Cooking the East European Way: Ukrainian Deviled Eggs

I've eaten a lot of deviled eggs in my day. I sometimes go party crazy, where I just want to live like there is always a 1970's-style party going on. I even imagine multiple variations of the theme: Fondu parties, where everybody is dressed in leisure suits and discusses art movies; Studio 54 parties, where everyone is spray painted gold and shares amyl nitrate; key parties, where everybody is dressed in leisure suits and discusses art movies.

During these party deliriums, I eat a lot of hors d'oeuvres, because that seems appropriate. And so deviled eggs have wound up being an entire section of my party nutrition pyramid, which also includes such categories as "cocktails," "canapes," and "flambes." But my experience with deviled eggs has been limited to the Midwestern version, which is, for those of you who haven't had it, a half a hard-boiled egg with its yolk removed, combined with mayonnaise and mustard, and then returned to the middle of the egg, sometimes garnished with paprika.

I had not realized there were international versions of the deviled egg until I tried this Ukrainian iteration, called "Nachynani Yayechka" or "stuffed eggs." It is very much like the Midwestern version, but with the addition of finely chopped sweet pickles and scallions to the yolk and, of course, dill as seasoning. I don't know that this is what John Steinbeck ate when he visited Ukraine in 1947, but he described eating some "strange-tasting stuffed eggs." It's possible he got another version of the recipe I located that had smoked ham in it. Maybe he got the one with chicken liver. Or mushrooms. Anyway, he's right that these don't taste like Midwestern version.

The pickle, of course, makes all the difference, and viva la difference. Obviously I already like deviled eggs, as the mustard in the filling gives the hors d'oeuvre an almost delicatessen flavor, and this quality is greatly increased with the addition of pickle -- my girlfriend makes an egg salad sandwich that contains pickle, and this is like a deconstructed version of that.

(I want to take a moment to note that my girlfriend always seems to have made her own version of whatever Slavic food I am taste testing, despite coming from a lumber family in Northern Minnesota. We were at a loss to explain it until a genetic test determined that she is part Croatian. It may also explain why her mother once tasted Slivovitz, a plum brandy that most people compare to a junkyard fire, and declared it "smooth.")

I am curious to try some of the other recipes. As I investigate these appetizers, it's become increasingly obvious to me that Ukrainians think that just about anything can be added to egg yolk, mustard, and mayo and stuffed into an egg white.

That sounds like a party to me.