The Veselka Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Landmark Restaurant in New York's East Village

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9780312385682: The Veselka Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Landmark Restaurant in New York's East Village

For more than fifty years, customers have crowded into Veselka, a cozy Ukrainian coffee shop in New York City's East Village, to enjoy pierogi, borscht, goulash, and many other unpretentious favorites. Veselka (rainbow in Ukrainian) has grown from a simple newsstand serving soup and sandwiches into a twenty-four-hour gathering place, without ever leaving its original location on the corner of East Ninth Street and Second Avenue. Veselka is, quite simply, an institution.

The Veselka Cookbook contains more than 150 recipes, covering everything from Ukrainian classics (potato pierogi, five kinds of borscht, grilled kielbasa, and poppy seed cake) to dozens of different sandwiches, to breakfast fare (including Veselka's renowned pancakes), to the many elements of a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast.

Veselka owner Tom Birchard shares stories about Veselka's celebrity customers, the local artists who have adopted it as a second home, and the restaurant's other lesser-known, but no less important, longtime fans, and he offers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to serve five thousand gallons of borscht a year and to craft three thousand pierogi daily---all by hand.

The Veselka Cookbook will delight anyone with an interest in Ukrainian culture, New York City's vibrant downtown, and the pleasures of simple, good food.

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About the Author:

Tom Birchard has worked at Veselka since 1967 and assumed ownership from his father-in-law in 1975. Veselka has grown steadily since and has expanded several times. The restaurant now employs approximately seventy-five people and recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.

Natalie Danford has written about food, restaurants, and cookbooks for Fine Cooking, Eating Well, Health, Vegetarian Times, and many other publications. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed novel Inheritance, published by St. Martin's Press.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

