Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002

A crash course in Polish cookery
by Robert Strybel

Do you know quite a lot about Polish food? Are you able to cook numerous dishes or simply enjoy them when someone else prepares them? Or do only a few Polish food terms such as kielbasa, pierogi, golabki and paczki ring a bell? This is by no means a complete list, but it does contain many of the basic foods and concepts that have gone to form our Polish culinary heritage. See how many of them you are familiar with? If just reading about them whets your appetite, look up the recipe in a Polish cookbook and try your hand at preparing it.
A Polish cooking class could easily be built round the list presented below. And it could also be used for a Polish food quiz at your next Polish-American function (with Polish delicacies awarded to the winners). For the benefit of those whose Polish is rusty or non-existent, the rough pronunciation has been given in parentheses. So, here goes:

BABKA (BAHP-kah) - defining this tall tapered, turban-shaped cake as a "yeast-raised egg bread" is only partially correct, because this name is applied to a wide variety of different cakes using other types of leavening as well. Tall iced or sugar-dusted babkas are among the traditional culinary attractions of the Polish Easter table. (Note: There are also savory babkas made with potatoes, onions, meat, etc.)

BARSZCZ (BAHRSHCH) - a tart soup divided into two basic types: red (made with beets) and white (creamed). The czerwony barszcz ranges from the hearty barszcz ukrainski containing beans, potatoes, other vegetables and meat and/or sausage to the delicate czysty barszcz czerwony, a clear Burgundy-hued beetroot-flavored broth. The bialy barszcz, similar to zurek (below), is often served over hard-cooked egg slices. In many families it is the traditional Easter soup (bialy barszcz wielkanocny).

BIGOS (BEE-guss) - this cassoulet or stew is regarded Poland's national dish, and its praises were sung in "Pan Tadeusz", the epic poem of 19th-century romantic bard Adam Mickiewicz. It contains sauerkraut (with the possible addition of fresh shredded cabbage), bacon, sausage, a variety of cooked meats, including wild game, prunes and mushrooms with a splash of red wine for good measure. It is best after several days of slow simmering and improves in flavor each time it is reheated. Bigos is usually served as a hot starter or supper dish with rye bread and a nip of vodka. It is the favored delicacy of Polish hunters, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

BITKI (BEET-kee) - collops or slices of boneless meat, usually beef, pounded thin, browned and simmered in sauce; short for bite zrazy (pounded collops).

BLINY (BLEE-nih) - yeast-raised pancakes made with buckwheat or wheat flour.

BOCZEK (BAW-chek) - bacon; not only sliced and fried as in the US but often boiled and baked in a slab.

BUDYN (BOO-din) - if you look closely, you'll see this word comes from the English word 'pudding'. It includes both the classic variety cooked in special pudding molds in a hot-water bath as well as the potato-starch-thickened blancmange type of pudding.

BURACZKI (boo-RAHCH-kee) - chopped or grated braised beets, often containing some apples; a typical cooked vegetable accompanying beef and game dishes.

CHRUST, CHRUSCIKI (KHROOST, khroosh-CHEE-kee) - delicate, fried, sugar-dusted pastries usually associated with Mardi Gras and various referred to in English as angel wings, bow-knot patries, bows, crisps, crullers, kindling, etc.; also known as faworki.

CHRZAN (KHSHAHN) - grated horseradish in vinegar marinade, usually laced with sour cream, is a favorite Polish condiment with meat, fish and hard-cooked eggs. It is also used in a hot creamy horseradish sauce usually served with boiled beef or tongue.

CIASTO (CHAHS-taw) - depending on its context, this word can mean cake, dough or batter.

CIASTKO (CHAHST-kaw) - pastry, teacake, biscuit, cookie.

CZERNINA (chair-NEE-nah) - a tart and tangy duck (or goose) soup, containing the fowl's blood and dried fruit and usually served over noodles or potatoes; so named because of its dark chocolate-like color (czerñ = blackness); also spelled czarnina.

