Category Archives: Polish

Chinese Cabbage Salad with Corn and Pickled Cucumber

When I was a teenager this simple salad was all the rage. I guess its popularity was first of all due to the new vegetable: Chinese/Napa cabbage. Even avowed lettuce haters liked its crunchiness, neutral sweetish taste and every home cook appreciated its long fridge life, its all-year availability, not to mention its low price. Some prepared this salad with vinaigrette, some with mayonnaise but my favourite sauce is a mixture of mayonnaise and yogurt with crushed fresh garlic. Though I prepare it all year round, I think of it as a typical winter salad: refreshing and light, but still quite filling.

After so many years I still love this salad and still wonder why the taste is so good because the ingredients are quite ordinary. The only explanation is a perfect combination of different flavours and textures: it’s crunchy (cabbage), sweet (corn), sour (pickled cucumber), with a slight pungency from the onion and the garlic and a creamy mayonnaise sauce finish. I always make sure to grind lots of black pepper for an awakening kick (actually I cannot imagine it without big amounts of pepper, no matter how weird it sounds…).

TIPS: If you want to transform this salad into a full meal, add some proteins such as cubes of hard cheese, hard-boiled eggs, ham, chicken breast or canned tuna.

I think salt-brined cucumbers are the best here, but if you cannot find them (they can be found in Polish, Russian or Ukrainian grocery shops, but I also find them in German organic shops), you can take the more international vinegared pickled cucumbers or even small cornichons. Do not use cucumbers pickled in a very sweet brine though. They must taste sour and sharp.

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves four as a side dish or two as a main course, if protein added (see TIPS above)):

1 small Chinese/Napa cabbage (bu small I mean weighing 1/2 kilo or about 1 lb)

1x 250 g (about oz) can of corn (or the equivalent of frozen/fresh and cooked for 5 minutes)

3 medium salt-brined or vinegar-pickled cucumbers

1 medium red onion (you can also use spring onion, but red onion looks nicer, I think)

mayonnaise or mayonnaise+yogurt (I use approx. 125 ml/ 1/2 cup of dressing)

2 medium garlic cloves, crushed

salt, pepper

Prepare the sauce with crushed garlic, salt, pepper, mayonnaise and yogurt (if using).

Chop the cabbage, slice finely the onion, cut up the cucumbers, drain and rinse the corn.

Give the salad a good stir and refrigerate.

If you don’t add the sauce immediately, the cut up vegetables will keep for several days (the sauce in a separate container too). It’s best to add the sauce one or two hours before serving; thus the flavours will mix better but don’t add the sauce as early as one day before.

Filo Rolls with Buckwheat (Groats) and Mushrooms

If you like Japanese soba noodles and don’t mind a typical coarse texture of certain grains, you might be tempted to test this combination of buckwheat and mushrooms in crisp thin layers of Greek filo rolls. I can only hope you will love the results as much as I did. If you have never tasted buckwheat, forget all the health benefits you have heard about (I know it puts some people off…) and see it as I do: just another delicious fuss-free carb, versatile enough to go with Greek pastry or spicy Korean meals.

I know many people put it in the same bag as quinoa or other recent wonder food discoveries, but in countries where buckwheat groats/grains have been eaten for generations (Ukraine or Poland, for example) it’s simply an alternative to rice, potatoes, pasta or bread. The traditional method is to toast the grains before selling them and I advise against the non-toasted version (see the TIPS below). In Poland it’s eaten mainly with meat or mushrooms (or both) in sauce, but sometimes also as a filling in dumplings; I guess there are also some regional dishes I’m not aware of. I grew up eating buckwheat quite regularly topped with meat in sauce and I’m pretty sure my mum never insisted on it as being healthy (the way she did with some vegetables…). This attitude made me appreciate buckwheat the way it is: beautifully nutty scented, strong-flavoured carb that nowadays reminds me at the same time of Polish and Japanese cuisines (a curious and rare coincidence!).

It might be seen as a step too far by some of my dear visitors, but I see buckwheat most of all as a nice change from rice in many Asian dishes. After many experiments I realised it’s more versatile than I thought! I find it perfect with spicy Korean dishes, such as bibimbap or the Chicken Simmered in Gochujang Sauce. It’s also delicious when replacing… rice in fried rice! Because of its nutty strong flavours, it pairs perfectly with mushrooms, such as in this Japanese-inspired eringi and teriyaki version.

