Monday, October 30, 2017

Haluski – Polish Comfort Food

One of the favorite comfort foods of Poles on the East Coast of the U.S.  is Haluski – a scrumptious and satisfying combination of buttery egg noodles, fresh cabbage, and spices.   Traditionally, Haluski is a meatless dish often served during Lent.  But for the rest of the year, many home cooks like to kick in a little umph by adding bacon or kielbasa.  

Haluski may or may not be an original Polish dish.  Around Philadelphia, up-state New York or Buffalo, many claim Haluski as their own.  But others say that Haluski has Slovak or Hungarian origins.  But no matter – everyone loves it.  We’ve also heard that Haluski has been especially popular for many decades in Western Pennsylvania, specifically around Pittsburgh and the community of “Polish Hill.”   

These days Haluski is on the menu of several Pittsburgh-area restaurants serving Polish dishes.

As we travel around to various Polish festivals up and down the east coast, we almost always see Haluski being served in the Polish Food tents, right along with traditional Cabbage Rolls in tomato sauce, savory Bigos and flavorful Pierogi – and the recipes for the latter three dishes are in our book Polish Classic Recipes.  So here is an easy recipe for this simple and delicious dish which is perfect for supper on these chilly fall afternoons.  In fact we just made a big pan of Haluski, to test the proportions in this recipe.  It was delish and we've got left-overs for lunch! 

Serves 8 
6 cups green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced 
2 cups white onions, peeled and thinly sliced 
4 cups egg noodles, pre-cooked al dente and
     rinsed in cold water
1 stick butter or 1/3 cup cooking oil
2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1 tablespoon ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped garlic, to taste
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, to taste  (optional)
½ pound crisp, cooked bacon, crumpled  (optional)
1 cup smoked, cooked kielbasa, sliced and quartered  (optional)

Heat butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, half the salt, pepper and garlic, and sauté until translucent, stirring often. (Note, don’t let the butter turn brown).  Mix in the cabbage and keeping cooking while stirring often, until the onions turn golden and the cabbage is starting to change color and become limp – about 12 minutes.

Stir in the noodles and more salt, pepper and garlic - a bit at a time and while tasting.  Cook until the noodles are just done – keep tasting.  Add the caraway seed, if desired, and keep tasting while the flavors marry.  Let it all cook together for 5 to 10 minutes, on low to medium heat, allowing the flavors to come together thoroughly.  Taste the noodles so they don’t overcook.

Variation #1:   To add some kick to the dish, pre-cook the kielbasa and / or bacon, and add it to the mix when adding the noodles.  Caution:  if using fresh kielbasa make sure it is thoroughly precooked.  

Variation #2:   After the noodles, cabbage and all the flavorings have cooked for about 5 minutes, transfer everything to a casserole dish and finish in the oven, at 350°F for about ten more minutes, or until the top just begins to brown and crisp.  A few seconds under the broiler may help to crisp up the top quicker

Note: the big key to this dish is to not overcook the noodles or the cabbage, otherwise the whole plate turns mushy. 

2nd Notethis is one of those dishes where the proportions of cabbage to noodles to kielbasa are totally up to you.  The flavors come from the spices and the marriage of ingredients, so more or less of one or the other will just reflect your personal taste.