Anna Voloshyna (Photo/Anastasia Blackman) is the author of "Budmo!"
Anna Voloshyna (Photo/Anastasia Blackman) is the author of "Budmo!"

‘Budmo!’ Ukrainian émigré Anna Voloshyna’s timely new cookbook

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Two years ago, Anna Voloshyna tried to interest publishing houses in a cookbook putting a California spin on dishes from her native Ukraine. It wasn’t so easy.

“No one wanted just a Ukrainian cookbook,” she said. “I heard, ‘You have to include all the Eastern European countries.’ It just wasn’t an interesting subject.”

Voloshyna persisted and eventually got a contract, and “Budmo! Recipes from a Ukrainian Kitchen” is now out from Rizzoli at a time when Russia’s invasion of her homeland dominates the news.

(“Budmo” is the equivalent of “Cheers” in English, though the literal translation is “Let us be.”)

“Of course, everything was written before [Russia’s invasion], but there is so much more interest because of the war,” Voloshyna said, adding that “Budmo!” has given her  “a tool to help Ukraine.”

“Because of the book,” she said, “I have a bigger platform to spread the word about Ukraine and how people can help.”

Voloshyna has selected a few Ukrainian charities as well as World Central Kitchen, which has been feeding people on the ground and at the borders, as recipients for the funds raised at her events. And her publisher donated 10 percent of profits from presales of the book to those charities.

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Raised in Snihurivka in southeastern Ukraine, Voloshyna, 32, came to the Bay Area with her husband over a decade ago, living in the South Bay before moving to San Francisco.

Initially in the U.S. on a spousal visa that didn’t allow her to work, Voloshyna began blogging and writing articles for the Ukrainian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She also developed her food photography skills. Once she had a work visa, she began shooting food for various websites. Wanting to stay connected to her culture, she started giving workshops on Ukrainian food — how to make meat dumplings, for example — and preparing pop-up dinners.

Judging by the interest in her events, which often sold out, Voloshyna decided to write a cookbook.

Plus, she felt she could offer a unique perspective, having been influenced by the Bay Area’s food culture, meeting chefs when photographing their dishes and having access to what she considers some of the best produce available.

“Of course, every author who writes their first cookbook relies on their childhood memories for nostalgic reasons,” she said. “I wanted to showcase traditional Ukrainian recipes and pay justice to them, but I didn’t want to produce [just] another cookbook that you can find” in Ukraine.

Given Eastern Europe’s large Jewish population over the centuries and the overlap between Eastern European and Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, it’s often difficult to identify specifically Jewish dishes from the region. “Despite the lack of scientific proof, chicken soup is considered the remedy for almost any illness in Ukraine,” Voloshyna writes about her cookbook’s chicken soup recipe, which is much the same as many Ashkenazi Jewish recipes for the dish.

Just as absorption into the former Soviet Union weakened Ukraine’s unique cultural identity, said Voloshyna, it weakened Jewish culture, too.

Odessa forshmak is a herring mousse with butter and bits of apple. (Photo/Maria Boguslav)
Odessa forshmak is a herring mousse with butter and bits of apple. (Photo/Maria Boguslav)

“The USSR was not the kindest place for Jews, as they were constantly oppressed,” she said. “They tried to erase Jewish culture in the same way they did Ukrainian culture.”

Voloshyna said that growing up, she ate challah on a weekly basis. But no one called it challah, nor did she know it was a traditional Jewish bread.

“We just bought it in a bakery, and no one mentioned the origin of it,” she said. “I grew up eating a lot of Jewish dishes without knowing they’re Jewish, and I was so happy that later, I had the opportunity to discover the origin and culture behind those dishes.”

One of Voloshyna’s favorite Jewish recipes in the book is for a herring mousse known as forshmak, which combines herring with butter and a bit of apple. She first tasted forshmak in a Jewish restaurant in Odessa. “I know it might sound a bit odd to Americans, but I hope people will give it a try,” she said.

Voloshyna said that to this day, latkes are one of her favorites; she’ll eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. She prefers hers with sour cream and salmon roe.

But when she was growing up, “no one ever called them latkes, or gave any context when you’re supposed to eat them,” she said. “There are some amazing Jewish restaurants now in Kiev. By being independent, Ukraine has become freer and more liberal, and we can freely learn about other cultures and celebrate them.”

Noting that her book has dishes that are Jewish, Georgian and Uzbek, too, Voloshyna said, “It’s my hope that people will cook all of these dishes, but we need to pay them justice and mention their origin and be respectful of them too.”

“Budmo!” (which has plenty of kosher options, but also plenty of treyf) is now available at your local bookseller. Anna Voloshyna will host a dinner at 18th Street Kitchen in San Francisco on Nov. 16.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."