VESELKA COOKBOOK
1 SOUPS Veselka's Famous Borscht Vegetarian BorschtCold BorschtWhite BorschtChicken Noodle SoupCabbage SoupThree-Bean ChiliRoasted Vegetable ChiliSplit Pea SoupLentil SoupMushroom Barley SoupVegetable SoupButternut Squash SoupTomato Rice SoupCold Cucumber SoupBeef StockChicken StockVegetable Stock WHEREVER YOU GO, there is soup: Big, warm pots of soup can be found simmering on stoves in every country in the world. There's a reason for that. Soup is the original comfort food. It's digestible--didn't your mother serve you soup when you had an upset stomach?--and it's economical, too. Back in Ukraine, where food had to be stretched, especially during the long, harsh winters, soup was a lifesaver. So it's no surprise that soup has been offered at Veselka since its opening day. Long before Seinfeld made the soup guy famous, we were ladling it out by the gallon. Soup is very forgiving, too. If you've never cooked a thing in your life, soup is the perfect place to start--it's impossible to get it wrong, and any misstep can be fixed. After you've made these recipes a few times, you should feel free to experiment with them. If you've got a handful of cooked rice, use that in place of barley, or add some leftover vegetables, as long as you think their taste will blend. The only thing that soup won't forgive is low-quality ingredients. I don't believe in saving a dollar here and a dollar there; I think in the end you make more money with quality. So at Veselka, with soups and everything else, we go the extra mile. For example, lots of restaurants--and home cooks, too--make chicken soup using bones and necks and wings and backs, but we always start with whole chickens. That results in a rounder, less bitter flavor, and it also means that we then have lots of boiled chicken meat to shred back into the soup and to use in other recipes as well. In general, at the restaurant we cook a lot of ingredients separately, then combine them into a single soup at the end. This gives us a little more control over the individual components of the soup. In the morning we get a little soup assembly linegoing with various pots bubbling on the stove. There is always one soup or another cooking in the Veselka kitchen, though we don't make each kind every day. We rotate them. Our various types of borscht are among the most popular, and we also sell Cabbage Soup, a Ukrainian favorite made with sauerkraut, that's no longer available in many places. And every day we make one special soup, usually something seasonal, like our Butternut Squash Soup. A person could live on soup for a long, long time, and this collection of soup recipes provides a great start. A Bowl of Borscht There has never been a day in Veselka's fifty years without borscht on the menu. You know that guy in the Dunkin' Donuts commercial who used to say, "Time to make the donuts"? Well, at Veselka the beginning of the week and the middle of the week are "time to make the borscht." We start with over 250 pounds of beets, which are simmered and then allowed to cool on the first day of preparation. Our cooks refer to the resulting ruby-red liquid as "beet water." The next day we make a rich beef stock, and on the third day we combine the various ingredients. That results in just enough soup to last half a week, and one day later we begin all over again. Simply put, borscht is beet soup, but borscht is far from simple at Veselka. We serve five different kinds of borscht: our standard version (which uses meat broth), a vegetarian version, Christmas borscht with dumplings, cold borscht (in summer), and white borscht--a special traditional variation made sour with either sauerkraut or fermented wheat. While borscht is served throughout Eastern Europe and is a staple of Jewish cuisine (the word bors means "soup" in Yiddish), it is believed to have originated in Ukraine, and no wonder. Ukraine has many fine qualities, but excellent weather is not one of them. However, root vegetables like beets grow easily in the region, along with cabbage, and root vegetables could be stored in cellars in the days before refrigeration. There is little in life as comforting as sitting down to a bowl of ruby red borscht--we can only imagine how livelyand tempting that sight was to someone entering a third month of below-zero temperatures and frozen terrain, or alternately, how refreshing a bowl of cold borscht would have been on a hot summer day. In modern-day New York City, we may have heat and air conditioning, but that doesn't make a steaming bowl of borscht any less tempting. Cold borscht makes an elegant starter to a formal meal, while to us, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a dish of clear borscht with dumplings. The recipes for borscht in this book have been tested and retested so that you can re-create Veselka's borscht at home, but I think almost any Veselka customer would agree that nothing beats a bowl of the real thing, eaten right here. VESELKA'S FAMOUS BORSCHT Makes about 2 quarts; 8 first-course or 4 to 6 main-course servings Borscht is Veselka: We serve 5,000 gallons of the stuff every year. While at Veselka we cook the beets and the meat on separate days, you can do it all at the same time, as long as you've got enough large pots to handle it all. None of the work is very time-consuming, although the individual components simmer for several hours, so you'll need to pick a time when you'll be home, though not necessarily in the kitchen. You can easily double or triple this recipe (again, as long as you have large enough pots). After all, at Veselka, we work with 250 pounds of beets at a time. And keep in mind that borscht, like most soups, freezes beautifully. The beets for our borscht are cooked in two separate batches: One batch is used to make "beet water," a kind of rich beet stock. The remaining beets are cooked and grated. The process may sound a little complicated when you read it, but after you follow the instructions once, the logic will become clear, and I'm convinced that it's this two-step process that lends our borscht its distinct taste and depth of flavor. You won't taste the white vinegar much, by the way, but it helps the beets retain the beautiful red color that is their hallmark. Without it, your borscht may take on a brownish tinge. If you are very sensitive to the taste of vinegar, use the full amount to cook the beet water and the beets, but in step 7, add it to the soup in small amounts, tasting in between.  
3 pounds (10 to 12) small beets, scrubbed thoroughly but not peeled 9 tablespoons white vinegar One 2-pound boneless pork butt, halved 8 cups Beef Stock 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 3 large carrots, peeled and sliced 3 large celery stalks, sliced 1 small head of green cabbage (about ¾ to 1 pound), shredded (about 4 cups) 2 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice One 15-ounce can lima beans, drained and rinsed Salt 1. To make the "beet water," roughly chop 2 pounds of the beets (select the smaller ones), preferably in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Place the chopped beets in a large stockpot. Add 10 cups of water and 1 tablespoon vinegar. 2. Place the stockpot over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours. (If it seems like the liquid is evaporating too quickly, you may need to cover the pot partially with an offset lid.) The beets should be extremely soft and the liquid bright red. 3. Strain the liquid, pressing the cooked beets against the side of the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the pulp or reserve to make Beet Salad . Set aside the beet water. You should have just about 4 cups. 4. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1 pound of whole beets in a separate large stockpot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the beets are tender-firm, about 40 minutes. When the beets are cooked, add 1 tablespoon white vinegar and set them aside to cool. 5. When the whole cooked beets are cool enough to handle, peel them; the skins should slip off easily. Grate the peeled beets on the largest holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the grating blade. 