When experimenting with buckwheat never forget a sauce (either served on top, aside or mixed into the dish) because buckwheat is very dry. I have served these rolls with the spicy Gochujang and Sour Cream/Yogurt sauce and it was just perfect:

Gochujang and Sour Cream Sauce

This Greek Yogurt with Caramelised Onion would be fantastic too:

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

or this Bulgarian cousin of tzatziki:

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

I have posted two other buckwheat recipes, both very easy, so in case you want to explore other options…

Eringi and Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: If you have never had buckwheat, make sure you buy a toasted version (the colour is medium to dark brown, while the non-toasted is light greenish), which is the traditional one and which has these unique wonderful nutty flavours. The non-toasted one is bland, softer and, just like many people who grew up with toasted buckwheat, I hated the non-toasted form when discovered accidentally in a health food aisle in Switzerland.

Cooking buckwheat is not difficult, but follow the below instructions because it quickly becomes mushy and inedible. The result should be dry and crunchy.

Do not omit fresh parsley! It suits perfectly the mushroom and buckwheat mixture.

Make sure you have another sheet or two of filo pastry just in case… The mushrooms might lose more or less water and you might want to put more or less filling in each roll.

If, on the other hand, you have leftover filling, you can add some vegetables, even some meat leftovers, and prepare it like stir-fried rice, adding some soy sauce, putting a poached or fried egg on top…

The soy sauce is not obligatory. You can add some more salt to taste or nothing.

Preparation: about 1h30

Ingredients (serves two if eaten with a salad as a main course):

6 – 7 sheets of filo pastry (make sure you have one or two more, just in case you have more filling to use up)

250 g (about 1/2 lb) button mushrooms 

200 ml (about 6.8 oz) uncooked toasted buckwheat groats + 1/2 teaspoon salt

6 big European shallots (or 2 medium onions)

6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or 3 tablespoons normal soy sauce (I use Japanese soy sauce, but if you use Chinese, choose the light coloured one)

a handful of chopped fresh parsley

ground pepper

thick creamy sauce (such as the above gochujang sauce)

oil for stir-frying and for brushing the rolls (you can use melted butter to brush the rolls)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leaving the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too.

As soon as it’s absorbed, don’t uncover the pan and put it aside keeping it warm, for example wrapped in a blanket, though in this dish you use the buckwheat cold, so simply don’t lift the cover and prepare the rest of the filling.

Chop the shallots and the mushrooms.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan and stir fry the shallots at medium heat.

Put the shallots into a big bowl.

Stir-fry the mushrooms in another tablespoon of oil until they start losing volume, season them with salt and add to the shallots.

Finally add the buckwheat groats, the soy sauce and the chopped parsley.

Season with freshly ground pepper and combine all the filling ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of the filling (5-6 heaped tablespoons per sheet).

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

(You can also cut the filo sheets in two and make smaller rolls; this is what I did obtaining the tiny size of rolls you see above).

Brush the top of the rolls with some oil or melted butter, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until slightly golden (about 30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.

Since the filling is dry, make sure you don’t forget a sauce!

Meat Patties with Dill

kotlety_zkopDill has been growing like crazy on my balcony, so use it now several times a week. Luckily, it’s one of my favourite herbs, so I cannot complain. Patties were probably among the most frequent dishes my mum cooked. I don’t think she has ever made them with dill, but she would sprinkle dill on top of most dishes (a typical culinary gesture in Poland), especially in spring and summer. This gave me the idea to add the dill to the meat mixture (though of course I didn’t skip the sprinkling final touch either!). The result makes them taste lighter, more refreshing, more summery… and actually quite original in the world of meat patties. Serve them with a yogurt-based sauce for a perfect hot weather meal.

Throughout the years I have slightly changed even the basic meat patties making procedure. First of all, I don’t add raw onion, like my mum did, but stir-fried one (I have found this improvement at Nami’s Just One Cookbook; thank you so much, Nami!!!). Secondly, I make smaller patties (my mum’s have a size of my hand), which cook quicker and are juicier without excessively fatty meat. Last, but not least, I find brushing the patties juste before serving with a mixture of soy sauce and sake, a fantastic flavours enhancer, whatever the seasoning and whatever side dishes I have.

TIPS: These patties taste great with tzatziki, Indian raita or similar yogurt-based sauces/dips.

