Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dill, beets, sour cream, dried mushrooms, caraway, and more...

Witamy!  One of the questions we’ve been asked a lot is how Polish cuisine differs from other cuisines.  The first top-of-mind answer is easy -- it’s our use of dill, parsley, dried mushrooms, sour cream, caraway, etc. -- that makes traditional Polish cooking so unique.  I know this is a gross over-simplification, but top-of-mind associations for some of the popular cuisines are that:  Italians love marinara,  Indians appreciate curry,  Mexicans use chilies,  the French love butter, Vietnamese love fish sauce, and so on.  And Poles use dill - a lot!   But as I thought about it some more, and checked with the writings of culinary historians and real experts, the whole story was formed over hundreds of years.

Poland’s history was a huge influence on her cuisine.  Poland sits kind of in the middle of the continent – between Scandinavia to the north and Italy to the south, between Germany and France to the southwest, and the pre-war influences of Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania to the east.  Each region had an influence on what Poles cooked and ate, evolving from generation to generation.  Plus, way back in time, history books talk about the middle eastern spice merchants who often stopped in Poland to trade their spices, dried fruits, nuts etc, for Polish amber, while heading for Germany and France.  Over the early years Poland was invaded many times by her neighbors, and there were many inter-country marriages among the nobility.  So each of these historical events left behind distinctive influences on the food - especially in the more refined dishes favored by the cosmopolitan societies of large cities.
So this sort of sounds like Polish cuisine ended up being a mish-mash of everyone else’s.  That may or may not be true, but I leave that to culinary historians to debate.  From my own personal perspective, Polish cuisine is the sum of its delicious parts – parts I grew up with such as cabbage rolls, plum tarts, lazy pierogi, walnut tortes, cucumber salads, beet soups, dried mushrooms, dill and more dill, sour cream, caraway, comfort food, refreshing food, sophisticated food, rustic food, --  it’s all good and a lot of it is in our new book. Smacznego!


Here is a meatless recipe for Barszcz – a delicious, traditional beet-based soup.

6 vegetable bouillon cubes
3½ cups water
2 one-pound cans of red beets (not pickled)
1 14-ounce can baked beans, rinsed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoon chopped dill  (fresh is best)

Dissolve bouillon cubes in a pot of boiling water. Drain the beets and add all the beet juice into the water.  Rough-chop 1 cup of beets; keep the rest for another day. Rinse the beans, add to the soup mix and bring to a boil.  Add lemon juice, half the dill and rest of the seasonings.  Remove from heat and pour into soup bowls.

Top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill.  Goes really well with a hunk of crusty bread, sweet butter, and a glass of hearty red wine.

No comments:

Post a Comment