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Apr 17, 2024

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100 Polish Treats You Should Try!

By Robert Strybel
The Polish Chef

Polish Centennial Fare

You have probably heard of many of the following foods and beverages and prepare and/or enjoy some of them. But chances are quite a few will be new to you and worth trying.  Polonia’s POLISH CHEF is marking the 100th anniversary of Poland’s rebirth by showcasing 100 of the best-known Polish culinary offerings – starters, condiments, soups, main courses, desserts and tipples. The entries alphabetically list the name of the item in English and non-alphabetically in Polish and include a brief description. Look for the actual recipes online.

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1. ANGEL WINGS (faworki, chruściki, chrust): Light, delicate, fried pastry, dusted with powder sugar, are especially enjoyed during Mardi Gras,

2. APPLE CAKE (szarlotka): A delicious, cinnamony apple cake which is an autumn favorite of Poles world-wide.

3, APPLE FRITTERS (jabłka smażone w cieście): Sliced apples dipped in crêpe (naleśnik) batter, fried until golden and served dusted with powdered sugar.

4. ASPIC (galareta): Many popular cold starters containing meat, fish and hard-cooked eggs are served  encased in a tasty gelatin which keeps them moist and fresh. See jellied pig’s feet (below).

5, BABKA (babka): The best known is the tall yeast-raised raisin-studded babka, the centerpiece of every Polish Easter table.

6. BACON, BAKED OR BOILED (boczek pieczony lub gotowany): Those who think of  bacon as crispy fired strips served with eggs may be surprised that Poles mostly bake or boil slab bacon and serve it as a cold starter with mustard or horseradish.               

7. BARLEY-VEGETABLE SOUP (krupnik): A hearty stock-based soup containing barley, carrots, potatoes and often a dried mushroom for added flavor.

8. BEAN SOUP  (fasolówka): Navy beans or pea-beans cooked in a smoked-meat stock  make for a hearty, filling soup usually seasoned with marjoram.                                               

9. BEETROOT, BRAISED (buraczki): A favorite vegetable side dish especially good with beefs and wild-game dishes.

10. BEETROOT & HORSERADISH (ćwikła):  This tangy relish is great with kiełbasa, ham and other cold meats and an absolute “must” on the Easter table.

11. BEETROOT SOUP, CLEAR (czerwony barszcz czysty): This clear, ruby-red broth is a gourmet soup served with hand-held meat- or mushroom-filled pastries.

12. BEETROOT SOUP, CREAMED (czerwony barzscz zabielany): A hearty soup, creamed with sour cream, often containing kiełbasa, beans, carrots and potatoes.

13. BEEF BROTH (rosół wołowy: A hearty broth made with beef stock and the traditional soup veggies: carrot, parsley root, celeriac and leek. Served over home-made or store-bought egg noodles or home-made egg-batter noodles (see below),

14,  BEEF COLLOPS IN CREAM (bitki w śmietanie): Pieces of round steak pounded into thin cutlets and simmered until tender in sour cream sauce. Often served with buckwheat groats

15, BEEF ROLL-UPS (zrazy wołowe zawijane):  Pieces of round steak pounded into thin rectangular cutlets, covered with mustard, dill pickle, bacon and black bread, rolled up, fastened with toothpicks and simmered until tender.

16. BEEF TONGUE (ozór wołowy): Tender, mild-.flavored boiled beef tongue is served either in horseradish sauce or in tangy, sweet & sour raisin gravy,

17. BIGOS (bigos): Sometimes called Polish hunter’s stew in English, this sauerkraut, meat & mushroom ragoût is Poland’s legendary national dish. It may contain fresh cabbage, onions, prunes, apples, wine, garlic and other ingredients.

18. BITE-DOWN (zakąska,  zagrycha): More of a lifestyle than a dish, this is the morsel of meat, kiełbasa, cheese, egg, pickle or herring with which vodka drinkers follow each round of drinks. I                                                                           

19. BLACK PUDDING (kaszanka, kiszka); Chopped pork variety meats, blood and buckwheat groats or barley form, the basis of this this popular sausage, fried before serving and served with mustard, horseradish or fried onions.

