Best of Poland: Part II

Last week, I reviewed the first set of tasty morsels I came across during my stay in Poland. Today, I’ll finish up the series with 11 more dishes and foods that exemplify some of the day-to-day things we ate, as well as the more unique items. Bring along your taste buds and let’s get going:

#1: Smoked Bacon Sandwich

If you’re starting to get the idea the Poles love their pork, you’re on the right track. Red meat is a rarity, except in the form of veal. This smoked bacon variety is thick-sliced and tastes great in its raw state.

#2: Gofry

Gofry are essentially rectangular waffles that are typically topped with fresh whipped cream and fresh or jammed fruit. They were typically served by ice cream shops in the winter months, but now can be found year-round.

#3: Vegetable Soup

Not much to say about this veggie soup, except that it was thick and full of flavor.

#4: Schabowe (Cutlets)

Yes…more pork (and a few pieces of chicken) make up this serving dish of goodness, battered with an egg wash and pan fried.

#5: Paczki

By far my favorite Polish dessert, paczki are essentially fried donuts. The semi-crisp outer skin gives way to a soft interior and a filling of fresh fruit jam. The ones in the photo were home-made by my aunt, and even better than the store variety.

#6: Sour Pickles and Pickled Mushrooms

It’s nearly impossible to find a true Polish sour pickle in a U.S. grocery store. They are crunchy, salty, intensely sour, and almost always home-made. Poles are also known for their love of collecting mushrooms and pickling them, as well.

#7: Placki Ziemnaczane

While last week’s potato pancakes were made from zucchini, these are the originals.

#8: Pyzy

While it looks like a pierogi, pyzy are thick balls or “blobs” of potato dough (as opposed to thin skins), sometimes filled with a meat concoction and topped with bacon and fat drippings (Yum!). The dough is super-soft and surprisingly not filling.

#9: Cucumber Soup

Another flavorful and unusual soup, this has a taste that hints of dill relish and is slightly sour.

#10: Strawberry Noodles

I think this one freaked my wife out the most, but after one bite, she was hooked. Delicious spaghetti is topped with sour cream, sugar, and fresh or defrosted strawberries, creating a semi-runny sauce that’s perfect for a late summer snack.

#11: Ribs

I have to end with pork–marinated overnight, stewed for hours, full of fatty goodness, and an absolute delight to eat.

So there you have it…22 of the most delicious things we tasted on our trip. I hope my posts gave you a good overview of what it’s like to live and eat in Poland.

For many people, especially other Europeans, it’s a surprisingly heavy diet, but for me–I just couldn’t get enough.

Bon appetit! (Or, as we say in Poland…smacznego!)

Best of Poland: Part I

A few days ago, I came back from a two-week family vacation in Poland. We didn’t do much traveling within the country, but we did get to sample a lot of homemade, fresh, and absolutely delicious food.

In this two-part series, I’ll share over 20 dishes we tried that are indicative of the type of food my family culinary traditions are based on. Hopefully, you’ll get an idea of some of the things that could be eaten on an everyday basis in Poland, not just the “standard” fare one thinks of (pierogies, etc.).

So, without further ado:

#1: Sernik (Cheesecake)

Made in a style similar to the szarlotka I once described, this heavenly cheesecake didn’t last very long.

#2: Kielbasa

Kielbasa is the Polish sausage most people are familiar with. This particular variety was homemade and finished in the smoker behind the house over a long period.

#3: Krupnik (Barley Soup) 

This is a light and creamy soup with potatoes, barley, carrots, and dill, and is a great starter to any dinner.

#4: Cucumber Salad

A simple salad means freshly picked veggies, like tomatoes or cucumber, mixed with sour cream, salt, and fresh herbs like dill or chives.

#5: Black Currant Jam

My grandmother’s is made fresh every year and stored in the basement, ready for enjoyment at any time.

#6: Kotlety Mielone & Buraczki (“Burgers” with Beet Salad)

Mielone are burgers made with pork that are something between a classic beef burger patty and a meatball. It’s pan-fried and much softer in texture than traditional burger meat. Buraczki are simply grated beets that have been cooked with other ingredients, resulting in a surprisingly sweet salad that’s served hot.