CZYSTY BARSZCZ CZERWONY (CHIS-tih BAHRSHCH chair-VAW-nih) - A clear, ruby-red beetroot-flavored broth with a winey tang, often with a hint of garlic and mushroom; usually served with a hot mushroom- or meat-filled pastry on the side; a standard item on Polish restaurant menus.

CWIKLA (CHFEEK-wah) - This salad or relish made with grated cooked beetroot seasoned with horseradish is the most typical Polish accompaniment to roast and smoked meats and sausages. The first widely known recipe for cwikla was provided by writer Mikolaj Rey (1505-1569), known as the "father of Polish literature".

DZICZYZNA (jee-CHIZZ-nah) - Game dishes are frequently encountered on restaurant menus of this heavily forested country. They include wild boar (dzik), hare (zajac), venison (sarnina) and wildfowl such as partridge (kuropatwa), pheasant (bazant) and quail (przepiorka). Games dishes are usually served with sauces flavored with mushrooms or juniper and braised beetroot on the side.

FLAKI/FLACZKI (FLAH-kee, FLAHCH-kee) - Tripe soup, on the spicy side, flavored with black and red pepper, ginger and marjoram; a topping of grated cheese makes it "po warszawsku" (Warsaw style). Condiments such as additional marjoram, paprika, Turkish pepper and Maggi seasoning are usually provided for those who enjoy a zingier taste. Known as flaczki (the diminutive form) to descendants of the old Polonia and flaki to more recent arrivals.

GALARETA (gah-lah-REH-tah) - aspic or jelly encasing meat or fish to enhance their flavor and keep them moist and tender; a typical Polish cold starter.

GALECZKI, GALUSZKI (gah-WECH-kee, gah-WOOSH-kee) - a kind of doughball or dumpling. Singular: galeczka, galuszka.

GOLONKA (gaw-LAWN-kah) - Pork hocks are usually boiled and served with sauerkraut or yellow puréed peas. This is a hearty, stick-to-the-ribs meal is not recommended for the faint-hearted. A stein of beer will help wash down this substantial dish.

GOLABKI (gaw-WUMP-kee) - literally: little pigeons, these are stuffed cabbage rolls that are one of the Polish ethnic group's best-known 'display foods.' The ground meat & rice type in tomato sauce are the most common, but there are numerous other varieties, including vegetarian versions. Singular: golabek.

GROCHOWKA (graw-HOOF-kah) - yellow split pea soup is a hearty stick-to-the-ribs pottage containing sausage, bacon, potatoes, carrots and possibly other vegetables (some cooks add a dried mushroom for added depth). It is seasoned with crushed garlic, pepper and marjoram. Grochówka is best when allowed to simmer for hours and is often served at fests, street fairs and other outdoor events.

GRZYBY (GZHIH-bih) - In Polish cookery, mushrooms are not only an accompaniment to meat dishes but are often served as the main meal. The most favored are the noble bolete (Steinpilz, porcini) known in Polish as borowik or prawdziwek. Fresh boletes are usually stewed in sour cream. Dried boletes, after rehydration and cooking, have a more intense, deep, dusky and delicious flavor. Milky caps (rydze) are usually served pan-fried in butter, as are the white domestic champignons (pieczarki). Kurki (chantrelles) are good in white sauces and with scrambled eggs. The tall kania or umbrella mushroom (portobello) is usually breaded and fried like a pork cutlet. Podpieñki (honey mushrooms), podgrzybki (bay boletes) and malaki (slippery jack) are put a few of the many varieties picked in Poland's forests. Different varieties of mushrooms are pickled in a seasoned vinegar marinade. Unlike the custom in other countries, oil is generally not added to Polish grzyby marynowane.

