Poles Adopt The Potato and Make it Their Own!

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There are so many recipes and uses for the potato in Poland you would think that this was the country it originated in.

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There are dozens upon dozens of recipes for potatoes, as part of a meal where it is very recognisable as potato such as when boiled or mashed, as a pancake or as a dumpling, or cold in a salad, or hot in Polish potato soup. As well as that potato starch is used as a thickener in savoury and sweet dishes and to make cakes and pastries. Potatoes have also been used to make  wódkavodka and often  samogonka -home brew vodka.

The potato plant originated in the Andes mountains of South America and was cultivated by the Incas. The part we eat is the tuber, which stores starches and sugars, of the plant Solanum tuberosum.  It is related to the deadly nightshade and the tomato (also from South America)

The Spanish Conquistadors came into contact  with the potato in around 1537 and it came across the Atlantic to Europe in around 1570.

King Jan III Sobieski grew potatoes on his estates in the 17th century – from tubers he sent back after the Battle of Vienna which was in 1683.

In the 18th century around 1760 – King August III – had potatoes on his estates and it became a fashionable vegetable.

Potatoes became part of the diet alongside kasza – porridge/groats/grits – made from buckwheat, barley or millet.

There are two words for potato in Polish – kartofel  and  ziemniak

Kartofel  is from the German word kartoffel – this was the word my parents used.  This German word itself comes from the Italian word tartufuli which means truffle like, whereas the Italian word for potato is patata.

Ziemniak  comes from the word ziemia which means earth or ground – so ziemniak means something which is from the earth – this word seems to be more popular nowadays.

The potato is well suited to grow in cold  waterlogged and often frozen  soil – which is often the case in Poland.

Care must be taken when storing potatoes so they do not  get frozen or the starches change to sugars and the potatoes will quickly go rotten.  I remember my father saying that that they stored potatoes in pits in the ground in their barn.

In post World War 2, Poland has became one of the top three potato producers in the world.

Look out for many future posts with potato recipes – below is a preview of some of the photographs

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Ogórki – Gherkins

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Gherkins are cucumbers that have been fermented in brine or pickled with vinegar.

Botanically cucumbers are fruit although they are a vegetables from the culinary point of view.

In Polish the word ogórki means cucumbers.

Kiszone ogórki  means  fermented cucumbers –  either in brine or vinegar.

Letnie ogórki means summer cucumbers – which are  fresh salad cucumbers.

The Latin name for the cucumber is Cucumis sativus and it is a member of the gourd family and so related to pumpkins and melons.

It is thought the plant originated in India and then was taken to Greece and from there to northern Europe.

I have read that the making of pickles by fermenting in brine is over 4,000 years old.  This would preserve vegetables throughout the winter – well before the days of frozen food and supermarkets!

A quick look at the journey of the word  – Gherkin – according to several dictionary sources.

This is a word that started in Greece and travelled to England & America via Poland, Germany and The Netherlands.

Angourion – Medieval Greek for cucumber.

Ogórek – Polish for cucumber

Gurke – German for cucumber

Augurk – Dutch for a brined or pickled cucumber

Gherkin  – English for a brined or pickled cucumber

In Poland, July & August  are the main months for making gherkins at home and once when I was there at that time in my relatives’ houses every container seemed to have been put into use for a stage in their production.

Everyone has their own special recipe using brine and sometimes vinegar with the addition of garlic and herbs and spices – the most often used is the flower head of the dill plant – hence we get dill pickles.  Some methods are very quick taking just a few days others take longer.

The type of cucumber used is a different variety than the salad cumber it is shorter, fatter, often knobbier and has a lower water content.

I cannot at the moment give you a good recipe for making gherkins as I have rarely seen the right variety of cucumbers for sale in England – maybe now with more Polish shops I might see some next year and try out some recipes.

The bought gherkins I like are the Polish Krakus ones.

