Ukrainian banush – a hug and some action in one bowl.

September 29th, 2011Katrina K

Khrushev – that charismatic leader of the communist party in USSR in the 60s – is memorable on two accounts in my mind: for letting soviet couples to have sex in private and for introducing corn to the nation.

Khrushev and his corn.

With regards to sex – ”khrushevka’ was a cuddly term given to a type of a tiny flat the building of which Khrushev initiated en mess to fight the lack of privacy in the soviet union.

As for corn: the story goes that the country – Ukraine more specifically as it was considered the ‘breadbasket’ of USSR – hadn’t known corn before the omnipresent leader brought it from a food exhibition in the States.

It’s not all coca-cola you know.

Khruchev loved the stuff – presumably having tried it as porridge (gritts that is) in America – and embarked on a mighty campaign to get the rest of the country to oblige.

And Ukraine did take to corn – sort of, having already been eating corn for quite some time in fact, which Khrushev kinda ignored. Take for example mamalyga in Moldova and banush in western Ukraine.

Corn maize, polenta, grits, mamalyga, and now banush.

I had my first taste of banush in the Carpathian mountains this summer and so wanted to re-create the dish that surprised me pleasantly for my last Brunch club – Eating Ukraine and its lard(er).

I was lucky to be introduced to this dish of corn flour, sourcream, pork scratchings and cream, at a lovely little country restaurant not far from Lviv.

Where I sampled my first banush - village of Urach, near Lviv.

I’ll be honest – I could never understand the allure of Italian polenta. No matter what you do with it – or do with me. Apart from the lovely colour, it’s tasteless and bland porridge. Even when cheese is added on top, I just want to scratch the top and leave the wobbly polenta middle aside.

But banush was something else. The real ‘authentic’ recipe uses sourcream instead of water to cook corn flour – so you can imagine how indulging the resulting dish is.

Banush, as it should be.

However here the chef used plain water to cook corn. She then added tonnes of other goodness – and here you really understand the clished mantra of ‘good ingredients make a good dish’. Boy oh boy, Ukrainian sourcream is by itself makes me think of…

… young, taut, delicious bodies and green pastures…

How to make western Ukrainian banush:

you’ll need:

first – you cannot find the same type of corn flour in the UK that’s available in Ukraine. no idea what the difference is between polenta (or maize flour or gritts) sold here, but it’s not the same. however, buy some proper polenta – not the pre-cooked stuff.

secondly – quantities are really rather arbitrary here. read the package to make the actual polenta and then load the cooked maize with this stuff:

shkvarki, or bacon bits

(shkvarki are the epitome of umami – they are the slightly crunchy bits of fat left from rendering pork fat)

Shkvarki - the pre-requisite of good banush.

 Lots of lots of sourcream and double-cream cream;

Grated cheese – parmezan, mature cheddar, but also some feta;

Proper wild mushrooms if you can get some (don’t bother with other stuff);

I think some caramelised onion would go in nicely;

Obviously good seasoning is a must – use seasalt and freshly-grounded black (or white actually) pepper.

Mix all in when polenta is ready – remember the consistency of banush should be quite porridge like (in fact looser than what you see in my picture below).

Voila.

Banush, my, dainty version.

There’s something so more-ish, so languid, so hugable, so come-hither about the resulting bowl of yellow, porky maize….

Perhaps Khrushev did know what he was doing when trying to get both sex and corn into the good old USSR.

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