INDYK (EEN-dick) - turkey, owing to its size and delicate flavor it has long been associated with festive events in larger company; this native American bird has been misnamed both in English and Polish, for it no more hails from Turkey than from India. (The French have done likewise by calling it the dinde, originally: d'Inde - from India.)

JAJECZNICA (yah-yech-NEE-tsah) - Polish has this special word for scrambled eggs, a favorite quick dish that even inexpereinced cooks can prepare; jajecznica is often fried na sloninie (on salt pork) na boczku (on bacon), na szynce (on ham) or na kielbasie (on Polish sausage).
JARZYNKA (yah-ZHIN-kah) - cooked vegetable.

KACZKA (KAHCH-kah) - duck, usually roasted stuffed with apples and seasoned with marjoram; also used to prepare czernina (duck soup - see above).

KAPUSTA (kah-POOS-tah) - Cabbage and sauerkraut have long been Polish dietary mainstays. Kapusta kiszona or kwaszona (barrel-cured cabbage or sauerkraut) is the basis for Poland's national dish bigos, kapuniak (sauerkraut soup), the Christmas Eve dishes kapusta z grochem and kapusta z grzybami and a common pierogi filling. Sauerkraut is served uncooked as a salad and as a cooked vegetable. Fresh cabbage is also cooked in soups, as a vegetable side-dish, in stews and casseroles, and its leaves enwrap the popular golabki.

KARTOFLE (kahr-TUFF-leh) - Although of American origin, potatoes have long been a Polish dietary mainstay; they are also known as ziemniaki (esp. in the Krakow region), grule (in the Tatra Mountains) and pyrki (in Wielkopolska, the Poznan region).

KASZA (KAH-shah) - This term can be translated as groats, grits, grain, gruel, cereal, porridge, etc. The favorite is kasza gryczana (hreczana) - buckwheat gorats. Others include kasza jêczmienna (barley), kasza jaglana (millet), kasza manna (farina, cream of wheat) and owsianka (oatmeal).

KISIEL (KEE-shell) - This very old and simple fruit jelly, now usually thickened with potato starch, continues to be a home-style favorite of Polish children. Oat and cranberry kisiel is a typical Christmas Eve speciality.

KLUSKI (KLOOSS-kee) - This term is applied to different kinds of noodles and dumplings.

KNEDLE (KNEDD-leh) - A kind of potato dumpling, filled with meat, plums or other fillings and boiled.

KOLACJA (kaw-LAHTS-yah) - Supper, the last meal of the day, usually a lighter meal than obiad (early afternoon dinner).

KOLDUNY (koh-DOO-nih) - Small, usually meat-filled pierozki popular in northeastern Poland along the Lithuanian border.

KOMPOT (KAWM-putt) - A favorite stewed fruit drink that often takes the place of dessert after a heavy meal. It is simply fresh fruit briefly cooked in slightly sweetened water.

KOPYTKA (kaw-PIT-kah) - A kind of unfilled potato dumpling serve as a meat accompaniment instead of potatoes or as a meal in itself, garnished with fried salt-pork nuggets or gravy.

KOTLET (KAWT-let) - The connection with the word cutlet is quite obvious. This can be a bone-in chop or a deboned cutlet, which is usually pounded, breaded and fried. It can also be a kind of flattened meatball or thick patty (kotlet mielony or siekany). Today's one of Poland's favorite meals is kotlet schabowy (fried, breaded pork cutlet).

KULEBIAK (koo-LEBB-yahk) - A kind of loaf-shaped pie encasing various fillings made of sauerkraut, cabbage, rice, meat, mushrooms, etc.

KURCZE PO POLSKU (KOOR-cheh paw PAWL-skoo) - Roast spring chicken polonaise is stuffed with a filling made of milk-soaked white bread, chicken liver and minced veal seasoned with fresh dill and roasted to golden-brown perfection. Typical go-togethers are buttered new potatoes and mizeria (sliced cucumbers in sour cream).

