Sure, everyone knows about kielbasa and pierogies. They’re the quintessential Polish dishes that have made their way into American culinary culture. But there are many other Polish classics that are less commonly known. Here are three you’ve probably never heard of:
#1: Pasztet (Pate)
- What it is: A paste-like cake made from a varied mix of meat, fat, and vegetables.
- Typical ingredients: The family recipe calls for your choice (typically 2-3 meats) of chicken, bacon, liver, ham hock, game, onions, carrots, mushrooms, ginger, and nutmeg, along with the typical salt and pepper to taste. Some people also add wine or spirits for flavor.
- How it’s made: Most components are first individually cooked, then put through a meat grinder at least two times, combined with “glue” ingredients like egg and bread crumbs, and finally baked to set.
- How it’s eaten: Pasztet has a consistency slightly thicker than hummus, so it’s most commonly spread over bread as a topping or simply stacked on bread in thin “loaves.”
- Time required: Long (2+ hours prep time) plus cook and bake time
- Difficulty: Medium
#2: Bigos (Hunter’s Stew)
- What it is: Essentially a stew of cabbage and meat, typically kielbasa, pork, or bacon, and other seasonal or local additives.
- Typical ingredients: Varies by family and location—we use a mix of sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, kielbasa, prunes, dried mushrooms, tomato paste, and herbs (including peppercorns and bay leaves).
- How it’s made: The basic preparation method involved pre-cooking any raw meats and cabbage, and any tough veggies like onions (if included), then stewing everything for a few hours over low heat.
- How it’s eaten: Typically eaten as the “protein” of a meal, the traditional pairing is with sliced rye bread or potatoes.
- Time required: About 1 hour of prep time, long cook time
- Difficulty: Easy
#3: Zurek (Sour Rye Soup)
- What it is: A “sour” soup (milder than the sourness of a lemon). It’s the classic dish of Easter, but it’s really eaten almost any time of year.
- Typical ingredients: Rye flour forms the sour base of the soup. (A variant with wheat flower is known as white barszcz.) Typical soup veggies like onions and carrots are added, along with Polish kielbasa, potatoes, hard boiled eggs, garlic and marjoram.
- How it’s made: The sour rye is prepared first using the flour, then a vegetable stock is made with the veggies and kielbasa and strained. Most of the remaining ingredients are combined and simmered.
- How it’s eaten: Typically served with sliced rye bread or in a bread bowl like the one in the picture.
- Time required: About 90 minutes.
- Difficulty: Easy
Photo: ♣ ℓ u m i è r e ♣
If you’re lucky enough to have a Polish deli nearby, you’ll find any one of these ready-made on the deli shelf or in the soup aisle. Rye soup can be purchased pre-mixed to make preparation a snap. Otherwise, all three dishes can be made at home with varied amounts of effort, and all three are very forgiving in preparation. If you don’t mess up too badly, chances are they’ll turn out delicious! Enjoy