By syr, Ukrainians mean a particular curd cheese, standing somewhere between cottage and ricotta cheese, made from raw milk at home and used for everything from spreading on rye bread to filling dumplings. So important is syr that it has also come to be a generic word for all cheeses.
Ukrainian mothers knew that syr was good their children’s bones and teeth, but my friend Katrya detested it. Her mum kept trying to sneak into sweet treats that Katrya might be persuaded to eat, but all her attempts failed miserably. Then one day she made syr into savoury little curd cheese cushions… and lo and behold, Katrya has been happily eating these Ukrainian cousins of Italian gnudi with butter and cheese ever since.
You don’t have to abandon this fabulous dish in the colder seasons either, just substitute the beans with winter greens. Some feta or other salty cheese can be added too, if you like.
Serves 2 newly-converted syr haters
200g runner beans or kale or Brussel tops
70ml sunflower or veegtable oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp clarified butter (or butter and a splash of oil)
a pinch of poppy seeds
sea salt and black pepper
100g curd cheese (p X) or well-drained ricotta
Large handful of finely chopped dill
For the dumplings, gently mix together the curd cheese, egg, flour, dill and thyme, then season with salt and pepper – it will be quite a wet dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and carefully knead until it is no longer sticky, then cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest while you get on with the beans and onions.
Cook the beans to your liking: for crisp-tender, drop into boiling water and cook for 2 minutes; I prefer my beans softer, so I boil them for 4 minutes.
To make the crispy shallots, pour the oil into a frying pan over a low heat. Just before you are ready to fry, toss the shallots in flour seasoned with salt, then shake off any excess and drop them into the hot oil. cook until they are golden brown, but be careful not to take them too far or they will taste acrid. Drain on kitchen paper.
Now, on a lightly floured surface, shape the dumpling dough into a sausage and cut it into dumplings about 5cm x 2cm. bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, then slip in the dumplings, in batches, and cook for 2–3 minutes – they will float to the surface when they’re done. drain well in a colander.
Melt the clarified butter (or butter and oil) in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the dumplings and gently toss for a few minutes until they are a light golden colour, then add the beans to the pan and stir to warm through. serve the dumplings and beans with the crispy shallots, poppy seeds and some black pepper.