MAKOWIEC, STRUCLA Z MAKIEM (mak-KAWV-yets, STROOTS-lah z MAH-kyem) - A traditional Christmas cake, this yeast-raised roll cake contains a delicious filling of poppy seeds, raisins and nuts, is usually iced and sprinkled with poppyseeds or slivered almonds. It is MAZUREK (mah-ZOO-rek) - Various kinds of flat cakes cut into serving-sized squares; a typical Easter treat.

NALESNIKI (nah-lesh-NEE-kee) - That is what crêpes are called in Polish. The most common fillings for these thin pancakes are white curd cheese (twaróg), meat and onion are fruit jam. The naleniki are typically folded into a square and browned in butter. Sour cream is a common topping for all except the meat-filled naleniki. Singular: nalenik.

NALEWKA (nah-LEFF-kah) - home-made cordial (alcoholic drink), usually made with grain alcohol of very strong vodka and various flavorings (fruit, honey, herbs, etc.).

OBIAD (AWB-yaht) - dinner, the main meal of the day, generally eaten between 1 and 3 pm. The traditional Polish dinner consists of soup and a main course (drugie danie - second course). Dessert is optional.
PASZTECIKI (pahsh-teh-CHEE-kee) - Small hand-held pastries or pasties filled with meat, mushrooms, etc. and usually served with clear soups. Singular: pasztecik.

PASZTET (PAHSH-tett) - a meat paste made from finely ground cooked meat. The addition of wild game such as hare or venison gives Polish pâté (mainly containing cooked pork, veal and liver) its characteristic flavor. Horseradish sauce or Tartar sauce is a frequently provided condiment.

PACZKI (PAUNCH-kee) - Polish doughnuts, usually containing fruit filling, and glazed or sugar-dusted; although available all year round at Polish pastry shops and cafés, they have a ritual significance on Tlusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday) and Ostatki (Fat Tuesday). In Warsaw, the best paczki come from Blikle's Pastry Shops - they are glazed with icing, garnished with candied orange peel and each contains a dollop of rose-petal jam. Singular: paczek.

PIECZEN (PYEH-chain) - meat roast, the most common being pieczen wolowa (roast beef), pieczen wieprzowa (roast pork), pieczeñ cieleca (roast veal), pieczeñ barania (roast mutton), pieczen z dzika (roast wild boar).

PIECZYSTE (pyeh-CHISS-teh) - roast-meat course at a dinner or banquet.

PIEROGI (pyeh-RAW-ghee) This popular Polish dish has been variously translated by English speakers as dough pockets, filled dumplings and even 'Polish ravioli.' Pierogi can have a variety of fillings, but the most common are minced cooked meat, sauerkraut & mushrooms, cheese and potatoes (these are known as ruskie [ Ruthenian] pierogi), sweet cheese (usually with a touch of vanilla) and blueberries (in summer). Other fillings include buckwheat groats, potatoes & onions and lentils. Toppings include fried fat-back nuggets, sour cream, melted butter or butter-browned bread crumbs. Singular: pierog - since it is unusual to eat only 1, the signular is rarely used.

PIEROZKI (pyeh-RUSH-kee) - diminutive of pierogi, suggesting smaller, daintier dumplings of the type cityfolk would serve. Singular: pierozek.

PLACEK (PLAH-tsek) - Any of a variety of usually yeast-raised cakes baked with fruit, cheese, crumb topping, etc.
PYZY (PIH-zih) - These dumplings, made from raw and cooked potatoes, are typical of the southern province of Slask (Silesia). These potato balls are boiled and served garnished with fried pork fat back nuggets and drippings.

PODWIECZOREK (pawd-vyeh-CHAW-rek) - Tea, a usually light sweet meal (cakes, preserves, pudding and tea and/or coffee) served at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, roughly midway between obiad (dinner) and kolacja (supper).

PRZEKASKA (psheh-KAWN-skah) - hors d'oeuvre; finger food; light snack served with drinks; plural: przekaski.