20. BLUEBERRY CAKE (placek z jagodami): An extremely popular sheet cake with blueberry filling, served cut into squares.

21. BREAD (chleb): Nowadays, the typical Polish chleb is  a sourdough bread containing wheat and rye flour. The round or oblong loaves often have a shiny, crackly crust.

22. BRINED DILL PICKLES (ogórki kiszone/kwaszone): These are the true Polish dill pickles, cured in brine. They get their tartness from natural fermentation, not from vinegar. If buying imported Polish pickles look for the word kiszone or kwaszone on the label. The American-style vinegar-cured pickles are referred to in Polish as konserwowe (canned).

23. BUCKWHEAT GROATS (kasza gryczana): These tasty groats with a subtly nutty flavor are especially good with beef and wild-game dishes. And they contain far more protein, vitamins and mineral nutrients than potatoes, pasta or rice,

24, BUCKWHEAT PIE (pieróg): Typical of eastern Poland, this is a loaf filled with a mixture of  cooked, buckwheat groats, potatoes and farmer cheese.

25. BUTTER (masło): As a spread, only fresh, unsalted butter is used. Salted butter goes back to per-refrigeration days. Salting prevented it going rancid but did not preserve that freshly-churned flavor.

26. CABBAGE ROLLS (gołąbki): Also known as stuffed cabbage in English, this is an extremely popular dish which usually contains meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and simmered in tomato sauce.

27. CABBAGE SOUP (kapuśniak): A Polish staple, it can be made from fresh cabbage, usually with some tomatoes added, or with sauerkraut.

28. CARROT, APPLE, HORSERADISH SALAD (surówka z marchwi, jabłka i chrzanu): This  nutritious salad combines grated  raw carrots and pared apples in a tangy horseradish-flavored sourcream-mayo sauce. Great with pork dishes!

29. CAULIFLOWER POLONAISE (kalafior ze zrumienioną tartą bułką): Polonaise (see below) is the international culinary term for butter-browned bread crumbs – a great topping for boiled vegetables, noodles, pierogi, etc.

30, CHEESECAKE (sernik): Ground farmer cheese (not cream cheese) is used in this Polish favorite. Some versions are light nad airy whilst others are heavier and denser and may even contain cooked potatoes. Many are studded with raisins.

31. CHERRY CORDIAL (wiśniówka): Available commercially, it is often home-made using grain neutral spirits and fresh sour cherries. Using pure cherry syrup is even easier.

32: CHICKEN SOUP (rosół u kury):  Long a wedding and Sunday dinner favorite, this fragrant golden broth is usually served over egg noodles or egg-batter noodles.

33. COMPOTE (kompot): This is a popular home-made, cooked-fruit drink made by briefly boiling fresh fruit in water and sweetening to taste.

34. CORDIALS, HOME-MADE (domowe nalewki): Many Polish males pride themselves in their home-made cordials usually made by soaking fruit in a 120-130 proof vodka & grain alcohol mixture. These can be flavored with honey, herbs, spices, etc.

35. CRÊPES (naleśniki): These thin pancakes are filled and rolled up or folded into a square or triangle. Popular fillings include fresh fruit, jam, sweet farmer cheese or ground cooked meat.

36. CUCUMBER SALAD (mizeria). This is probably the most popular Polish salad made by thinly slicing peeled cucumbers and dressing them with a simple sour-cream sauce which may contain vinegar, salt and a little sugar.

37. DILL (koperek): This fragrant, feathery green herb is by far the most popular flavoring in many soups, sauces and poultry stuffing as well as a garnish for boiled potatoes, vegetables, salads, etc.

38. DILL PICKLE SOUP (zupa ogórkowa): This tart, creamy soup contains diced carrots and potatoes and is best made with grated brine-cured pickles (ogórki kiszone). Using the vinegary dill pickles common in America will not produce the same flavor.

39. DUCK SOUP (czernina):  Made with duck stock, this rich, fruity soup contains prunes and other dried fruit, a touch od vinegar and a small amount of duck blood for flavoring. It  is usually served over potato dumplings, egg noodles or boiled potatoes and is a favorite of the Wielkopolska (Poznań) region.

40. DUMPLINGS (kluski, knedle, leniwe pierogi, pyzy). For lack of a better word the term dumpling is used in English to describe different types of home-made Polish pasta, potato balls and even pierogi.

