TST, Vol. 8, Issue No. 24/2001
THE POLISH CHEF
by Robert Strybel
When it comes to preparing Wigilia - that traditional meatless Christmas Eve supper - you may have heard your share of excuses: It's too involved and time-consuming; I wouldn't know where to start; We kind of drifted away after mama died.... To help alleviate the problem, we are presenting a list of traditional dishes made the traditional way, followed by short-cut alternatives. The choice is yours!
PREPARING SALT HERRING: Soak 4-6 salt herring in a large pan of cold water 24 hrs, changing water 2-3 times. Carefully remove the skin and backbones from the herring and discard any loose fishbone you see. Slice the herring into 1 or 1-1/2" pieces. Now you may proceed with any of the traditional recipes below:
- marinated herring (sledz marynowany): Cut the herring into 1-1/2" pieces and layer with wafer-thin small onion slices in a jar or crockery bowl. In saucepan combine 1 c 6% distilled vinegar and 1 c water 1 bay leaf, 6 peppercorns, 2 grains allspice, 1 t mustard seed and from 1 heaping t to 1 heaping T sugar. Bring to boil and simmer covered on low flame 10 min. Switch off heat and let stand until cooled to room temp, then pour over herring. Seal jar or cover crockery bowl and refrigerate at least 24 hrs before serving.
- herring in oil (sledz w oleju): Into a jar pour a little salad oil, add a layer or herring, then a thin layer of chopped onion, and keep layering until ingredients are used up. Top layer should be chopped onion. Top up with oil, seal and refrigerate. Let stand in fridge at least 24 hrs before serving. They will keep in the fridge a week or longer.
- creamed herring (sledz w smietanie): Arrange pieces of herring on serving dish. Drizzle with juice of 1 small lemon (through a sieve to catch the pits). Slice 2 small onions wafer thin and place on the herring. Fork-blend 1/2 - 1 c sour cream, 1 t confectioner's sugar and 1 T mustard. Pour over herring. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. When ready to serve, dust with a little paprika if desired.
- herring in horseradish sauce (sledz w sosie chrzanowym): Arrange herring on serving dish. Fork-blend 1/3 c sour cream, 1/3 c mayonnaise, 1 heaping T prepared non-creamed horseradish (m/l or less according to taste), juice of 1/2 a lemon and 2 t confectioner's sugar. Pour over herring. Chill at least 1 hr before serving. Cover with plastic wrap if you plan to refrigerate it over night.
EASY HERRING (latwe sledzie): Buy a jar of marinated herring and proceed as follows:
- easy marinated herring: Drain store-bought marinated herring, discarding onions and spices. Arrange herring on serving dish, interspersed with small onions, sliced wafer thin. You can also keep the fresh sliced onion in the marinade together with the herring over night before serving.
- easy herring in oil: Drain a jar of marinated herring, discarding onion and spices. Cut herring into serving-size (1 to 1-1/2") pieces. Plunge into a large pot of cold water and keep them in it several min. Drain in sieve or colander and allow to drip dry. Place in jar, interspersed with onions sliced wafer thin and cover with salad oil. Let stand overnight or at least several hrs before serving.
- easy creamed herring: The easiest way is to buy ready-to-eat creamed herring in a jar but the following approach is superior. (Optional: Thin apple slices may be included.) Fork-blend 1/2 - 3/4 c sour cream, 1 t confectioner's sugar and (optional) 1 T brown Polish mustard. Pour over herring.
- easy herring in horseradish sauce: Drain a jar of marinated herring, discarding onion and spices. Cut herring into serving-size (1 to 1-1/2") pieces. Arrange in serving dish interspersed with onions sliced wafer thin. Fork-blend 1/3 c sour cream, 1/3 c mayonnaise, 1 heaping T prepared non-creamed horseradish (m/l or less according to taste), juice of 1/2 a lemon and 2 t confectioner's sugar. Pour over herring. Chill at least 1 hr before serving.
EASY CHRISTMAS EVE HERRING SALAD (salatka wigilijna): Using various canned products makes it easy to whip up this salad. In salad bowl combine 3 c cold, diced, cooked potatoes, 1 c cold cooked (or canned drained) navy beans, 1 c drained canned peas & carrots, 2 diced apples, peeled & cored, 3-4 diced dill pickles and 3 - 4 chopped hard-cooked eggs and 1 c drained, diced marinated herring. Fork-blend 1/2 c sour cream and 1/2 c mayonnaise with 1 T Polish-style mustard and pour over ingredients. Toss gently and chill several hrs before serving. Variation: Adding 1 c drained, diced pickled beets and 1-2 T of the beet juice will give your salad a nice pinkish tinge. Note: If you are serving herring in one of the ways given above, this salad can be made without adding diced herring.
CLEAR MUSHROOM SOUP (zupa grzybowa czysta): Scrub 2 oz dried Polish mushrooms with a stiff brush under running water. Place in saucepan drench with 2 c hot water and soak 2-3 hrs. Cook in same water until tender. Remove mushrooms and slice thin or dice. Add mushrooms and their cooking liquid to 5 c vegetable stock. Bring to boil and season to taste with salt, pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. Garnish with a little chopped dill. Serve over cooked dough squares (cooked lasagna pasta cut into 1" square) or other noodles of choice.
