The secrets of Polish Cuisine
Poland is situated in Eastern Europe. It borders with Germany in the west and Belorussia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine in the east. I was born in the town of Lublin, south east of Poland, not too far from the border with Ukraine. It is a flat area, full of small villages and orchards that amaze passers-by.
A traditional Polish meal in the area I come from is comprised of a soup and the main course. My mom would never forget to serve something sweet afterwards too.
One can find soup recipes in the oldest cookbooks. And, indeed, the variety of Polish soups is impressive. Besides chicken noodle or tomato with rice, which are well known all over the world, the Polish dinner table abounds in soups made of pickles, wild mushrooms, cauliflower, beans or beets. A common base for all kinds of soups is chicken, beef or veal bullion. Other ingredients include carrots and parsley.
Beet soup has a special place in the Polish diet, and so does bread. The former is one of the 12 vegetarian dishes traditionally served on Christmas Eve. There are 12 of them as there were 12 apostles. The beet soup is usually served with small dumplings filled with sun-dried mushroom stuffing, but it is also very good with bread or crackers. As for bread, throughout the centuries it grew into the symbol of hospitality, generosity and welfare. I remember my grandmother would never let me dump bread crumbs into the trash.
“You either eat them or feed them to birds,” she used to say.
Thus, bakeries are one of the most crowded places on Saturday mornings. I myself can’t imagine Saturday breakfast without fresh bread, hot from the oven.
Polish people are also huge advocates of meat and mashed potatoes. Cookbooks say it is because of the climate we live in, which is still quite harsh and was even more severe in the old times.
Because meat, especially pork and game, is the oldest core element of our diet, we care about its quality.
“Polish pigs are raised with loving care,” writes Judy McCann, an American whose family comes from Poland. “They are fed on grain, milk and potatoes – chemical and synthetic additives are taboo. This approach to hog raising produces a flesh of the palest delicate pink that is extremely tender.”
My favorite meat treat is stuffed cabbage. It’s delicious served with tomato sauce, mashed potatoes garnished with tiny pieces of baby dill and tomato salad made of fresh-cut tomatoes with chopped onion and green onions.
After the meal always comes the dessert. As you already know, my mom would never forget about something sweet afterwards. At my home it’s usually a cheesecake with raisins or an apple strudel. Sometimes we also indulge in crepes – in summer topped with fresh fruit and sweet cream, in winter rolled and filled with homemade preserves. My dad begs my mom for these everyday.
1 head cabbage
1 and 1/2 pounds ground pork
16 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups cooked rice
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the core from the cabbage. Put the cabbage in hot water and remove the leaves as they soften. This enables you to remove them without breaking them. In a bowl add the pork, rice, egg, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Place about 2 Tbsp. of the meat mixture in the center of a cabbage leaf and roll up, tucking the edges of the cabbage under itself. Put the meat rolls in a large pot and pour in hot water. Simmer over low heat for about 2 hours. When the cabbage leaves are soft add tomato sauce. To make the sauce dense, dissolve two tea spoons of flour in cold water. Before you pour it into the pot add a little bit of hot mixture from the pot – that way the sauce will be dense, but smooth.
12 to14 beets
5 parsley leaves
1 sour apple
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chicken bullion
Peel beets and carrots and slice into 1 to 2-inch pieces. Place sliced vegetables along with a quartered apple and parsley leaves in a large pot. Fill pot with water 3 inches above the vegetables. Add bullion, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and let simmer for about an hour. Squeeze lemon juice into the soup right before it is ready to serve – that way the soup will have a strong red color. Serve with bread or crackers.