What We're Cooking This Week: Savory Syrniki With Spring Greens

Aim to use tvorog, but there are other cheese substitutes.

Recipe 5030 (Jim Dixon)

While the people of Eastern Europe have been eating syrniki for centuries, nobody really knows who first mixed lightly fermented cheese curds with egg and flour and fried them into soft, pillowy little pancakes. Similar cheesy pancakes are made by almost every dairy-consuming culture. The very first latkes were actually potato-free pancakes made with ricotta cheese.

Traditionally leaning toward the sweet side and eaten with a dollop of sour cream (who doesn’t like a little dairy-on-dairy action), mildly flavored syrniki swing savory, too. Add some of the tender greens of spring and early summer and you get creamy fritters with delicate flavor. For this recipe, I used arugula because it’s easy to find at the grocery store, but any combination of tender, quick-cooking greens and herbs would be just as tasty. I’ve used beet greens, parsley and mint, and even spinach would work.

Classic syrniki call for tvorog, a tangy fermented cheese curd that’s hard to find outside of Eastern European specialty markets. Fortunately, substitutes abound. I like to use farmers cheese, a dryer version of cream cheese, but ricotta or even cottage cheese works, although the batter may require a little more flour since they’ve got more moisture than farmers cheese.

Syrniki batter looks more like cheese dip than something you’d fry into pancakes, but don’t be put off. Using a pair of spoons to form little egg-shaped lumps, the old-school technique for making quenelles, keeps your hands relatively batter-free. After a couple, you get the hang of it, and the batter doesn’t spread out in the skillet, so even if your syrniki don’t look perfect, they’ll still cook evenly.


2 cups tightly packed arugula leaves

2-3 cloves garlic

1 pound farmers cheese

2 eggs

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

Finely chop the arugula and garlic. Combine them with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Or use a food processor to chop the vegetables, then add everything else and pulse until well-mixed. Heat a heavy skillet over medium and add just enough olive oil to cover the inside.

Use a pair of spoons to form egg-sized lumps of batter and gently slide them into the hot oil. Flatten them a bit with the edge of the spoon, and cook until nicely browned before flipping, about 3-4 minutes. Cook the other side until brown. I think these are best warm, but I’ve eaten many at room temperature, too.

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