CLEAR MUSHROOM SOUP, THE EASY WAY (czysta zupa grzybowa, latwa): In pot combine 2-3 mushroom bouillon cubes (depending on intensity of mushroom flavor desired) and 4 c water. Dissolve 1 heaping t flour in 1 c cold water and add to pot. Bring to boil and simmer 1-2 min. Season with several twists of the pepper-mill (it'll probably be salty enough already!) and a little lemon juice. Serve over cooked egg noodles or cooked lasagna-type pasta cut into squares (lazanki). Garnish with a little chopped fresh dill or parsley just before serving. Optional: Simmer 4 oz or so fresh sliced mushrooms in 2 T butter until fully cooked and add to soup or add a small can of stems & pieces mushrooms (including the liquid).
CLEAR BEETROOT SOUP (czysty barszcz czerwony): Rehydrate 2-3 dried bolete mushrooms, cook in same water until tender and set aside. Peel and coarsely grate 1 lb beets and combine with 4 c vegetable stock or fish stock. Add the mushroom liquid (reserve mushrooms for some sauerkraut dish or uszka), 1 large, peeled, coarsely grated apple and 1 - 2 c liquid beetroot-sour (kwas burakowy). Bring to boil and simmer 2 min. Add 1 bud crushed garlic and (optional) 1/4 c dry red wine. Strain, discarding contents of sieve. Season soup to taste with salt, pepper, lemon juice and a little sugar until you achieve just the right tangy taste you want. Serve in bowls with traditional uszka (ear-dumplings) - below. You can also serve the clear soup in twin-handled barszcz cups (barszczowki), or - in their absence - in large teacups with a hand-held pasty on the side (see below).
EASY CLEAR BEETROOT BARSZCZ (czysty barszcz czerwony latwy): Dissolve 1-2 mushroom bouillon cubes in 1 c boiling water. Add to pot together with 3-1/2 c beet liquid (from canned beets) and 1-1/2 c apple juice. Heat to just below boiling point. Season with several dashes garlic powder, several twists of pepper-mill, 1 T dry red wine and just enough lemon juice of vinegar to give the barszcz a sweet, sour & tangy taste. Salt lightly if needed.
EASIEST CLEAR BEETROOT BARSZCZ (czysty barszcz czerwony najlatwiejszy): if you are able to find Hortex brand 'Barszczyk' (beet & apple juice) at a nearby Polish deli, preparing this traditional soup will take only seconds. Simply pour contents of carton into a pot and heat to just below boiling. Taste it and see if you find it good just as it is. You can always doctor it up with a 1 t red dry wine, 1 crushed bud garlic, a squirt of lemon juice and several twists of the pepper-mill.
LITTLE-EAR DUMPLINGS (uszka): Rehydrate and cook 2 oz dried bolete mushrooms. Soak 1 slice French bread in 1/2 c warm water. Chop and sauté 1 coarsely-chopped onion in 2 T butter until tender and lightly browned. Pass mushrooms, onion and squeezed-out pre-soaked bread through food chopper or process briefly. Add 1/4 c bread crumbs, stir in 1 egg white, salt & pepper to taste and mix well. Filling should be on the stiff side, so if it's mushy, stir in a little more bread crumbs and set aside. Sift 1 c flour onto bread-board, work in egg yolk and just enough water (roughly 1/2 c) to bind ingredients into a dough. Knead until smooth, roll out very thin and cut into 1-1/2" squares. Place a little filling on each square, fold 2 opposite points together to form a triangle and pinch shut. Gently pull 2 ends of the triangle together into a ring and pinch them together. Cook in lightly-salted boiling water without crowding until uszka float up. Remove with slotted spoon and serve in clear beetroot soup.
EASIEST LITTLE-EAR DUMPLINGS (uszka najlatwiejsze): These mushroom-filled dumplings are now available at Polish delis in many American cities. Why not check to see if there isn't one near you. To serve, simply prepare according to directions on package.
MUSHROOM-FILLED PASTIES (paszteciki z grzybami): Instead of serving uszka in your clear red barszcz, another way is to provide these hand-held mushroom-filled pasties and serve the barszcz in large teacups or (if you have them) the traditional twin-handled barszczowki (barszcz cups). Place 1 c shredded cabbage in small pot, scald with boiling water and cook until tender. Drain in colander. In skillet brown 8 oz diced fresh mushrooms with 2 chopped onions in 3 T oil until fully cooked and nicely browned. Chop mushrooms & onion and cooked cabbage in food-processor. Place mixture in sieve and force out excess moisture. If still too mushy, stir in 1 T. or so bread crumbs. Salt & pepper to taste. Open pkg. of refrigerator crescent-roll dough. Obliterate manufacturer's perforations by pressing down on them with floured thumb. Cut into 2" or larger squares, spread each with a little mushroom filling and roll up jelly-roll fashion, pinching ends shut and tucking underneath. Bake according to package directions and serve hot with your clear barszcz.