6. To make the broth, place the pork butt in a large stockpot and add the beef stock. If necessary, add a little more stock or water to cover. Add the bay leaf, allspice berries, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the meat is tender and beginning to fall apart, about 2 hours. Set the pork aside to cool. When the pork is cool enough to handle, remove it from the pot and cut the meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Strain the broth and discard the bay leaf, allspice berries, and peppercorns. Reserve the cubed meat and 4 cups of the broth. 7. To cook the vegetables, place the carrots and celery in a large stockpot and pour the reserved meat broth over them. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots and celery are just tender, about 8 minutes. Add the cabbage and potatoes and continue to cook until the potatoes and carrots are easily pierced with a pairing knife but keep their shape, 15 to 20 additional minutes. Add the lima beans and cook for 5 additional minutes, just to meld the flavors. Gradually add the remaining 7 tablespoons white vinegar, tasting between additions and stopping when the flavor is to your liking. Remove the soup from the heat and set aside. 8. To compose the soup, in a large soup pot combine the "beet water" and meat broth with the vegetables. Add the cubed pork and the grated beets. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer over low heat. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately. Variation: We also serve Vegetarian Borscht at Veselka, which is a little lighter and can be a better choice than traditional meat-based borscht when it's being served as part of a multicourse meal. For Vegetarian Borscht, simply leave out the pork butt, bay leaf, allspice, berries, and peppercorns, and skip step 6. In step 7, cook the vegetables in water or Vegetable Stock . COLD BORSCHT Makes about 2 quarts; 8 first-course or 4 main-course servings Cold beet soup is tangy and refreshing--it's perfect on a really hot, humid day. If you're serving this as the first course in a fancy meal, pour it into tall glasses rather than bowls. The color is gorgeous.  
1 pound (about 3) beets, scrubbed thoroughly but not peeled 1/2 cup half-and-half 1 cup buttermilk 1 tablespoon sugar 2 teaspoons white vinegar 4 large eggs, hard-boiled 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced 1. To make the "beet water," chop the beets roughly and place them in a stockpot. Add water to cover, at least 8 cups. 2. Place the stockpot over high heat and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours. (If it seems like the liquid is evaporating too quickly, you may need to partially cover the pot with an offset lid.) The beets should be extremely soft and the liquid should be bright red. 3. Strain the liquid, pressing the cooked beets against the side of the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard pulp or reserve to make Beet Salad . Reserve 3 cups of the beet water and set aside to cool completely. (If you have any leftover beet water, you can reserve it for another use or simply discard it.) 4. When the beet water has cooled, whisk it with the half-and-half and buttermilk. Add the sugar and vinegar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and all the ingredients are combined. Chill until serving time. 5. Peel and chop the hard-boiled eggs. 6. To serve the soup, ladle portions into individual soup bowls and garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of fresh dill, chopped hard-boiled egg, and diced cucumber. WHITE BORSCHT Makes 21/2 quarts; 6 to 8 servings This unusual soup is generally served on holidays. It has a somewhat tart taste similar to sourdough bread. At Veselka, we use sauerkraut juice, but in some parts of Eastern Europe grain is fermented (similar to a sourdough starter) to make white borscht, and white vinegar will work as well. Sour soup sounds odd, I know, but this is highly addictive.  
6 cups Chicken Stock 2 medium ham hocks 3 smoked pork ribs, optional 1 medium onion, minced 3 large carrots, chopped 4 celery stalks, chopped 2 bay leaves 2 whole allspice berries ¾ cup sour cream 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour ¾ cup sauerkraut juice, or 2 teaspoons white vinegar 1 tablespoon dried marjoram 1 teaspoon dried oregano Salt Freshly ground black pepper 3 medium Idaho potatoes, cooked, peeled, and chopped 4 large eggs, hard-boiled and coarsely chopped 1. Place the chicken stock, ham hocks, pork ribs, if using, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and allspice berries in a medium stockpot. Add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook over low heat for 40 minutes. 2. Remove the ham hocks and ribs, if using, and discard. Strain out the vegetables and discard. 3. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and the flour until very smooth. 4. Return the stock to a boil and stir in the sour cream-flour mixture. Add about half the sauerkraut juice or vinegar, taste, and add additional sauerkraut juice or vinegar, if desired. Stir in the marjoram and oregano, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. 5. Season to taste with salt (depending on how salty your sauerkraut juice is, it may not need any additional salt) and pepper. 6. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and garnish each serving with a few cubes of cooked potato and a sprinkling of chopped hard-boiled egg. Serve hot. CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP Makes about 2 quarts; 6 servings After borscht, chicken noodle is our most popular soup. On a cold day, a rainy day, or really any day at all when you need a bit of a lift, chicken noodle soup is ideal. Chicken soup also has amazing healing powers: It has been scientifically proven to help colds heal faster. You can make the soup in advance, but if you're going to freeze chicken noodle soup, thaw it and cook the noodles in the broth just before serving. At Veselka, we use a whole chicken to make our soup. Not only does this result in a richer, more balanced broth, but you then have cooked chicken that can be used in so many different ways-- Chicken Salad , sandwiches, or just eaten plain.  
One 31/2-pound chicken 1 large onion, peeled 3 celery stalks, sliced 3 large carrots, sliced 3 leeks, halved lengthwise and thoroughly cleaned Salt 3 cups fine egg noodles ¼ cup minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish 1. Place the chicken, onion, celery, carrot, and leeks in a large stockpot and add water to cover, at least 10 cups. Place over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), until the chicken meat is falling off the bone, about 1 hour. Skim off the fat and foam from the surface occasionally. 2. Remove the pot from the heat with the chicken still in the broth and allow to cool to room temperature. 3. Remove the chicken from the pot. Pull any meat from the bone and shred into large, rough pieces. Strain the chicken stock. Discard the onion and leeks, but set aside the celery and carrots. (Don't worry about a stray piece of onion or leek making its way in as well.) 4. Return the stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, add salt to taste, and toss in the noodles. Stir and turn down the heat to a brisk simme...

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Book Description Oct 27, 2009. Book Condition: New. Hardcover in glossy dust jacket. Signed by the author on the title page. Unread copy in new condition. Full of wonderful stories and recipes from this restaurant that's like an old friend. Now make your own beet and horseradish salad. Bookseller Inventory # 13-RFKX-HEGY

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