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My Odessa: Odessa mussel pilaf


Maria Kalenska is a third generation Odessite, currently living in London. Having made a career in the corporate world, she has now exchanged her business suit for a kitchen apron. Maria currently writes for gastronomic and travel publications, along with organising culinary master classes and exclusive enogastronomic tours and pop-up dinners.

Her heart forever belongs to Odessa, but in London she has an important mission – to promote Ukrainian and Odessa cuisine!


Let me tell you something. To cook mussel pilaf, you first need to go to the ferry crossing (place in Odessa known for mussels) and buy mussels. You are a lucky one if some are left  and there was no storm. Therefore, if there is a storm – then there will be sand inside. The mussels should be large, blue-black. They should shine like first grader patent shoes and while your burned husband went to the store for “beer for the soul and sour cream for the body,” (I quote the Odessa classic, beloved Julia Verba).

Now you should clean those sea treasures. Pull algae out of a mussel, abruptly and decisively – not even a hungry cat would eat it, don’t try to feed them. While cleaning, you ruin fresh manicure. At that time, you can think about your mom and dad. And if your family is big and they help you, then it will not take long, but if you are alone with a bucket – then there will be enough for an article. If you are lucky to cook pilaf in the country house, in an old summer kitchen, where the cups still remember your grandmother, and the forks have lost their points – you are trapped. In the sunny, dense from heat, Odessa summer with the salty sea smell, in the leisurely happiness of round-the-clock life in a bathing suit.

When is the book, Masha?
Who asked for a recipe? Here it is:

Odessa mussel pilaf

  • 1 bucket of mussels
  • 400g rice, parboiled
  • 3 large onions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 tomato
  • bunch of parsley
  • bunch of dill
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 350ml sunflower oil for frying
  1. Clean the mussels. Remove any gnarls and rip away the ‘beard’ (water plant). Finely chop the dill and parsley. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Peel and chop the onion into small cubes. Peel the carrots and cut them into strips. Scald the tomato with boiling water, peel and cut into small cubes.
  2. In a large pan, heat 250ml oil, add parsley, dill, and garlic. In 5 minutes, add the mussels, cover and cook until they open. Then stir the mussels and get them out. Strain the sauce through a sieve and put aside. Remove mussels from shells, having left 15-20 pieces in shell for decoration. Set the mussel meat aside.
  3. In a cauldron, heat 100ml sunflower oil, and fry the onions and carrots over medium heat until golden brown. Add tomatoes and fry for another 2 minutes. Add the rice and pour the mussel sauce, so that the rice is covered with 1.5 cm liquid. If there is not enough sauce, you can add water. Turn the heat to high, bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add salt, pepper, bay leaf, mussels, and mussels in the shells. Stir the pilaf, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15-20 minutes under the lid. 

This is not a recipe, this is a song!


Maria Kalenska
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