Eastern European foods are not necessarily known for their healthy attributes. In general, the foods of countries including Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Lithuania and the Czech Republic are heavy on meat, sour cream and lard or chicken fat. However, they are delicious comfort foods, no matter where in the world you or your ancestors hail from. In the spirit of FoodTrients, I’ve adapted some recipes to make them lighter, more healthful versions of the originals. Here are a few of the guidelines I used to make these recipes more modern and health-friendly:
Add vegetables – By increasing the amount of vegetables or adding them when the original ‘grandma’ recipe didn’t call for them, calories and fat content are reduced, but fiber, vitamins and other nutrients are increased.
Change the fat – I’ve changed the cooking fat for these dishes from saturated fats (schmaltz, which is Yiddish for chicken fat and lard, which is from pigs) to unsaturated fats like olive or avocado oil. You probably won’t miss them!
Increase the seasoning – For many of these recipes I’ve included larger amounts of herbs and spices or added new ones.
Replace sour cream – Plain, full fat Greek yogurt is still lower fat than sour cream and it contains more protein and fewer calories, but you’ll still get the rich effect.
Most people associate borscht, or Russian/Ukrainian beet soup as heavy, sour cream-laden and bright pink. This version contains fresh beets, which are low in calories but contain many vitamins and antioxidants that promote cell health. Beets contain pigments called betalains, which are believed to possess anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight diseases such as cancer, liver and heart disease.
Ukrainian Vegan Borscht
1 Tbs. coconut or olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. caraway seeds
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 large parsnip, thinly sliced
4 beets, scrubbed and diced
3 medium Russet potatoes, diced (about 6 cups)
2 cups white cabbage, shredded
2 cups purple cabbage, shredded
6 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Cashew sour cream optional
Fresh dill or parsley for garnish
- In a 6-8 quart pot heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in caraway seeds and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add carrots, parsnip, beets, potatoes, and cabbage. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add vegetable broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes until vegetables are tender.
- Add apple cider vinegar; season with salt, and pepper.
- To serve, top with cashew sour cream and fresh dill or parsley.
With winter on the way, here’s another hearty soup recipe that originates from Russia. It’s vegetarian and you can improvise by adding seasonal vegetables. The potatoes with their red skins contain vitamins and fiber, and the green beans provide good amounts of protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 as well as some calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. This soup is also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C and K, folate and manganese.
Green Bean and Potato Soup Moscow
1 Tbs. vegetable oil, such as olive or avocado oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 medium stalks of celery, sliced
5 red potatoes, cubed
½ lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
5 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth if the soup doesn’t need to be vegetarian)
2 Tbs. whole wheat flour
½ cup full fat plain Greek yogurt
¾ cup sauerkraut with juice
1 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat the vegetable oil in a 6-8 quart pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and gently cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, potatoes and green beans; cook until the green beans have softened, about 6 more minutes.
- Pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes have softened, about 15 minutes.
- Stir the flour into the yogurt, and add it a spoonful at a time to the simmering soup. Stir in the sauerkraut and dill, season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes then serve.
CLASSIC HUNGARIAN CUISINE
Meat is essential to Eastern European cuisine and main dishes can be lightened up with a few modifications. Chicken Budapest is a take on the classic Hungarian dish, chicken paprikash. Of course the chicken is high quality protein. Paprika helps with indigestion, cardiovascular health, and circulation; is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and contains vitamins A, E, K, and C. I’ve substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream to further lighten the dish.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup paprika
3 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup water
1-14.5 oz. can low salt diced tomatoes
2 Tbs. whole wheat flour
1 cup low fat (2%) plain Greek yogurt
Flat parsley, chopped for garnish
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the chicken breast pieces just slightly, about a minute on each side. Remove to a plate.
- Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and paprika and stir together.
- Add chicken pieces; pour water over all. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary.
- Stir in tomatoes, reserving liquid. Stir liquid into a medium bowl with flour and Greek yogurt; mix until well blended, then slowly add mixture to chicken, stirring constantly. Cook until mixture is thick.
- Garnish with the parsley.
SLOW COOKER POT ROAST
Slow cookers are fantastic for busy people who still like to eat well. Throw in some ingredients, turn it on and eight hours later, dinner’s ready. The beauty of pot roast is that it’s a great way to use lean, inexpensive cuts of meat. The slow, moist cooking method makes the meat tender.
Here’s a recipe for pot roast that includes carrots, mushrooms, onions and potatoes as important supporting players. The caraway seeds provide that Old World flavor.
Bubbe’s Slow Cooker Pot Roast
2 cans (10.75 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup (Amy’s and Pacific both make organic versions)
1/2 cup water
¾ cup red wine
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. caraway seeds
5 ½ lb. pot roast
10 fresh mushrooms, cut in half
4 carrots, cut into large chunks
6 small white or red potatoes, cut into halves
1 medium onion, cut in half then sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- In a bowl, mix the cream of mushroom soup, caraway seeds, red wine and water.
- Brush the inside of the cooker with the olive oil; place the pot roast inside.
- Add the vegetables and garlic; salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the cream of mushroom soup mixture.
- Cook on low setting 8-9 hours or high setting 3-4 hours.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.