41. EAR DUMPLINGS (uszka): So called because of their ear-like shape, these tiny mushroom-filled dumplings are usually served floating in clear Christmas Eve red barszcz.

42. EASTER SAUCE (sos do święconego): This mayo- and sour-cream-based sauce contains chopped chives, radishes, dill pickles. pickled mushrooms and hard-cooked eggs and enhances the cold smoked and roast meats and hard-cooked eggs on the the traditional Polish Easter table.

43. EGG-BATTER NOODLES (lane kluski): These can be quickly whipped up by fork-beating an egg and some flour into a pourable batter which is cooked in hot broth or milk.

44. EGGS, SCRAMBLED (jajecznica): Polish-style scrambled eggs are often fried in a skillet in which pork fatback nuggets have been lightly browned or peeled, sliced kiełbasa or fresh mushrooms have been fried. Some like to fry up chopped green onions before adding the eggs.

45. FARMER CHEESE (twaróg): Also known in English as pot cheese, this is a Polish staple. It is combined with chives, radishes and sour cream for breakfast or supper, used in pierogi, various dumplings, crêpes, cheesecake and other dishes.

46. FRUITCAKE (keks): Unlike the American fruitcake, which is mostly candied fruit and very little dough, the Polish keks is usually a yellow cake studded but not overloaded with nuts, raisins, dates, figs, prunes and often some candied fruit as well.

47. GINGERBREAD (piernik): A dark cake seasoned with pepper (piernik literally means pepper cake), cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamon, etc.

48. GOOSE (gęś): Roast goose, stuffed with apples, apples & prunes or buckwheat groats, is the traditional dish served in the Poznań region on St Martin’s Day (Nov. 11) and around the country on Christmas Day.

49. GOULASH (gulasz): This is the Polish term for stew or fricassee, a dish of meat and vegetables simmered in a seasoned sauce.

50. GROUND CUTLETS (kotlety mielone):  Ground meat (usually pork), milk-soaked bread and eggs form the basis of this popular dish which takes the shape of an oval, partially flattened meatball. Polish kids prefer it to solid meat because it’s less chewy and goes down easy.

51. HALLAH (chałka): This braided egg bread was borrowed from the Jews who serve it on the Sabbath and holidays. Poles regard it as a breakfast food or coffee cake,

52. HAM (szynka): This is the choicest and priciest cut of smoked pork so it is often associated with Easter and other festive occasions. In Polish tradition, nearly always served as a cold starter.

53. HERRING (śledzie): Mainly served as a cold starter or drinker’s bite-down with bread on the side or with boiled potatoes as a main course, especially during Lent.

54, HONEY-SPICE CORDIAL (krupnik):  This home-made cordial is flavored with honey and various gingerbread-type spices and is usually served hot during winter festivities.

55. HORSERADISH (chrzan); A popular, eye-wateringly potent Polish condiment which adds zing to sausage, cold cuts, hard-cooked eggs, soups and cream sauces.

56. JELLIED PIG’S FEET (nóżki wieprzowe w galarecie, zimne nogi): This cold starter or bite-down which may contain carrots and hard-cooked eggs, has many Polish devotees and is usually drizzled with vinegar before eating.

57. JELLY-PUDDING (kisiel): A dessert made of fruit syrup water and potato starch or cornstarch. It is slightly cloudier than gelatin-based desserts, Kisiel is pronounced like KEY-shell.

58. KIEŁBASA, POLISH SAUSAGE (kiełbasa): This is the Polish generic name for meat products made by stuffing casing with seasoned, chopped or ground pork or  other meat. It can be fresh or smoked, thick or thin, served hot or cold. There are dozens of varieties of  Polish sausage.

59. LETTUCE (sałata): Boston and bib lettuce come closest to the type of lettuce traditionally used in Polish cookery. Sour cream is the traditional dressing.

60. MARJORAM (majeranek): This fragrant herb related to oregano is one of Poland’s favorite seasonings; it is used in roast pork, goose and duck, bigos, kiszka, stews, pea and bean soup, tripe and other savory dishes.