#7: Pumpkin Soup

I’ve never had pumpkin soup before, and certainly never for breakfast. This was a day of many firsts.

#8: Fasolka (Yellow/Wax Beans)

Yellow “green beans” are very sweet and tender, and topped with a butter/bread crumb sauce, make an awesome salad.

#9: Stuffed Pork

This pork loin was stuffed with plums and wrapped in bacon. The apples arranged around the plate were also baked in the oven at the same time.

#10: Carrot Salad

Like the shredded beets, these carrots were shredded and then cooked down with butter and small bits of ham and bacon for flavor.

#11: Zucchini Pancakes

Also known as “latkes” in the U.S., potato pancakes can also be made using zucchini. This one happened to be picked fresh off the garden lot that my grandparents maintain year-round.

Stay tuned for Part II next week!

A Kielbasa Primer

Mention “kielbasa” to a non-Pole, and you’re likely to trigger a mental image of something very unlike this traditional Polish sausage.

Kielbasa, which in the Americas goes by a number of transformed names, including “kielbasi” or simply “Polish sausage,” is a generic name for almost any type of sausage in Poland, and while primarily associated with this country, is actually a staple of many diets in Eastern Europe.

Unfortunately, the kielbasa we’ve come to know and love as Poles has been widely simplified (as we’ll see below), and put through an industrial production line that values quantity over quality.

Types of Kielbasa

There are almost as many types of kielbasa as there are areas of Poland, since the sausage was adapted to every local cuisine, as well as changing with the seasons, when different types of meat and preparation techniques were available to locals. Still, through the years, a number of specific variants have become “classics” in the kielbasa roster. They include:

  • Wiejska: The “country” or “farm” sausage is the basic kielbasa most people think of as the standard. It usually contains pork, veal, garlic, and marjoram. It is this variant that was Americanized & converted into mass-produced kielbasa.
  • Krakowska (from Krakow): A smoked variety with garlic and pepper. It can be made in a similar size to the traditional sausage, or in a 3-4″ thick version.
  • Mysliwska (hunter’s sausage)
  • Biala (white): Best known for its use in the traditional Polish Easter soup, zurek.
  • Kabanosy: A very thin smoked sausage that can be eaten as a snack.
  • Parowki: The Polish version of a “hot dog,” and what’s served under the name of “kielbasa” in places like Costco.

Applications

Americanized Kielbasa is not very appetizing on its own, instead preferred as a base for stews or sauces. This is partly due to its fatty texture, which makes it taste more like mush than the consistency of soft meat.

In reality, eating kielbasa as a stand-alone dish is very common, and it can be found as an appetizer at almost any Polish party or holiday celebration.

Some of the other ways kielbasa is traditionally consumed include:

  • Grilled kielbasa (over a grill or open flame), which is typically notched with a knife before cooking to create tasty pockets of seared meat along its skin.
  • In sandwiches, used in the same way any other sandwich meat would be, and very often paired with a soured pickle.
  • As a meat basis for bigos, the traditional Polish hunter’s stew made with cabbage.
  • Pan-fried with onions, which gives the kielbasa a nice sear and caramelizes the onions, and is frequently served with a simple slice of bread.
  • In soup, like the Polish zurek, or white barszcz.
  • In sauces, like those for pastas, pierogies, and others.

Where to Find Kielbasa

To experience the true range of what authentic kielbasa has to offer, your best bet is to find a local Polish deli where you can buy it directly. Less environmentally friendly, but almost equally tasty (kielbasa freezes very well), you can order kielbasa online for delivery from any number of vendors.

Enjoy!

Photo by wolfsavard.

Pernil -Roast Pork Shoulder

roast pork shoulder with rice and beans

While my mom was here to help out with the baby, she went ahead and prepared some of my favorite dishes. Since we were going to be by ourselves for a couple of days before my mother in law came to assist, she decided to make a bigger meal to tide us over.

She made pernil  (roast pork shoulder) along with arroz con gandules. I love as a comfort food and it was delicious from start to finished. We managed to get 4-5 meals out of it so it was also a cost effective dish to make as well. If you’re looking to have some at home, here’s the recipe to get you started.

