Food and drink
The first thing to remember about Polish cuisine is that it does not belong to dietetic ones. This means fat, heavy and highly energetic food, and very tasty of course. Besides some meals may be surprising for foreigners. You can find here such things as sour milk, resembling yoghurt but with more bitter taste, sauerkraut, with its German origin well known in the Baltic countries, and of course sour cucumber.
The elementary ingredients of Poland's cuisine are dictated by cereal crops such as rye, wheat, millet, barley and buckwheat. Rye bread is typical of this part of Europe. Bread has always had enormous symbolic importance to Poles. Pickled vegetables such as cucumbers, beetroot, cabbage and dairy products have become an essential part of Polish cooking. Meat plays a significant importance in the Polish diet. Perhaps the most famous Polish meat known is the kielbasa, the Polish sausage. Polish food has much to offer. As the Polish would say, "Jedzcie, pijcie i popuszczajcie pasa"... "Eat, drink and loosen your belt".
To experience some of Polish specialties try the following:
- soups: kapusniak (cabbage soup), pomidorowa (tomato soup), rosol (bouillon with dumplings), chlodnik (cold beet-soup, recommended on a hot day)
- pierogi - dumplings filled with meat, cheese or mushrooms, try especially ruskie pierogi, or leniwe
- kotlet schabowy (pork cutlet) - just a standard for Polish dinner
- bigos - pork and beef stewed in sauerkraut
And here are some of the most typical Polish recipes:
POLISH SOUR RYE SOUP (Żurek Polski)
It is basically a vegetable soup flavoured with kwas (a fermented juice which is used to give it a sour flavour). You can either buy the kwas from the delicatessen or follow the recipe below. My husband sometimes improvises the dish and adds shredded chicken.
For the kwas:
75g wholemeal rye flour
600 ml boiled, cooled water
1/4 clove garlic
Rinse out any non-alluminium container with boiling water. Put the flour in the jar and mix to a liquid paste with a little of water. Leave the mixture to settle for a few minutes, and then pour on the remaining boiled water. Chop the garlic and add. Cover the top of the jar with muslin or pierced cling film and leave in a warm place for 4 to 5 days to ferment. Strain and use as required. If stored in an airtight container, it will keep for a few weeks.
For the soup:
1.25 litres stock from vegetables or beef/chicken bones
1 can of mushrooms
300ml sour cream
5 medium potatoes, cooked and diced
100g smoked sausage, diced
Heat the stock. Chop bacon and onion and add to stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add mushrooms, kwas, cream and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes and then add potatoes and sausage. Bring to boil. Serves 6.
HUNTERS STEW (Bigos)
Poland's national dish, and one of my favourite dishes. There is a variety in ingredients, some have mushrooms and juniper berries, while others contain apples, venison, lamb or beef. It is best made a two days in advance and reheated on low heat before serving. This enhances the flavour.
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 jar sauerkraut
1 can tomatoes, peeled
1 small white cabbage
300 ml strong beef stock
250g smoked sausage
5 to 6 pork ribs
salt and pepper
Melt butter in a saucepan and fry the onions until golden. Rinse the sauerkraut in cold water, drain thoroughly and mix with the onions. Add the tomatoes. Chop the cabbage finely and mix in. Add the stock, stirring well, and then the pork ribs. Slice the sausage and add into the stew. Allow to simmer on low heat for one hour. Season to taste. Remove from heat and leave covered for 24 hours. Refrigerate and reheat before serving. Serves 8. Note: If you prefer the dish to be more sour, add more sauerkraut.
BREADED PORK CHOPS (Kotlet Schabowy)
4 medium-sized pork chops
salt and pepper
25g plain flour
1 egg, beaten
Oil/butter for frying
Beat out the pork chops until fairly thin. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. On separate plates, pour flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Dip each chop into the flour, coating on both sides, and then dip into the beaten egg. finally press the chops on to the breadcrumbs, ensuring even coating. Heat sufficient oil/butter in a large frying pan. When very hot, add the pork and cook over high heat for 5 minutes on each side. Lower heat and cook for another few minutes until golden. Serves 4.
PIEROGI FILLED WITH SAUERKRAUT AND MUSHROOMS (Pierogi z Kiszonej Kapusty)
There is a variety of filling which you can try. Some use potatoes or mushrooms and some like it sweet and fill them with fruit. It is recommended that if you use mashed potatoes, the filling should be made at least a day in advance and refrigerated to allow it to dry.
For the dough:
300g plain flour
For the filling:
110g fresh mushrooms
sour cream to serve
To make the dough, sift the flour, add the egg, salt and sufficient warm water to make a loose dough which holds in shape. Divide the dough into quarters and roll out thinly. Cut out circles 8.5cm in diameter. To make the filling, chop the sauerkraut finely and saute in 50g of butter. Chop the onion and fry in 25g butter. Dice the mushrooms and fry in remaining butter. Mix everything together. Place a heaped tablespoon of filling on each circle, fold over and press the edges firmly together to prevent them from opening while cooking. They should be well filled. Bring some salted water to boil and drop the pierogi (a few at a time). When they rise to the surface, turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and serve with sour cream. Serves 8. You may not get it right the first time, but lots of practise makes perfect.
Opinions about Polish Food:
Greg, the USA:
My usual choice when it comes to the Polish food is Zurek, followed by the Pieczony schab and finished off with some Sernik. A perfect combination of unusual flavours!
Michael, the UK:
The kielbasa is some of the best I've ever eaten: juicy without being too fat, a nice balance of smoke and seasonings, and not too salty.
I'm not wild about the stuffed cabbage, although it may be authentic. I don't like the sweetness of the meat and rice filling and it doesn't taste enough like cabbage to suit me.
Cabbage soup is excellent, seasoned with kielbasa and just enough carrot to balance the fat in the soup.
The best are pickled cucumbers! Really, those are a Polish speciality. Or you could try traditional pork dripping (smalec) which can be spread on small pieces of bread - delicious!"
"My mother is originally from Poland, and my favourite food is the Polish tomato soup! It's the best!"