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Another type I like are ones you can buy in Lidl – these are made with sugar and vinegar and are sliced lengthways – they have only a slight vinegar taste and are sweet – I do not like the very vinegary kind.

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There are many uses of gherkins in Polish cookery – the most famous must be gherkin soup  – which I just love – but that recipe I will cover later once I start to write about soups.

Of course gherkins – form part of many salads.

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Gherkins Sliced Lengthways – a very simple salad

Gherkin and Tomato  Salad

Ingredients

3 or 4 Gherkins – cut into discs

4 or 5 Tomatoes- cut into half & then thinly sliced

1 small onion – finely chopped

Flat-leaved parsley  – finely chopped – to garnish

Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

In a bowl mix  together the gherkins, tomatoes and onions.

Sprinkle with a little salt and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the gherkin jar (if none is available then use some lemon juice) and mix again.

Place into a serving dish and sprinkle with chopped flat leaved parsley and freshly ground black pepper.

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Tomato Salad

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The  tomato is botanically the fruit of Solanum lycopersicum, although from a culinary point of view it is a vegetable.

It belongs to the deadly nightshade family as does the potato.

The tomato plant originated in the Andes in South America and tomatl was the name  in the Nahuatl language give to it by the Aztec people, which then became tomate and then tomato in English.

The tomato was brought over to Europe by the Conquistadors in the late 15th Century.

The original fruits were yellow hence the Italian name pomodoro (pomo d’oro – apple of gold).

When the Italian princess, who became Queen Bona of Poland on her marriage to King Zygmunt the Old, came to Poland with her chefs in the 16th Century , the tomato was introduced to the Polish diet.

Tomato in Polish is pomidor – so you can see or rather hear its Italian root.

Home grown tomatoes are of course the best, however here in the North of England I have not had much success in growing them outdoors.

To get the best flavour from tomatoes it is best NOT to keep them in the refrigerator.

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Keep your tomatoes at room temperature

A simple tomato salad is served in Poland, always it seemed to me with the addition of onions, chives or the green part of spring onion.  For many it is standard fare for breakfast with cold meats or Polish curd cheese.

Ingredients

Tomatoes – thinly sliced into whole rounds if small or halved if large.

Half an onion – finely chopped  or

Chives or the green part of spring onions  – finely chopped

Lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

Arrange the tomato slices on a plate

Squeeze a little lemon juice over them

Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them

Garnish with onion or chives

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Chives & Spring Onions

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Tomato Salad with Onions
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Tomato Salad with Chives
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Salads for Breakfast
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Tomato Salad, Curd Cheese & Rye Bread – Typical Breakfast Fare

Cabbage Salad

Fresh cabbage features in many salads in Poland, the following much loved version can be made throughout the year.

In English the word coleslaw is used for a cabbage salad – this word is from the Dutch koolsla –  kool – cabbage,  sla – salad.

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Ingredients

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I like to use Light or Original

1 or 2 carrots

Hard white cabbage – around a quarter or half a medium one

1 eating apple – red skinned is nice for colour

1 onion – I like to use a red one for colour

Mayonnaise

Lemon juice – optional

Salt & pepper to taste

Method

I always start by grating the carrot using a large grater and then cut the cabbage into fine strands so that I have equal quantities of orange and white.  Put these into a large mixing bowl.

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I find that 1 carrot is often enough for the amount I need. In the photo below 2 carrots were used to make a larger amount of salad.

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Chop the onion into small pieces and add this to the bowl.

Grate the apple including the skin and add this to the bowl.

Add several tablespoons of mayonnaise and mix well to coat the mixture.

You might want to add a little lemon juice to make the mayonnaise a little thinner.

Add some salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with cold smoked Polish style meats or sausage or with a hot roast or casserole as a good contrast.

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Smetana – Soured Cream – A Classic Polish Salad Dressing

Smetana – Soured Cream – must be one of the most used salad dressings in Poland.

