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Beet Leaf Bread, baked in the Ukrainian tradition, brings warm comfort to a cool autumn evening. Photo by Sue Doeden

It's time to bake the leaves ... beet leaves, that is

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It was the sign outside the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in Dickinson, N.D., that caught my eye: "Cheese Buttons and Borshch Soup Sold Here." My foot went directly to the brake pedal.

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Once inside, I discovered a short list of Ukrainian foods, all prepared at the Institute and available for purchase in a frozen state. Cheese Buttons, plump little pillows of tender dough stuffed with cottage cheese, were at the top of the list. The Ukrainian-style dumplings are also called pyrohy/varenyky. Those prepared at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute are available stuffed with potato, sauerkraut and prune fillings. A couple of soups were listed, including Borshch, made with beets and cabbage. Most intriguing, though, was Beet Leaf Bread.

Beet Leaf Bread? Was this a quick bread speckled with bits of chopped beet leaves? Or, maybe it was sautéed beet leaves rolled into a loaf of yeast bread. I discovered it was neither.

Beet Leaf Bread is an old-time Ukrainian recipe that has survived generations of cooking progress without losing its popularity. The kind ladies working at the Institute explained how they make the Beet Leaf Bread. Chubby little balls of yeast dough, slightly elongated, are loosely wrapped with fresh beet leaves. Once baked, they are tossed in a rich sauce of cream seasoned with onion and dill.

I came home with frozen borshch and potato-filled pyrohy/varenyky in my cooler. But the Beet Leaf Bread I decided to try to make myself.

I found beets with leaves still attached at the farmers market. Although beet leaves are edible, they often get tossed into the compost. I snipped off the smaller, tender leaves, rinsed them and gave them a whirl in my salad spinner to dry them. The wet leaves could also be dried off by gently rolling in a clean kitchen towel. I had no problems wrapping walnut-sized chunks of dough in the tender leaves. I laid them side by side on a jelly-roll pan and slid the rolls into the oven.

These little rolls have the delightful, yeasty fragrance of homemade bread. The beet leaves turn dark as they heat up, and I could detect just a hint of the earthy aroma of beets wafting from the oven. While the rolls baked, the sauce simmered on the stove. It took much self control to keep myself from grabbing a spoon and eating the sauce right from the pot. It smelled divine. Although the ladies at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute made no mention of garlic in the sauce, I did stab a couple of cloves with a toothpick and tossed them into the simmering cream.

I prepared the Beet Leaf Bread with frozen dough as well as my own homemade bread dough. Both delivered satisfying results. When the baked rolls have cooled, they can be stored in the freezer. At the Ukrainian Cultural Institute, they are available frozen. Just heat them up, make the sauce and eat them hot.

I served the dumpling-like Beet Leaf Bread with polska kielbasa. I think they would be delicious alongside roast pork or roast beef.

You'll find Ukrainian Beet Leaf Bread brings warm comfort to a meal on a cool early autumn evening.

For more information about the Ukrainian Cultural Institute, visit their web site: ukrainianculturalinstitute.org.

Ukrainian Beet Leaf Bread

1 (1 pound) loaf frozen bread dough, thawed, or your favorite homemade bread dough

Fresh beet leaves, rinsed and dried, approximately 24

2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup chopped green onions

1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, or 2 teaspoons dried

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of a jelly roll pan. Cut dough into 24 pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a log and wrap loosely with a beet leaf. Leave the sides open. Place the rolls seam-side down, arranging them side-by-side in the prepared pan. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes, until dough is baked through and golden on the ends.

While bread is baking, pour cream into a deep pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add green onions, garlic and dill. Allow the sauce to simmer while rolls are baking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove rolls from oven. Cut them in half or leave them whole, and add to pan of sauce. Gently stir. The rolls will become glazed and will absorb some of the sauce. Transfer hot glazed beet leaf bread to serving platter. Garnish with more sliced green onions or sprigs of fresh dill. Serve immediately. Makes 24 rolls.

Tips for the cook

--Poking a toothpick into the cloves of garlic makes them easy to remove from the sauce. Only the delicious flavor of garlic remains behind.

--I added a few drops of vinegar to the sauce for a tiny bit of tartness.

--Once rolls have cooled, they can be stored in the freezer in tightly sealed plastic zip-top bags.

--At the Ukrainian Cultural Institute, the cooks freeze fresh beet leaves to use throughout the winter. I might also try this recipe with blanched cabbage leaves sometime.

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