3/4 of the water has evaporated, add the rosehip syrup and remove from heat.
Beat the egg and cream well.
Dip the bread slices in the egg & cream mixture and cook each side for two minutes on low-medium heat.
Pour syrup over french toast slices and crumble the goat cheese on top.
Serve with Christmas tea.


Chicksquash Patties with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Did I mention that I don’t have an oven?

No cookies, no frozen pizza, and no lasagna for me!  This recipe is one of my attempts to be creative with just a stovetop.

Chicksquash Patties with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

2 cups chickpeas (prepared as directed; I used dried, so I soaked & boiled them beforehand)
1.5 cups butternut squash, cubed
1 egg
1/2 onion, diced
1 red pepper
1 cup spicy tomato sauce
1/4 cup creamy goat cheese
2 garlic cloves
seasoned salt, to taste
fresh parsley as a garnish (I had a guest this particular evening, so I wanted to be fancy)

Mash the cooked chickpeas with a potato masher, or whatever works best for you.
Steam the butternut squash in a frying pan (or roast in the oven if you’ve got one).
Mash the squash with the chickpeas and add salt to taste.
Add a beaten egg and mix thoroughly.
At this point, I would normally add seasoned bread crumbs or flour to help shape the patties, but I didn’t want to spend the money.
Form the mixture into patties, approximately 2 inches in diameter and 1/2 in tall.
Cook the patties in a pan on low-medium flame until cooked through; about 3 minutes on each side.
In the meantime, lay the whole red pepper on an open flame until the side is burnt.  Rotate regularly until the entire pepper is black.
Remove the pepper from the flame and let it sit.
To make the sauce, sautee the chopped onion and garlic in a pot.
De-seed & skin the pepper, chop, and add to the onion and garlic.
Add the tomato sauce and mix thoroughly.
Add the goat cheese, mix, and remove from heat.
Serve the patties with sauce and garnish with parsley.

Smoked Prunes with Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

For reasons which I will not elaborate here, I needed a prune fix.

A couple weeks ago my Russian language teacher mentioned there was a great grocery store next to Kyiv’s central train station, or Vokzal.  I just so happened to be in the area, so I decided to stop by.

She wasn’t kidding.  The grocery store had an impressive assortment of imported items that I’d all but given up on finding in Ukraine.  Exotic spices, fruits, vegetables, canned goods.  I could go on.  I think I set my expectations of what foods I’d find here a bit too low, but I’m glad that I’ve been pleasantly surprised and not the other way around.

Just between the raisins and dried figs were piles of dark purple prunes.  A fellow shopper was delicately and intensely digging through them to find just the right ones.  I didn’t really care; I just grabbed the scooper and shoveled a couple small heaps into my plastic bag.  But my fellow prune lover just wouldn’t have it.  In a kind but instructive tone, she began explaining to me that the prunes that I chose were not good.  From her tone and body language, I knew she wanted me to pick from the pile that she was digging through, but I didn’t know why.  I wished I knew more Russian!

I really had no clue what made the prunes in my bag any less effective delicious than the ones in her bag.  But clearly she thought they were.  I smiled and dumped out my bag as if I understood, but resumed gathering the glistening gems by scooping a few out of this bin, a few out of that bin.  To cover all my bases.

When I finally tried the prunes, I discovered that they had a surprising but welcomed smoky flavor unlike any dried fruit I’ve ever tasted.  I also quickly realized that the prunes that I had been selecting were far more dry than the selection that my new friend at the store recommended.

That smoky flavor stuck with me, and I knew they would somehow be perfect to share as an appetizer or dessert at the New Year’s Eve party I would be attending the following day.

So, on December 31st I was back at the supermarket picking through the prune bin, being careful to select only the plumpest, moistest fruits.  How quickly I am becoming a local!

Here’s what I brought to the party…

Smoked Prunes with Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

10 smoked prunes (whole & moist)
1/3 cup creamy goat cheese (more or less, depending on the size of your prunes)
10 toasted walnuts, whole or halved
lemon zest

Cut a slit into each prune (to create a bowl-like structure).
Roll the goat cheese into 10 equally sized balls.
Stuff each prune with a ball of goat cheese – fill them as much as possible.
Press a toasted walnut on top of the goat cheese and garnish with lemon zest.

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