Elena Nikiforova, head chef at Shinok restaurant
The cherry is the second healthiest berry after the wild strawberry. If you take into account that cherries are much more accessible than strawberries, then they are in the lead. Cherries have a rare vitamin , it blocks the formation of cholesterol plaques and helps in the prevention of strokes and heart attacks. I have discovered that leaves and twigs contain more healthful substances than berries. Decoction of leaves and twigs is a good folk recipe – the kind that does not have pomp and pathos, but there is a fact and result. I know families where cherries are revered as the main medicine, and guess what – people live to a ripe old age, in part because they decoct the leaves and branches all year round. Cherries are also an antiseptic and an excellent antipyretic.
Cherries are absolutely versatile, they’re good in any dish. Here’s an example: we’ve made a small seasonal cherry menu at Shinka. Salad with chicken breast, cherry puree sauce with ginger and garlic and fresh cherries: an amazing flavour study. Hot – steak with a cherry garnish. I mixed three types of cherries: some smoked berries, more cherries in their own juice and more fresh cherries. For dessert, we make a cake of nalistniks, i.e. pancakes, and sprinkle dried cherries on top to give the dish a characteristic sourness. The pancakes are very thin; you can turn them over in a pan only with your fingertips; no spatula will help. Stack in stacks of ten and spread each one with a cream of cream cheese, cherry juice and cherry slices.
This is how we preserve cherries for the winter. Put them in a container, pour sugar over them and put them in a water bath. When the berries will juice, fill the container with cherries to the top: we get cherries in their own juice. I also add a cinnamon stick in the process, a recipe I found in an old book. Cork it and store it as jam, even without the fridge: it’s a semi-finished product that can be added to garnishes, sauces and desserts.
In another old book I found a recipe for cherries stewed in butter. It’s simple to make: in good oil, the berries are fried quickly – so that the fleshy texture is not lost: for me, this combination is akin to the strawberry and cream duet in terms of tenderness. It’s also a semi-finished product, and can be added to vegetable sautées, salads, poultry and meat sauces.
Everyone knows that meat is smoked on cherry sawdust. The essential oils in the branches give off their aromas and flavours, and the meat has an almond-like flavour. And the fact that the cherry itself can be smoked was a real revelation to me. But the smoked cherries are a complement, a subtle and unexpected background to the dish. On their own, they give off a strong bitterness. Try adding a couple or three smoked cherries to the butter-fried cherries, seasoned with balsamico and caramelised red salad onions – you’ve got yourself a side dish for chicken giblets, for example.
In general, cherries go well with all sweet vegetables and root vegetables (e.g. beetroot), with spices (cinnamon and nutmeg), with soft homemade cow’s cheese (it’s sweet, unlike goat cheese, which is discordant with sour cherries). The cherries have almond notes, so they go well with nuts. And with mushrooms – that was a revelation to me too. Untreated cherry pips are poisonous because of the hydrocyanic acid they contain, but after cooking the harm goes away: cherry jam with pips – solid benefits! The only thing is that you should not keep it longer than three years: unpleasant changes occur. But who keeps it that long?
Finally, the most traditional thing you can do with cherries is make dumplings with them. Whereas in other dishes you can’t tell the difference between a fresh berry and a frozen one, in the case of dumplings the beauty is that one literally falls into the crazy cherry aroma, that one feels the juicy berry splashing with juice. Put a plate of dumplings with frozen cherries and a plate of fresh cherries in front of you and you will immediately know which is which. If only by the aroma. Fresh cherries, just picked from the tree, smell of almonds, especially aromatic variety “veneer”: berries are sweet, although the berries are not large. The sourest berries tend to go for stuffing meat, because here the fleshy texture comes first. Sweet and sour cherries are used for making juices and stuffing as it is also important here so that berries don’t turn into rind after exuding moisture. For dumplings, you need sweet berries – acidity makes the dough stiffen.
When buying cherries, make sure that the sides of the berries are smooth, dense and free of rot and moisture. Then they’ll keep, you can freeze them, then defrost them and get berries, not mush.
Freeze as follows: rinse, peel off the twigs and leaves, dry on gauze, and place in a tray in a single layer. Then the frozen cherries, like pebbles, can be poured into a bag, they will keep in the freezer indefinitely. Take an airtight bag so that the cherries won’t absorb the aromas of their neighbours. We had a case of putting cherries next to bell peppers: when we took them out, they smelt of peppers!
Alena Solodovichenko, brand chef at Varenichna No.1 chain:
My first memory of cherries is of me plucking them and hanging them on my ears – like earrings. I’m from Kiev. Of course, our main national cherry recipe is dumplings. My grandmother used to steam them: they were large, with a lot of fluffy dough – by the way, yeast dough. She also made casseroles, baskets and pies with cherries, adding poppy seeds as well.
I think the cherry has become so popular in Ukraine because of its unpretentiousness, availability and ease of storage. In our country it grows in every yard. Trees do not require special care: drop a seed and you will get a tree in a few years. Raspberries and strawberries are more difficult to care for, and there are fewer of them.
As well as being affordable, cherries have many other advantages. For example, they hold their shape beautifully when cooked, which is why they are especially used in strudels. And who doesn’t love the combination of sweet and sour?
The main mistake with cherries is to cook them in such a way that all the juice remains on the tray. Know this: if you add starch to a cherry pie or strudel filling, the cherries will not release too much juice when heated. And if you are using frozen cherries, put the berries in the filling without defrosting so that the juice does not run off with the water when defrosting and remains inside the dish.
There is no fundamental difference between a frozen cherry and a fresh one, and that’s the beauty of it too. When frozen and defrosted properly (in the fridge) you won’t even know which berry has been used in the dish: it won’t lose vitamins, flavour or texture. The same raspberries are very badly stored, you can not even breathe on them, or they will crumple, and with strawberries is a similar story. Cherries, on the other hand, can be washed, frozen, thawed, boiled and baked, and nothing will happen to them.
This is a very vitamin-rich and low-calorie berry. An ideal option for those on a diet is to mix fresh cherries with yoghurt or cottage cheese. Cherries go well with meat, with poultry, with pork, they can be added as a sauce to almost any hot dish. I haven’t tried making cherry soups, but I think meat cream soup with cherry sauce would be good, for example. And I recently tried a burger with cherry sauce – an explosion of flavour! And at Kompot we make a Dark Forest cake with cherries and chilli peppers: sweet and sour goes well with spicy.
But as I said before, our classic is cherry dumplings. I mix flour and potato starch one to one: this is to make the dough thin and translucent (the filling will shine through), but still elastic. Then add the egg, salt and water in such a quantity that the dough becomes soft and elastic. Leave it in the cling film for a few minutes in the heat, then make the dumplings. The dumplings are small but very succulent, so I put the filling in a one-to-one ratio.