Countries steeped in Eastern Orthodoxy celebrate Easter with glorious painted eggs and a traditional Easter buffet feast.
The eggs (pysanky) are quite an art form. The style of egg-painting is different in each country (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus et. al.), but perhaps the most beautiful are the Ukrainian batik (wax-resist dyed) eggs.
Ukrainian egg painting is not for the faint of heart. It is a grueling process of layering paint, waxing, painting, waxing, removing the wax and then lacquering. Beginning with the lightest color, colors are layered. In the progression from light to dark, the lighter colors are maintained by a thin coat of melted wax (called “wax resist”), which is removed when coloring is complete. Traditionally the wax is removed at the end using the heat of a candle. The process is a messy one, but even the unavoidable drippings are beautiful.
Thirty years ago my sister and brother-in-law had their first egg party, in part influenced by our Belarusian ancestry. My sister, a professional artist, fearlessly launched into the ornate Ukrainian eggs rather than the less-intricate Belarusian red eggs. While not all guests were willing to attempt the Ukrainian eggs in the photo above, they happily painted eggs in their own personal styles. Thirty years hence, the party goes on with many of the original attendees still adding eggs to their respective collections.
Like the eggs and attendees, the traditional menu for the party hasn’t changed over the years. It is a Russian/Belarusian/Ukrainian menu (there is much overlap in these cuisines – as in the egg painting). My sister serves the food buffet style (a must when serving nearly 30 people in a small home), preparing everything ahead with the exception of the Kulebiaka and Pierogi, which must be assembled and baked right before guests arrive.
In my view, the highlight of the buffet is the Paskha, a dish made throughout the Eastern Orthodox countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. It is typically made during holy week and served as part of the Easter celebration.
I like to think of Paskha as an Eastern Orthodox variation on New York cheesecake. The tastes are similar, and they both use sour cream and a mild cheese, but pashka is not baked like cheesecake. The dense paskha consistency comes from a bit of stove-top cooking and then draining liquid (and concentrating the cheese) with a fine cheesecloth sieve. While it is a do-ahead dish, paskha requires significant lead time – at least 4 days before serving. Traditional paskha molds are available, but an everyday terra-cotta flower pot (with drainage hole) will easily do the trick.
Ukrainian Egg Party Buffet Menu
Baked Beef Pierogi
Kulebiaka (Salmon, Vegetables and Rice in Pastry)
Kielbasa Served with Horseradish, Sauerkraut and Mashed Potatoes
Radish and Cucumber Salad
Russian Easter Bread (Babka)
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC – adapted from my sister’s recipe
5 cups cottage cheese
1 7/8 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups sour cream
5 egg, yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup almonds, slivered
1/2 cup raisins, golden
1. You will need a clean, 5-inch terra-cotta flower pot and cheesecloth for this recipe. It will take about 4 days, start to finish, but very little of that time is work time.
Place the cottage cheese in the center of a piece of cheesecloth. Draw the corners of the cheesecloth together and tie. Hang the cheese cloth (in a strainer) over a bowl. Let it drain overnight (at least 8 hours) in the refrigerator. Discard the drained liquid.
2. Put the cottage cheese in a food processor and blend (or put through a sieve). Add the sugar, sour cream, egg yolks, and vanilla and process again.
Place in a large sauce pan and heat very gently, stirring constantly. As soon as the mixture begins to simmer and temperature reaches 145-150 degrees, remove from the heat.
Cool mixture quickly by placing pan or bowl in a shallow pan or placing a bowl of ice water (see culinary science notes about cooling liquids quickly).
3. Add almonds and raisins. Return the mixture to clean cheesecloth and let drain again, refrigerated overnight ( at least 10-12 hours).
4. Line the clean flower pot with clean cheesecloth.
Eliminate as many folds in the cloth as possible. Fill it will the cheese mixture.
Fold cheesecloth edges over the top, cover with a plate and place a weight on the plate (a can of food works). Place the pasta on another dish to catch drained liquid. Return to the refrigerator for 24 hours.
5. Unmold paskha on your serving platter. Garnish and serve.
6. DO-AHEAD INSTRUCTIONS: Although you need to start paskha 4 days ahead of serving time, there is little in the way of last-minute work. Simply unmold and garnish before serving. You can do this just before serving or an hour or so before (store in refrigerator until service).
To have your own Ukrainian egg party, I recommend the book by Jane Pollack: Decorating Eggs: Exquisite Designs with Wax and Dye. And you may want to start thinking about your egg design now. It takes the duration of the party just to make one, so you won’t be able to redesign halfway through. Although, anything goes, really. Eggs at our party ranged from traditional Ukrainian eggs to a University of Michigan football 🙂