“I grew up in the south of Ukraine, in a small town about an hour from Crimea. Mum’s cooking was really varied – day-to-day it was traditional Ukranian food, but when we got our first cookbook in the ’90s, translated from a Canadian chef, she started expanding her repertoire with coq au vin and other things.
“I never took much interest in food as a child or a teenager. It was when I was an adult that I realised what an amazing source of skill and knowledge my whole family is, but especially my mum. She knew so many recipes that people over here had never heard of, let alone eaten. When I secured the deal for my first book, Mamushka, I went to Ukraine and followed Mum around with a set of scales and spoons – she cooks intuitively, so there was no recipe for most of the dishes. She was with me when the first copy arrived at my door, and I remember us both crying together as we looked through it. It was such an emotional and beautiful thing, to be able to record our lives and document our relationship in this way.
“I recently taught my son Sasha to make this dish. It’s the first thing he’s made all by himself, so it’s very special indeed.
“Soup chickens in Ukraine are normally old, wiry birds that had a great life roaming outside. Because of all of this time spent running around, and its age, there wasn’t necessarily much meat on it, but the flavour was incredible. My mum always used a whole chicken to make soup. She never separated its parts, just put the whole thing into a large pot and made a very simple stock around it – just the chicken, one whole peeled onion, some salt and a bay leaf. She would make this whenever I was ill. Sometimes, maybe twice a year, I pretended to be ill. Mum knew I was pretending, but because I did well at school, she would let me stay in and read in bed all day. She would bring this soup on a tray, and everything would be good with the world.
“The soup has hardly any ingredients in it, so make sure to get a very good-quality bird, as most of the flavour will come from it. Feel free to add chopped celery and other vegetables if you would like yours to be less spartan.”
Summer Kitchens by Olia Hercules is out now (Bloomsbury, £26). Order a copy from books.telegraph.co.uk.
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