Soured cream is used  just on its own and sometimes if it is thick or because they like it that way people will add lemon juice to make it more runny.

I am going to write about the three classic salads which will have soured cream on them.

Mizeria

Legend has it that this salad was beloved by Queen Bona, the Italian princess, who married King Zygmunt 1 in the early part of the 16th Century.

She is famous for bringing her chefs and a variety of vegetables to Poland  and many vegetables names in Polish have Italian roots.

The word mizeria comes from the Latin meaning misery.  It is said that this salad made the Queen homesick for Italy.  I can understand the cucumber – not sure about the soured cream – but that is the story.

It certainly is a delicious cooling salad for a hot day.

I was talking with one of my Polish friends earlier last week and I said that I was going to write about mizeria and she said “Oh there were 20 people for dinner yesterday and I made a huge bowl of mizeria – it was delicious and it  was all eaten!”

It is the salad that everyone loves to make in the summer and it is so easy.

Ingredients

Just – Cucumber, Soured Cream and a little salt.

Option extras

Lemon juice added to the soured cream.

Some people add little bit of icing sugar.

Dill or chives as a garnish.

Take a cucumber and peel off the skin. If the skin is thin then sometimes I do not peel it all off,  just stripes so that you have a nice pattern later of dark and pale green.

Cut the cucumber into thin slices and put them into a bowl

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Lightly salt the cucumber.

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Add several spoonfuls of soured cream to the cucumber and mix them together, you want to coat most of the slices.

Sprinkle with a garnish of chopped dill or chives if desired and serve.

This is delicious with Polish style smoked meats and sausage and also with  hot roast meats as a lovely contrast.

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Mizeria Garnished with Dill
Dill
Dill

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Mizeria Garnished with Chives

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note

This is best made with  young fresh cucumbers in summer.  However now that you can get greenhouse grown cucumbers all year round I sometimes find that they are a bit old and woody,  if this is the case I would remove the seed area – this is best done by cutting the cucumber lengthwise in two and removing the seeds by pulling a teaspoon down the seedy middle. Then you can slice the cucumber as before.

Some cooks salt the sliced cucumber and leave this for about half an hour and then discard the liquid before adding the soured cream.   I do not usually do this unless I am making it for serving at a much later time.

Radish Salad

Ingredients

Radish and Soured Cream.

Chives or Spring onions to garnish.

Prepare the radishes by removing the hairy roots and stalks.

Thinly slice the radishes.

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Put the radish slices in a bowl and add several tablespoons of soured cream (thinned with lemon juice it desired).

Garnish with chives or the green part of spring onions, finely chopped.

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I love the way the radish skin colour seeps into the soured cream after a while and makes it pale pink.

Lettuce Salad

This is the most simple salad you can make – just use lettuce leaves pulled off from the head of lettuce, wash and dry them using a tea towel or a salad spinner  and add several tablespoons of soured cream (thinned with lemon juice it desired) and mix them together.

Garnish with a few chives if you have them and serve.

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Polish Salads – All Year Round – Both Raw and Cooked

Sałata is the Polish word for lettuce.

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Sałatka is the Polish word  my parents used for salad.

However when I visited Poland for the first time I realised that there is another word for salad and that is – Surówka.

Surówka – this come from a Polish word meaning raw.

There is a distinction between the two in that a sałatka is a dish served cold of mainly cooked vegetables and a surówka is a dish served cold of mainly raw, pickled or fermented vegetables.

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Some ingredients for salads for sale

As it is hard in English to differentiate between the two – I will be writing about many classic cold Polish vegetable dishes and will be calling them all salads.

Fruit, cold meats, fish, either cooked or pickled, and hard boiled eggs also feature in these salads.

A salad accompaniment with a meal is often more usual than hot cooked vegetables and a tomato or gherkin salad is normal fare for breakfast.

Vegetables that have been pickled, fermented, bottled or canned will feature throughout the year at least once a day in Polish meals.  Before widespread refrigeration this is how people preserved food for use throughout  the winter.