61. MAZURKA (mazurek): Next to babka and sernik (cheesecake), this is the most typical Polish Easter pastry; a low-lying cake, it comes in many flavors and typically combines baked dough interlaced with fruit or confectionary filling; Alleluja is often inscrbed in frosting across the top

62. MILK SOUPS (zupy mleczne): This typical cold-weather breakfast dish is made by heating leftover pasta, rice or barley in boiling milk. Instead of leftovers, egg-batter noodles  (see above) can be whipped up on the spot and cooked in the boiling milk.

63. MUSHROOMS (grzyby): Edible fungi have always been prized in heavily forested Poland. Heading the list is the noble bolete, but numerous other varieties include chantrelles (kurki), champignons (pieczarki), rydze (saffroin milk cap), morels (smardze), parasol mushrooms (kanie) and bay boletes (podgrzybki).

64. MUSHROOM BOUILLON CUBES (kostki grzybowe):  These bouillon cubes can enhance the flavor of stews, gravies, sauerkraut or canned or soup-mix mushroom soups. A fraction of a cube will improve the flavor of any vegetable soup without imparting a pronounced mushroomy flavor.

65. MUSHROOM SOUP (zupa grzybowa): Either fresh or dried boletes (borowiki) make a delicious mushroom noodle soup which cannot compare with the canned “cream of mushroom” concoction many people have been raised on.

66, NOODLES & CHEESE (kluski z serem): Crumbled farmer cheese is mixed with hot, drained egg noodles and garnished with golden-brown fried pork nuggets for a popular budget meal.

67. PANCAKES (racuchy): Similar to American pancakes but contain no oil in the batter and are fried in oil or butter. They are served with jam or dusted with powdered sugar.

68. PASTIES (paszteciki): These hand-held pastries usually contain a meat or mushroom filling and are served with clear soups or bouillon at gourmet dinner-parties.

69. PÂTÉ (pasztet): This soft spreadable paste, made of finely minced cooked meat and liver, is a gourmet delight served on Easter Sunday and other festive occasions.

70. PĄCZKI, POLISH DOUGHNUTS (pączki): These yeast-raised doughnuts ar fried in hot lard or oil, cooled and filled with various fruit fillings. Favorite fillings include rose-petal or rose-hip jam, powidła and mixed forest fruits. A typical pre-Lenten treat.

71. PEA SOUP (grochówka): Yellow split peas are cooked in a smoked-meat stock with carrots and potatoes and seasoned with pepper and marjoram to make this hearty cold-weather soup.

72. PEPPER VODKA (pieprzówka): This super-easy tipple requires soaking a heaping teaspoon of peppercorns in a quart of 100 proof vodka for several months and shaking it from time to time. A potent upset-stomach remedy used by our immigrant ancestors against seasickness.

73. PICKLED MUSHROOMS (grzyby w occie): Different varieties of mushrooms, pickled in a marinade that is slightly sweet but mostly on the tart side, make an excellent relish to accompany cold starters.

74. PICKLED PLUMS (śliwki w occie): Italian plums (węgierki). pickled in a spicy, sweet & sour marinade, are a typical item on the Polish home-entertainment scene.

75. PIEROGI (pierogi): Dough pockets, filled with cheese, potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, ground cooked meat or fruit, are cooked in boiling  water. Depending on the filling, they may be garnished with pork nuggets, fried onions, sourcream or powdered  sugar.

76, PLUM BUTTER (powidła): This spread is made by cooking down ripe Italian plums (węgierki) into a thick jam or filling. Good on bread and naleśniki, to fill pączki and other pastries, also in meat dishes including bigos.

77. POPPYSEED ROLL CAKE: (makowiec, strucla z makiem): This rolled cake with poppyseed filling is a typical Christmas Eve treat.

78. POPPYSEED NOODLES (kluski z makiem): This typical sweet Christmas Eve dish besides crushed poppyseeds and egg noodles may also contain raisins and honey.

79. PORK CUTLETS (kotlety schabowe): This is one of the Poles’ favorite dishes. Boneless slices of fresh pork loin are pounded thin, breaded and fried to a nice golden brown. Often served with braised cabbage or sauerkraut – never apple sauce!

80. PORK HOCKS (golonka): Usually boiled or parboiled and baked and served with stewed sauerkraut or puréed yellow peas, this is a hearty, stick-.to-the-ribs meal that just begs for a stein of cold beer to wash it down.

81. PORK NUGGETS (skwarki): Diced pork fatback is fried up into crunchy, golden-brown nuggets for one of the favorite Polish toppings for potatoes, dumplings, noodles, groats, etc.