PRZYSTAWKA (pshih-STAHF-kah) - starter course, hot or cold meat, fish, vegetable or egg dish served ahead of the main course; plural: pryzstawki.

RYBA W GALARECIE (RIH-bah v gah-lah-REH-cheh) - Fish in sparkling clear aspic is a typical Polish cold starter course. Carp is the preferred fish for this dish but other fresh-water species such as trout, pike and pike-perch (walleye) are also good. Lemon juice and/or horseradish as well as Tartar sauce adds tang to this otherwise bland-tasting dish.

SCHAB PIECZONY (SKHAP pyeh-CHAW-nih) - Roast pork loin may be served hot as a main course or cold as a starter, sometimes encased in aspic. Horseradish sauce is often provided.

SERNIK (SARE-neek) - Cheesecake, often studded with raisins and flavored with grated orange peel, has long been a favorite Polish dessert. It was among the dishes introduced to the Vatican by Polish-born Pontiff John Paul II.

SZARLOTKA (shahr-LAWT-kah) - Apple cake, in terms of popularity the Polish equivalent of Amercia's apple pie.

SLEDZ (SHLEDGE) - After being soaked to remove excess salt, Baltic herring are served up with sliced onions marinated in vinegar or oil or creamed. Sometimes diced apples are added. A favorite cold snack or starter courser that just begs for nip of ice-cold vodka.

TATAR (TAH-tahr) - Beefsteak Tartare is a mound of minced beef tenderloin with a raw egg yolk deposited in its volcano-like crater and served in a wreath of chopped onion, pickled cucumbers and pickled mushrooms. A glass of ice-cold vodka is the natural accompaniment to this cold snack or starter.

SNIADANIE (shnyah-DAH-nyeh) - breakfast, the first meal of the day; may be savory (cheese, cold cuts, eggs) or sweet (jam, raised cakes, sweetened milk soup and hot cereals); drugie sniadanie (literally: second breakfast) - often a bag lunch (sandwich, apple, cake) eaten at work.

ZRAZY (ZRAH-zih) - collops or slices or meat, pounded thin, browned and simmered until tender; a favorite of the Old Polish nobility that has remained popular to this day (synonymous with bitki above).

ZRAZY ZAWIJANE (ZRAH-zih zah-vee-YAH-neh) - pounded slices of boneless meat are pounded, spread with a filling, rolled up, browned and simmered until tender; an elegant banquet dish, traditionally served with buckwheat groats.

ZUPA (ZOO-pah) - Soup, traditionally the first course at daily dinner, followed by the main course; at festive dinners, the soup follows the cold appetizer course.

ZUPA GRZYBOWA (gzhih-BAW-vah) - Creamed mushroom soup in Poland is made from wild bolete mushrooms which Poles call "prawdziwki" (true mushrooms). Polish menus clearly distinguish them, from the rather bland-tasting cultivated champignon type (pieczarki) which are considered inferior.

ZUPA OGORKOWA (aw-goor-KAW-vah) - A tangy, creamy soup containing grated brined cucumbers and diced potatoes.

ZUPA POMIDOROWA (paw-mee-daw-RAW-vah) - Polish tomato soup lovers are divided over whether it should be served with rice or noodles, but the latter seem to have the edge.

ZUPA SZCZAWIOWA (shcha-VYAW-vah) - A creamy soup flecked with tart green sorrel leaves (similar to spinach) usually served over a hard-cooked egg.

ZUREK (ZHOO-rek) - A tart soup made with fermented ryemeal, usually cooked on a sausage-based stock, and seasoned with marjoram. It may be served with a hard-cooked egg in the soup or a serving of potatoes garnished with pork fatback or bacon nuggets on the side. A meatless version of this soup was once a Lenten dietary mainstay.

Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002

The Summit Times

© Copyright 2002 by Andrzej M. Salski