Old Polish houses always had cellars, the Polish word is piwnica, from the word piwo which means beer so it means the place where beer is kept.  The ones I have seen in Poland were filled with bottled fruit and vegetables as well as jams, ready to make meals and salads throughout the year.  In blocks of flats there is still in the basement level, cellar space for each flat.

My aunties said they could not imagine life without a cellar. Their cellars were filled with many jars of bottled paprika that they had prepared – what in England we call peppers or capsicums,  various mixed vegetables, cranberries and lingonberries.

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Paprika – Capsicum – Pepper

I am very lucky in having  two cellars in my house and spent a week in spring this year organising them – including an area for tinned and bought bottled vegetables ready for making salads amongst other things.

Cellar – Mainly for Food

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Cellar – Mainly for Drinks

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Salad dressings

Three of the most popular salad dressings used are:

Lemon Juice

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One of my cousins came to visit me a couple of weeks ago and brought me this lovely, large, glass lemon squeezer.

If lemons are scarce or expensive or for convenience in Poland you can buy packets of citric acid which you can mix up with water.

Smetana – Soured Cream

Nowadays you can find soured cream in many English stores but if there is none then lemon juice added to fresh single cream will give nearly the same result.

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Mayonnaise

Although I have made mayonnaise, I tend to buy it now and my favourite is Hellmann’s – original or light (the very low fat version I think is horrid as it has a  strange taste and texture). Sometimes if making the salad ahead of time I think the original is a bit better as it does not get as watery from the vegetables but mostly I use the light version.

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Vegetables waiting to be made into salads

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Salad Garnishes

Garnishes  are chopped fine and sprinkled on the top of the dish of salad,  these are often: flat leafed parsley, dill, chives, the green part of spring onions and hard boiled eggs.  If none of these are available ground paprika might sometimes be sprinkled on the salad.

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Spring Onions and Chives

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Dill Garnish
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Chopped Hard Boiled Eggs

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Yoghurt and Yoghurt Cheese

Soured Milk – is the fermented milk product that is found in Northern Europe, especially in Poland.  It forms naturally from bacteria in fresh milk  and these bacteria live happily in colder climates.

When we used to have farm milk at home my mother made soured milk all the time and then also made twaróg – Polish curd cheese from this. However you cannot make soured milk from pasteurised milk (of course you can in a dairy where they will have the starters).

My mother had this on the go all the time, mainly to make the curd cheese which is used in lots of Polish recipes – savoury and sweet.

Yoghurt – is the fermented milk product that is found in Southern Europe and the Middle East.  It forms naturally from bacteria in fresh milk and these bacteria live happily in warmer climates.

You could say that yoghurt is soured milk’s cousin.

It is a relatively new dairy product for sale in Poland but is now very popular.

You can make yoghurt at home because you can use some bought yoghurt as a starter and then continue using your yoghurt as a starter and so on.

I go through phases of making yoghurt – it is easy to do – you just need a little bit of time and a supply of milk and some bought yoghurt as a starter.

Two Very Good Books

The Yoghurt Book Food of the Gods by Arto der Haroutunian – first published in 1983.

Mine is an old copy.  I think it might be out of print but there are second hand copies available for sale  eg on Amazon.

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Eat Well The YoChee Way by Nikki & David Goldbeck – 2001

This book is American & YoChee is the authors name for yoghurt cheese.

My Method For Making Yoghurt

  • I use a wide-necked vacuum flask, it holds about 750 ml (it must be wide necked or you will have difficulties cleaning it). I fill it with boiling water to sterilise it and heat it up. I leave this with the water in whilst the milk is cooling down – then I pour out the water and add the yoghurt mix.  I often make this at night and it is ready  in the morning. You can make it in the morning and it should be ready in the evening.