82. POTATOES, MASHED: (kartofle tłuczone): Polish cookery prefers plain mashed potatoes with no milk or butter added. The topping (butter, pork nuggets, drippings, gravy) adds more than enough richness to the potatoes.

83. POTATO PANCAKES (placki kartoflane/solemnization): Grated or shredded raw potatoes,  mixed with egg, a little flour and grated onion (optional) are fried in hot lard or oil until cooked through and crunchy.

84. POTATO  SAUSAGE (kiszka kartoflana/ziemniaczana): A mixture of grated raw potatoes, fried bacon bits and onions, seasoned  with marjoram, is stuffed into casing and oven-baked. A typical stick-to-the-ribs “po’ man’s” food.

85. RABBIT (królik): This extremely tasty and easy-to-digest white meat is usually stewed in sour  cream until tender. Often served with braised beets.

86. RASPBERRY CORDIAL (malinówka): This home-made tipple  can be made with fresh raspberries but in a pinch commercially available pure raspberry syrup will do.

87. RICE & APPLES (ryż z jabłkami): A kid-pleasing dessert casserole served in some families for Wigilia.:

88. ROAST CHICKEN POLONAISE (kurczę po polsku): A chicken is stuffed with a dressing made of milk-soaked white bread, ground chicken livers and eggs, seasoned with chopped fresh dill (never sage!) and roasted to perfection. This is traditonal Sunday dinner fare.

89. ROAST PORK LOIN & PRUNES (schab pieczony ze śliwkami): This delicious, classic Old Polish roast, seasoned with garlic, pepper and marjoram, is always a hit in Poland and Polonia alike.

90. ROAST TURKEY (indyk pieczony): Mainly reserved for festive occasions, it is usually stuffed and roasted. An interesting and tasty Polish turkey stuffing contains raisins, ground almonds, liver, eggs and bread crumbs.

91. SORREL SOUP (zupa szczawiowa): A spring and summer favorite is this creamy. tart soup made with fresh sorrel, a leafy, spinach-like veggie. It is traditionally served over hard-boiled egg halves.

92. SOUP VEGGIES (włoszczyzna): Most savory Polish soups traditionally include a portion of vegetables such as carrot, parsley root, celeriac and leek, occasionally also (wrinkly) Savoy cabbage..

93. SOUR CREAM (śmietana): Instead of milk, Polish cookery makes extensive use of this dairy product as a topping for pierogi, berries and other foods as well as to cream soups and sauces.

94. SOUR MILK (zsiadłe mleko): Homogenized milk does not sour well, but zsiadłe młeko is now widely available in many Polish groceries, markets and delis in the USA. Dilled new potatoes are a summer favorite served with cold sour milk in a soup bowl.

95. TOMATO SOUP (zupa pomidorowa): Made with tomato concentrate, puréed tomatoes or (in season) fresh tomatoes, this is one of the Poles’ favorite soups. A slim majority prefer it served over egg noodles while the remainder are partial to rice.

96. TRIPE SOUP (flaki, flaczki): This zesty, hearty soup contains cooked beef tripe, veggies  and often additional beef. It is seasoned with pepper, paprika nad marjoram.

97. VENISON & OTHER GAME (sarnina i inna dziczyzna): Once prized by the better-to-do classes in heavily forested Poland. Before being cooked, venison and other game requires a several-day soak in a spicy vinegar marinade to offset  its “gamey” off-flavors.

98. WHITE BARSZCZ  (biały barszcz).  Whole-wheat flour is fermented to make the basis of this tart, creamy soup served with hard-cooked eggs, kiełbasa and cubed farmer cheese. Like żurek (see below) it is a traditional dish served at Easter Sunday breakfast or brunch.

99. WHITE SAUSAGE (biała kiełbasa):  This term is used for raw, unsmoked and uncooked kiełbasa and it’s not really white but pinkish when raw and grayish or grayish-brown after being cooked. Some Poles eat it only once a year – on Easter Sunday.

100. ŻUREK, RYEMEAL SOUP (żurek): This is similar to biały barszcz (above) but is made from fermented rye flour. It is also served with hard-cooked eggs and sausage and seasoned with marjoram.                          *******