Monday, January 30, 2012

Filet of Sole, Polish Style (plus Pączki )

Witamy!  In spite of many misconceptions, Polish cuisine can be healthy and heart-smart!  It’s not all about pierogi, kielbasa, or boiled potatoes.  Most of us probably talk more about the heartier comfort food because those dishes are so delicious.  They remind us of the way our Babcia’s cooked.  But a quick look through the index of The Art of Polish Cooking, my Mom’s iconic and definitive cook book on Polish cuisine, shows that there are many dishes that are quite healthy and quite light.  And I would bet a beautiful plate of our Marinated Beet Salad (which was featured recently by Healthy Aging Magazine) that contemporary cooking in Poland is just as healthy as in the Western world. 

This is a serious issue in our kitchen right now, because Laura is starting the process of perfecting heritage dessert recipes for our next book, and there’s going to be a lot of tasting going on.  Last week she worked on the recipe for Pączki – the traditional filled donut-like confection.  The first few were not perfect. But after the third batch we ended up with a freezer-full of goodness.  Thankfully, the neighborhood ladies are coming for coffee this week!  We can only give so much away to friends, family and the neighbors.  So going light is a good thing and eating more fish and vegetables is a good thing. 

Here is a filet of sole recipe that is healthy and tasty.  Sole is pretty easy to find in most good grocery stores, but can also be substituted with any lighter and thinner white fish filets such as flounder.  We like Basa quite a bit, which is actually a Vietnamese cousin to the catfish but often sold in thinner filets. 

Filet of Sole - Polish Style, with Vegetables
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
¼ small head of savoy cabbage, chopped
1 leek, finely sliced  (the white part)
1 large carrot, finely sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 parsley root, finely sliced
3 tablespoons water
2 pounds sole, or any white fish filets
Salt to taste

Sauce1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 ½ tablespoons flour
2 bouillon cubes, vegetable or chicken
1 cup hot water
Salt & pepper to taste
3 tablespoons sour cream

In a large skillet, heat the butter, add the vegetables and the water;  sauté over medium heat until soft - about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt.  Place on top of the vegetables and simmer until the fish is just cooked through – about 5 to 10 minutes depending on thickness.  To test for doneness, pierce the filet lightly with a fork, turn it a bit to see if the fish is no longer opaque in color.  When done the fish should be somewhat flaky under your fork.

To prepare the sauce,  heat the butter, add the flour, sauté while mixing until well blended.  Dissolve the bouillon cubes in hot water and add the broth to the pan.  Bring to a boil.  Stir until slightly thickened.

To serve, transfer the fish filets gently to a warm serving platter.  Add the sauce  to the vegetables. Remove from heat.  Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  Finish by stirring in the sour cream.  Pour over the fish. 
Serve with Polish dumplings, rice or egg noodles.    Smacznego! 
Serves 6

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Barszcz Symphony in B Major, Variation 34

Witamy!  The humble beet root is a key player in Polish cuisine.  And Barszcz is an uncontested favorite soup and comfort food of Poles everywhere.  It is also popular in all Slavic nations - whether it is known as Borsch in Russian, Bors in Romanian, Borstch in Lithuania or some other spelling variation in some other nation.  There’s even a Chinese version that uses tomatoes as the primary ingredient.  And each region’s cuisine puts its own spin on the ingredients, including items such as: tomato, cabbage, potatoes, barley, garlic, sour cream, beet leaves, chopped beef or pork, meats, etc.  So that’s how I came up with the title of this blog -- Beets being the B Major ingredient in this symphony of flavors, that can be experienced throughout Eastern Europe in a great many varieties. 

Beet Soup began its existence on the farms of Eastern Europe, from trimmings and scraps of root vegetables, stored in barns or cellars, to be consumed through the winter when there was nothing fresh in the pantry.  A bucket or cooking pot was kept outside to store those trimmings.  Beets were always one of the most plentiful vegetables of the region, because it kept well through the winter.  When the pot got full enough, water was added, along with left over beef bones for flavoring.  Then the pot was placed on the fire and cooked into the original version of a one-pot meal.  Regional variations were created because of regional variations in crops being farmed, regionalized dried herbs and other flavorings, and the types of food being stored over the winter.  Over time and generations of cooks, their recipes evolved but the delicious and healthy beet was always a mainstay in what is traditionally known in Poland as Barszcz. 

Here is an easy recipe for Variation # 34.  This one is a bit more rustic than other varieties and has more “stick-to-your-ribs” ingredients, and so it’s great for lunch on a cold or damp day.  We serve it with chunks of fresh, crusty multi-grain bread. 

Only 15 minutes to prepare!

Barszcz Variation #34     Serves 6

4 cups beef broth
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 cup new potatoes, skin on, quartered
2 14.5 ounce cans red beets (not pickled)  (reserve liquid)
1 14-ounce can of brown baked beans
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

Bring broth to a low boil in a large pot.  Add the reserved beet juice drained from the two cans of beets, to total about 6 total cups of liquid.  Rough-chop 1 cup of beets and add to the pot; save the rest of the beets for another day.   Rinse the beans well, add to the pot and bring back to a low boil. Add the lemon juice and seasonings to taste.  The salt and lemon juice will enhance the beet flavors. Also, you should definitely taste the pepper.   Remove from heat.  Serve hot, garnished on top with dollops of sour cream and sprinkled dill.  Smacznego!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Apple Compote - All Natural, Healthier Dessert

Wszystkiego Najlepszego na Nowy RokHappy New Year!
How many of you made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier this year?  I know I did, since being in the cookbook business can be “hazardous to my health!”  A favorite discussion around our house often centers on trying to find a healthier dessert, something to satisfy my sweet tooth but won’t make the calorie-patrol too angry.  One answer is this traditional go-to dessert – fruit compote.

Compotes date back to 17th century France and were made from pieces of fruit in a basic sugar syrup.  Whole fruits were placed in water, to which sugar and spices were added, and then warmed over gentle heat.  Flavors can be modified by adding vanilla bean, orange or lemon peel, cinnamon, cloves, ground almonds, shredded coconut, or raisins. The compote is then served either warm or chilled, and can be topped with a little whipped cream, powdered cinnamon or flavored sugar.  For a little kick, some alcohol can be added to the sugar syrup, such as rum or brandy.   The beauty of compotes is that you can add more or less sugar to the mix, to let the aromas of the fruit and flavorings really pop through on your palate.  And, depending on how much of a purist you are, they can be totally natural and even organic.    No more canned fruit...ever again!

Here is a Polish Apple Compote which is simple to prepare and pure as nature herself.   It’s a dessert you can’t buy in the usual grocery store.  The kids will love it as an everyday dessert, or you can dress it up with some color for the most elegant of dinner parties.

Serves 8
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
½ cup sugar, or less to taste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
8 semi-sweet apples, peeled, cored, quartered (Gala or Fuji are great)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Bring the water to a boil, add one cup of sugar and stir to dissolve; add the cinnamon and lemon zest; add the apples.  Simmer for 10 minutes or until the apples are just soft.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Taste for sweetness.  The syrup should be refreshing and not cloyingly sweet.  You should clearly taste the cinnamon as well as a bit of lemon in the background.  Add or don’t add more sugar depending on your taste buds.  Adjust the flavorings slowly, if needed.  Simmer for 5 more minutes or until the apples are soft enough to cut with a dessert spoon, but not mushy.   Chill thoroughly before serving.   Smacznego!