I don't know another dish that can have so many different names and be so loved around the globe. Even with little adjustments made per each country, this comfort and true soul food is recognizable in many places in the world.
For instance, here are a few names for this dish: Mamalyga, Grits, Polenta, Corn Mash, Corn Porridge or Banush, Bălmuș, Banusz? I'm sure at least one of these names you have heard.
Ukraine geographically is surrounded by a few countries: Rumania, Moldova, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. These neighboring countries, combined with their climate conditions, fertile soils called chernozem, and their specific taste preferences have shaped various aspects of Ukrainian cuisine.
As I have mentioned through my blog many times, I love to cook food from around the world, but this cuisine is what I grew up eating and many other Ukrainian dishes I have already shared with you. I'm from central Ukraine and in our family, my mom, who is originally from West Ukraine, cooked Banush, and she called it Mamaliga (the Moldavian way).
Here is another Ukrainian porridge that you absolutely must try: Ukrainian Sweet Pumpkin Porridge with Goat Milk.
What it is Banush?
Banush is velvety Ukrainian corn porridge that is made with stone grown yellow corn and cooked with creme fraiche that is silky creamy with well-balanced flavor. The complexity of the porridge is created from fermented dairy (creme fraiche) and seasoned with thyme and salt.
On this dish
In the Carpathian Mountains, where this dish is originated is called banush but another name is Tokan. From olden times, exclusively shepherds cooked Banush and brynza (sheep cheese, that is used as a topping). They used this sheep cheese simply because it's very hearty and the milk collected from the sheep needed to be preserved and they do so by making cheese. Traditionally, men usually cooked Banush in a large cast iron cooking pot over a fire. They used a low heat and slow cooking process to deliver the best result. It was served with different toppings and was enjoyed by the whole village. West Ukrainians have always been known for their ability to celebrate feasts like no one else. For example, a wedding is usually a week long event.
Historically, the main ingredients of Banush were yellow stone ground corn meal and crème fraiche made from sheep milk. The whole cooking process of Banush meant that the cook would stir it in one direction using a wooden spoon. This dish is often boiled in such a way that it can be cut into slices and used instead of bread. It is often served plain with fresh or fermented milk (kefir), or a fermented fruit drink, called Kvass.
On corn meal
If you like corn, this is another recipe that you must try
Corn unfortunately is a very controversial ingredient these days. As much as we love corn, especially fresh corn on a cob, I'm not letting my family eat any corn with the exception of organically grown corn. Corn, like soy, produced in the US is 95% GMO, and that's a big red flag for me so I avoid it as much as possible. Therefore, in my opinion, it is fine to occasionally eat only organic corn.
My husband gave me a mill for Christmas, this one, and I am obsessed with it. Freshly ground corn for my breads or porridges creates a very nice nutty aroma, and nothing can beat the freshness. The big plus is that my corn meal now contains no preservatives. I love to grind cornmeal from heirloom corn kernels for my porridge and I use them to make popcorn too. Grinding corn is easy and always fresh. If you aren't yet ready to grind your own, there are some organic cornmeal products on the market and here is one of my favorite brands.
Why should you use Stone Ground Corn vs regular corn?
Corn kernels (different from the sweet corn that we eat on a cob) are ground into a coarse meal between two stones. When metal grinders are used, for commercial brands, most of the nutrients like the hull and germ are removed. The meal emerges fine-grained and without much flavor, plus lots of additives are put into the meal to prolong its shelf life. True stone-ground cornmeal retains some of the hull and germ. Its texture is coarser and gives a more real corn flavor to baked goods. It is also more perishable, and without preservatives it will get rancid quickly. Therefore, storing it in the refrigerator or freezer is a great idea.
On Creme Fraiche
Do I Have to Use Crème Fraiche?
You can use heavy cream instead of crème fraiche. I grew up in Ukraine with crème fraiche (cultured cream), and that's what I prefer to use in most of my cooking. It has as light tartness and more complex flavor profile compared to heavy cream. As you know, I truly believe fermented food is magic food, so using crème fraiche is my first choice, but you can easily use heavy cream instead.
Where Can I Buy Crème Fraiche?
Any health store or international market should carry it. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods will have it as well.
How to make a Crème Fraiche?
There are many ways to make crème fraiche. Since I'm always making kefir,
The good news is that anyone can make crème fraiche and there are a few short cut options.
1. Take one small carton of good quality heavy cream and pour into a saucepan.
2. Heat the cream to 95-105F. Take off of the heat.
3. Add 1/4 cup of kefir and stir.
4. Cover with a lid. Leave at room temperature for 12 hours.
5. Enjoy, for the use of this is endless, since you can substitute your regular sour cream and heavy cream with crème fraiche. Let's not forget about the process of fermentation that gives you good bacteria. Your gut will be thankful.
Toppings for Banush (vegan option)
Stewed prunes, this will make for a vegan option. My mom made this during Great Lent. This way you should skip on cream fraiche and add water instead.
Sauté mushrooms, any mushrooms can work.
Fried onion, or bell pepper.
Bacon bits, or fried pork belly which is a more original option.
Feta, I like to use sheep milk feta.
What to do with leftovers of Banush
Just like leftover grits or risotto, fry it up! Yes, make a patty and fry it. I make it occasionally as a treat, and it is perfect to serve for breakfast, lunch or as an appetizer for dinner parties. When Banush gets solid, slice it, and pan fry. Yummy!
Let's do it...
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 22 minutes
Yield: 2 portions as a side dish or 1 as a main dish
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Ingredients for the Banush
1/2 cup of yellow corn meal (stone ground grits)
1 and 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup crème fraiche (see note above)
1 teaspoon dry thyme or marjoram
1/2 teaspoon pink salt
Ingredients for the topping
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
3 pieces of bacon (for the topping)
1 red onion (for the topping)
1/4 cup of feta (for the topping)
1 Tablespoon parsley (for the garnish)
On low to medium heat put crème fraiche and water into a heavy bottom pan. I used a small Dutch oven. Add salt and thyme. Give it a whisk and slowly bring it to boil.
2. Now slowly pour in the corn meal, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring for 15 minutes or so, or until the Banush gets thicker and glossier.
3. Serve the Banush plain as it is or with your favorite toppings.
4. For the video, I used some bacon and an onion. Add olive oil to a pan and then the bacon (cut into small pieces) and then cook for a few minutes. Chop the onion, add to the bacon, and stir all together. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Cook to your liking, which my ideal choice is nice and crispy bacon. 5. Pour the Banush in a bowl and top generously with the bacon-onion topping along with some feta and chopped parsley if you wish for an additional garnish.