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  • Now that milk is pasteurised you need a yoghurt starter, Greek yoghurt is good, once you have made some of your own, you can then use that to start the next batch.
  • You need milk –  you can use whole milk or semi skimmed – you can use skimmed milk but I prefer the others.
  • I have a tall milk pan which is very useful as there is height for the milk to rise without spilling all over the cooker top.

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  • Bring the milk to the boil and then let it cool to 37 to 40 degrees o C, if you dip in a finger tip it must feel just lukewarm, no hotter than body temperature, and you should be able to keep your finger there for a count of 10 without it being too hot or you can use a cook’s thermometer.  This is important, too hot will kill the bacteria, too cold may not be warm enough for the bacteria to grow.
  • Mix a large tablespoon of yoghurt into the milk, about 1 tablespoon to 500ml of milk.
  • You then have to leave the mixture in a warm place to grow.
  • You can put the mixture in a clean, sterilized with boiling water, bowl and cover this with a cloth and leave it overnight  or about 12 hours. This is the easiest method in the summer or if you have a warm but not too hot spot in the house.
  • I empty the hot water from my vacuum flask and pour in the milk & yoghurt mixture,  put on the stopper and the lid and leave for around 10 hours.
  • I have used a thermostatically controlled yoghurt maker in the past and you put the mixture into little pots and left them.  I found this did not make much yoghurt in one go and there was a lot to clean out and sterilise. I started to use the vacuum flask method and have stayed with that but some of the new electric makers now have just one large pot and I think they may be easier to use.
  • Once it is made, pour it into a bowl or tub and refrigerate the yoghurt,  it tastes so much better and fresher that any bought ones.  I bought some plastic food storage tubs with lids specially for this.

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At this point you can start again and when you have loads you will start to think “maybe I will make some yoghurt cheese from this” and on it goes!

With the yoghurt, sometimes I eat it plain, or use it instead of milk with muesli or other cereals, dried fruits and nuts. Mostly though I add fruit to it, chopped fresh fruit sprinkled with a bit of icing sugar, stewed fruit or tinned fruit. I love it with stewed prunes! It is super with just a spoonful of runny honey.  Sometimes I use it as a salad dressing on its own or mixed with mayonnaise.

Making Yoghurt Cheese

Also known  as YoChee  and in the Middle East as labna  or labneh.

Traditional Method

The yoghurt cheese is made by putting  yoghurt into a muslin cloth and tying it up and letting the whey drain off from the curds. This will take many hours and is best done in a cool place.

Modern Straining Method

I bought a little device from Lakeland Plastics which is a modern version of the hanging muslin cloth. It is a plastic tub with a stainless steel fine mesh sieve which hangs in the box.  You then put on a plastic lid and then put the tub in the fridge.

I leave this to strain for at least 24 hours  – often up to 48 hours.

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Sometimes I buy a 1kg tub of Greek yoghurt to make the cheese if  I do not have any of my own – this is more than enough for the tub.

Yoghurt Cheese as it comes out of the pot.

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It is a soft, fresh tasting cheese.

I eat it uncooked either plain or with chopped onions, chives or garlic, with chopped dates and banana or jam and so on, the list is endless.

I use yoghurt cheese in Polish recipes instead of twaróg – Polish curd cheese  to make baked cheesecake or Polish style ravioli with either sweet curd cheese or savoury with potatoes, onions and curd cheese and much, much more.

I would use this home made cheese within a week as it does not of course have the shelf life of commercially, often vacuum packed, cheeses. 

This morning for breakfast I had some freshly made yoghurt cheese on toast with some morello cherry jam which my friend had made a couple of weeks ago from cherries growing on her allotment.

It was delicious!

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The cheese is wonderful with other slightly tart jams such as blackcurrant or damson.

By the Way – Whey is a useful by-product

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Tub of whey you can keep in the fridge.

The liquid whey that is in the bottom of the tub can be saved and used instead of water, milk or buttermilk in making scones and soda bread etc or you can add it to soups.