Poland may not be the first country that springs to mind when thinking of countries known for their food, but if you grew up in or near traditional Polish neighborhoods you will recall the aroma of freshly baked rye bread coming from Polish bakeries and that mouth-watering, smoky, garlicky scent of kielbasa wafting into the street from Polish sausage shops.
If you grew up with Polish food in your family, you may fondly recall steaming platters of pierogi (filled dumplings) and golumpki (stuffed cabbage rolls) brought to the table by your mothers, grandmothers or aunts. For me, I have memories of my grandmother hard at work in the kitchen to put together what seemed like a Polish festival every time we got together. Though I was only 10 when she passed away, I have wonderful memories of her generous soul, and of her delicious golumpkis.
My husband and I recently got together with friends, who shared similar memories of Polish foods they hadn’t had in years, and we decided to pool our efforts and have our own little Polish festival at home, each making something to contribute to the meal.
Here’s a look at our menu:
Mizeria, or cucumber salad. This chilled salad is composed of thinly-sliced cucumbers, sprigs of dill, and chopped onion in a sour cream and lemon juice dressing.
Pieroogi dumplings filled with farmer’s cheese and onions
Golumpki cabbage rolls filled with ground meat and rice
Kielbasa a highly seasoned sausage made from pork and flavored with garlic
Chrusciki lightly fried pastry cookies dusted with powdered sugar
To drink: Zywiec Polish beer
Half of what made this evening so much fun was the sharing we did. For most, this included talking to family members who had recipes hand written on scraps of paper, or who had recalled the recipes by phone as best they could.
As we sat around the table, we talked about the memories we had as kids, and somehow tasting all those delicious foods again took us back in time. Sometimes these are the dinner parties that end up being the most enjoyable; where everyone gets to share a bit about their growing up years and can tell a story to go with it.
So what about you? Do you have a Polish food memory?
There are so many variations in the recipes. I would love to see what you have out there. Feel free to share your stories or links to something you’ve posted in the comments sections.
I adapted a healthier version of my grandmother’s recipe, using ground turkey and brown basmati rice.
1 large head cabbage, cored
1 cup brown basmati rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 (15-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound ground turkey
1 28-ounce can tomato puree
Place cored cabbage into a large pot of boiling water. After just a few minutes, the cabbage leaves will begin to loosen. Seperate the cabbage leaves, and remove them from the pot as they come off and place on a paper towel lined tray to drain.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Add onions and garlic, cooking until the onions have softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Place in a large bowl to cool.
Make the rice:
Heat water to a boil, add rice, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook 30 minutes. Remove rice from heat. Add evaporated milk to rice, cover, and allow evaporated milk to absorb into rice (this will take about 15 minutes); cool slightly.
Place all filling ingredients into the bowl with the sauteed onion/garlic mixture. Mix well.
Place about 1/4 of filling into the center of each of the cabbage leaves, folding up to enclose (see step by step photos below).
Ladle about 1 cup of sauce into the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Place golumpki seam side down into prepared pan. Pour remaining sauce over golumpki, cover, and cook over medium heat until sauce begins to come to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook 3 hours. (May be made 1 day ahead and reheated)
Makes approximately 12 cabbage rolls
Begin by coaring the cabbage and cooking in boiling water until the leaves soften and are easy to seperate.
Mix together the filling ingredients.
Spoon filling into center of cabbage leaf.