Ingredients:roast pork shoulder with rice and beans

  •  1 8-10 lbs. PERNIL (Pork Shoulder)
  • 1 Big head of garlic
  • Adobo to your taste
  • 2 Teaspoons of ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 Teaspoon of crushed oregano

Preparation:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350º.
  2. Sit down and peel all the garlic.
  3. Wash the pernil with cold water and sprinkle some adobo to your taste. For a better flavor, season the night before. Make stabs (about 1 inch wide) so you can put the paste like mixture in them.
  4. Take out your pilón and dust it off (ha ha). Mash the garlic to a paste and add the oregano and pepper.
  5. After the garlic and pepper are well mixed, add the olive oil and stir with a spoon to make a paste like mixture.
  6. Place about 1 teaspoon of the paste into each hole of the pernil.
  7. Cover the bottom of your baking pan with aluminum foil and place the pernil on top.
  8. Cover the pernil well with aluminum foil so it will come out juicy, not dry. Uncover it for the last 15 – 20 minutes on a high setting for some crunchy “chicharrón” skin.
  9. Bake for 4 to 5 hours at 350º. (The time depends on your oven. Check it in 3½ hours).
Thanks to El Boricua
Photo Credit: TheLunchBelle

5 Veggies You’re Likely to Find in Polish Cooking

white cauliflower

We’re as guilty of this as anyone else–we often walk into our grocery store or farmer’s market, get the same 7-10 vegetables we’ve been eating all year long, avoid the “weird” ailse at all costs, and call it a day.

Sadly, some of the 5 Polish veggies I’m thinking of are usually on the casualty list, though I try to make it a point to get them once in a while.

When I think of Polish cooking, these 5 come to mind:

Beets: The world is polarized about beets–some people really enjoy them and some are turned off by the strong color, odd taste, and squishy texture. In Poland, beets are a staple in cold, grated root veggie salads (known as surowki), as well as the quintessential Christmas soup–red barszcz. Beets are tough to work with because the juices run red and stain everything, but paired with the right ingredients, they are a tasty and healthy addition to your cuisine.

Cabbage: This is the main ingredient in dishes like bigos (a hunter’s stew of cabbage and meat) and golabki (cabbage stuffed with a meat & rice filling). Many times, it’s also eaten as a side after being sauteed, or in its raw form in surowki salads (like the beets) where it might be combined with grated onions, carrots, and lemon juice. Cabbage comes mainly in two varieties–white and red. White cabbage would primarily be used in hot dishes, while the color of red cabbage is desired for cold salads and garnish.

Cauliflower: Cauliflower (or kalafior) is most commonly eaten as a hot side dish that pairs with nearly any main meal. One of my favorite preparations (though not the healthiest) involves a typical polish “butter” sauce–butter is melted on a warm pan, and bread crumbs are added in until a soft, runny mass forms. Then some salt and fresh dill is thrown in to taste, and the whole thing is drizzled (or coated, if I make it) over the cauliflower. Caulflower is also frequently used in cold salads or baked.

Wild Mushrooms: (Yes, I know mushrooms are not vegetables, but close enough for me). Mushrooms are a delicacy in Poland, and one that many will still gather in the wild to this day. Those who want to stay a little cleaner will find many roadside “stands” selling freshly picked mushrooms. Common varieties include chanterelle, boletus, and others. Mushrooms are used in everything from traditional bigos to other hot and cold dishes, and they are also enjoyed on their own after being pickled according to the many secret family recipes that exist.

Scallion (Green Onion): Scallion is one veggie that I still religiously eat, to the detriment of my wife and kids (it’s almost as bad as garlic and onion breath). Scallion is fairly compact and easy to grow, so until the recent explosion of supermarkets, it was common to find a small patch in many Polish backyards. Scallion is versatile–used for everything from hot cooking, to garnishing sandwiches or eggs, giving salads a little bite, or even curing a cold or two. It’s milder than onions, which means eating it in its raw form is tolerable for most people.

I encourage you to look up a recipe or two with some of these typical Polish ingredients and see if your next favorite dish is hiding somewhere in there!

Photo by Muffet