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