FRIED FISH (ryba smazona): Slice cleaned 2 - 3 lb carp, walleye or northern pike into 1" steaks. Intersperse with onion slices, sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice and refrigerate overnight or at least 2 hrs. Just before frying, pat fish dry with paper towel. Dredge in flour, dip fish in egg wash and roll in bread crumbs, shaking off excess. Brown evenly in hot oil 1/2-inch deep on both sides. Reduce heat and cook about 10 min, or until done. May be served with horseradish sauce: fork-blend 1/3 c each prepared horseradish, sour cream and mayonnaise with 2 t lemon juice, 1 t sugar and 1/4 t salt.
EASIER FRIED FISH: (ryba smazona latwiejsza): Use fresh-water or ocean fillets of choice instead of whole fish. Dip fillets in egg wash and roll in 50-50 bread crumb & flour mixture. Fry in 1/2" deep hot oil to a nice golden brown on both sides. Note: Fillets require less cooking than fish steaks and skinless fillets fry more quickly then the kind with the skin left on.
SAUERKRAUT & PEAS (kapusta z grochem): Soak 1 c dried, whole yellow peas overnight. Drain and cook in fresh unsalted water until tender. Soak 1 oz dried mushrooms overnight or several hrs and cook in same water until tender. Drain, rinse in cold water, redrain and coarsely chop 1 to 1-1/2 qt sauerkraut, cover with cold water, bring to boil, reduce heat, add 1 bay leaf and cook about 1 hr. Dice the mushrooms and add to sauerkraut with their liquid. Drain cooked peas and add to pot. Cook on stovetop on very low heat, stirring frequently with wooden spoon, or in 350° oven 60 - 90 min. In saucepan brown 1 chopped onion in 3 T butter or oil until tender and lightly browned, stir in 3 T flour and brown lightly, add several T liquid from sauerkraut and stir into a smooth paste. Add to sauerkraut and cook on low another 30 - 60 min. Season with salt, pepper, about 1 t sugar and (optional) 1/4 t caraway seeds.
EASY SAUERKRAUT & PEAS (latwa kapusta z grochem): If you can get pre-cooked, ready-to-eat sauerkraut, then this dish will be a snap. If not, prepare and cook the sauerkraut as above 60-75 min. Add 1-2 mushroom bouillon cubes and 1 12-16 oz can of drained chick peas. Simmer on stove-top or bake in oven at 325°1 hr. Taste before salting & peppering as the bouillon cube may be sufficiently seasoned your kapusta. Dot with butter, sprinkle with a little flour, mix well and simmer another few min. Variation: Canned drained beans (navy, lima great northern, pea-beans) may be used instead of chickpeas.
DRIED-FRUIT COMPOTE (kompot wigilijny z suszu): Soak 1 c mixed dry fruit, 3 - 4 dried figs, diced and 1/2 c raisins in 2-1/2 - 3 c water 2 hrs. Add a little water if all has been absorbed and cook about 15 min. Optional: 1 small sliced lemon (which has been scrubbed well before being sliced) and a pinch of cinnamon may be added before cooking. Chill and serve in dessert bowls. Note: Christmas Eve compote may be made with prunes alone or prunes & raisins, prunes & figs or prunes, raisins & figs.
EASIER DRIED-FRUIT COMPOTE (kompot wigilijny latwiejszy): Scald 3 c mixed dried fruit and 1/2 a pre-scrubbed sliced lemon with boiling water to cover. Serve at room temp or chilled. If all liquid has been absorbed, add a little cold pre-boiled water.
DRINKABLE COMPOTE (kompot do picia): Recent Polish arrivals in America may be more accustomed to compote as a kind of beverage served in a glass. Simply combine compote (prepared as in either of the above recipes) with an equal amount of cold pre-boiled water and enjoy.
RICE & FRUIT DESSERT (ryz z kompotem): Dish 4 c hot rice onto platter, dot with butter or Butter Beads and onto it ladle dried fruit compote made the traditional way (first recipe).
EASIER RICE & FRUIT DESSERT (ryz z kompotem): Proceed as above but use Minute Rice and prepare the fruit as in the 'easier dried-fruit compote' recipe (above).
NOODLES & FRUIT (kluski z kompotem): Any of the above compotes may be served over cooked, well-drained egg noodles . If the compote liquid is too thin and runny, pour off 1/2 glass, stir in a T. cornstarch, return to compote, simmer a few min. and then ladle over noodles.
POLISH PANCAKES (racuchy): Beat 2 c sour milk (zsiadle mleko), buttermilk or kefir (liquid yogurt) with 2 eggs. Add 2-1/3 c sifted flour and beat until smooth. Sprinkle in 1 t baking powder and mix again. Fry in hot oil 1/2" deep to a nice golden brown on both sides and drain on paper towel. Serve at once dusted with confectioner's sugar or with preserves, fruit syrup or canned pie filling.
EASIER POLISH PANCAKES (racuchy latwiejsze): Use pancake mix for this recipe and prepare according to instructions on pkg., but use buttermilk instead of fresh milk and add 1/4 baking soda per c buttermilk. Add no oil to batter. Fry to a nice golden brown on both sides hot oil 1/2" deep, drain on absorbent paper and serve as above.