Monday, March 7, 2011

Lenten comfort food

Photo by Matthew Aron Roth
Witamy!  As we approach another Lenten season, many Poles and other Catholics around the world are digging through their recipes for meatless dishes. We wrote an earlier blog about how Polish cuisine and other Eastern European cuisines depend on dried mushrooms in their cooking. It’s very distinctive since their flavors, when reconstituted, are much more intense than what is usually found in our grocery stores. Years ago forest mushrooms throughout Poland were harvested and threaded on strings and hung up to dry for use throughout the winter months.  These days dried mushrooms are mostly sold in small packages, but if you do see dried mushrooms on a string they are quite expensive.  So look for dried mushrooms in better grocery stores and gourmet shops – the darker the better. I tried ordering some online and it turns out the seller is in Bulgaria.  Two months later I still haven’t received my package.  The seller assures me they were mailed but “that Bulgaria is a long way from the USA.”

Sauerkraut with Mushrooms
Note:  if you can’t find dried mushrooms, fresh ones will work fine as long as you use a darker variety that has stronger flavors – Eight ounces of porcinis would be great.  

1 ounce dried mushrooms, thoroughly rinsed
½ cup water
2 pounds sauerkraut, well rinsed and drained
2 onions, sliced
3 tablespoons cooking oil
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Rinse the mushrooms very well and soak in hot water for two hours.  Remove, rinse again and slice.  Strain the mushroom liquid through cheese cloth and save.

Rinse the sauerkraut very well and place in a pot which contains a small amount of boiling water. Add the mushrooms and the mushroom water and bring to a low boil.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, start reheating the sauerkraut gently. Saute onions in oil until just golden. Add the flour and saute for a few more minutes, constantly stirring. If the mix is too thick (like a paste) dilute with a little bit of liquid from the sauerkraut.  Add this mix back to the sauerkraut, bring to a low boil.  Salt & pepper to taste.

Pair this dish with very small boiled potatoes which have been drizzled with melted butter and fresh chopped dill.  Serve with hunks of crusty rye bread.  Finally,  it would be very traditional that this dish would also be accompanied by a shot of ice cold Polish vodka or a good beer.  That sure works for me!  Smacznego!

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