Here are some other dill use ideas:

Bulgarian Dill Salad (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad (Dry Tarator)

Pickled Dill Cucumber

Pickled Dill Cucumber

Moomins' Pickled Cucumber Salad

Moomins’ Pickled Cucumber Salad

Polish Brined Cucumber Soup

Polish Brined Cucumber Soup

Preparation: about 40 min – 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main course, if served with some carbs, such as potatoes):

500 g ground beef+pork or pork or beef+pork+veal (beef alone becomes too tough)

1 egg

aprrox. 5 heaped tablespoons breadcrumbs (you can use Japanese panko) or 1 slice of toast bread soaked in milk or water and then well squeezed

oil to pan fry

1 medium onion or 3 medium shallots

salt, pepper

1 big handful finely chopped dill (discard only the thick…) + some for decoration

(soy sauce+sake, mixed, to brush over the patties before serving)

In a big bowl combine the meat, the salt, the pepper, the dill, the raw egg and the breadcrumbs.

(If you think the mixture is not thick enough to form patties, add more bread crumbs or soak a small bit of bread (don’t put too much bread/crumbs! it might change the taste and also make them tough).)

Put aside.

In the meantime chop the onion finely and stir-fry until golden.

Add to the meat mixture.

If you have time, you can leave the meat, covered, in the fridge for several hours. This will improve the flavours. However, it’s not necessary and you can proceed directly with frying.

Heat some oil in a pan. Form the patties with wet hands and pan-fry at medium heat, covered, until they are well cooked (because of the pork). It usually takes about 15 minutes for each batch. Covering the pan accelerates the process.

Brush the patties with soy sauce just before serving.

Serve sprinkled with dill and preferably with a yogurt-based sauce.

 

 

 

Polish Salt-Brined Cucumber Soup with Coconut Milk

cuc_souppAs soon as I wrote the title of this post I realised that probably for the majority of my dear readers salt-brined cucumber sounds much more unusual than coconut milk, but I was so pleasantly surprised to see how such geographically distant products go well together, I decided to post this international version. Anyway, whether it’s coconut milk or the traditional cow’s cream, this is one of the most delicious soups I know and I hope some of you will be tempted to make it. Maybe due to its tanginess or maybe due to the refreshing presence of the dill, I consider it a perfect springtime dish.

Since it’s a very popular soup, every Polish cook has her/his own method. I have based the instructions below on my mum’s recipe with, as always, my own slight modifications, including a lightened option (see the TIPS). I have experimented here with coconut milk instead of adding the traditional cow’s cream, but both options are equally delicious. Though not heavy at all, it’s a nourishing soup with potatoes, so, depending on the amounts served, it can be considered as a full meal (you can serve it with bread).

TIPS: Salt-brined cucumbers are fermented/pickled in a mixture of salt and water, with herbs and spices. They become sour, but not as harsh as vinegared ones. They are also relatively healthy (they have vitamin C, absent in raw untransformed cucumber), unless they contain too much salt of course. They cannot be replaced with vinegared pickles. Apart from Polish, Russian and Ukrainian shops, salt-brined cucumbers can be found in some German or Austrian shops too and I know they are also sold in “normal” organic grocery shops. Not to mention online sources.

If you cannot find fresh or frozen dill, forget this recipe (I must be very strict here because without dill it’s just not the same soup, while dried dill is almost as useless here as dried basil in a caprese salad…). It’s used here in big amounts, so its presence is very important. If dill is not used in your country’s traditional cooking, you might still find it at farmers’ markets and even in some Asian shops (I see it regularly in my Vietnamese/Thai shop). The good news is chopped fill freezes very well, so if your farmers market or Asian shop is far away, buy a big bunch, chop it and freeze. (It also grows very very easily from seeds, even on a window sill). Dill is also very popular in Greek cuisine, so you will find many ways to use your frozen batch.

I always remove fat from my stock, so here, once the stock was ready, strained it and put into the fridge. After several hours the fat will solidify at the top and thus will be easy to remove. You don’t have to follow this procedure of course!

Preparation: minimum 3 hours (depends on the choice of meat and fat removal or not, see TIPS)

Ingredients (serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a starter):

2 chicken legs (I prefer skinned) or the equivalent of other meat (pork/beef), preferably with bone

4 big salt-brined cucumbers (see the TIPS)

leek leaves

1 big carrot+1 to be added at the end

1/4 celeriac (or 2 stalks celery)

(optional, but worth looking for: 1 small parsley root)

4 medium potatoes

salt, pepper

coconut milk/cream or cow’s liquid cream (2-3 tablespoons per person)

1 big bunch of fresh or frozen dill

Put the meat, the leek leaves, the carrot, the celeriac and parsley root (if you can get it) into a big pan. Cover with water, add some salt and simmer, covered, until the meat falls off the bone (the time depends on the meat, but it’s minimum 3 hours to make sure the stock has deep flavours).

In the meantime grate the salt-brined cucumber (vegetable grater, not the one with smallest holes). Do not throw away the brine! You might discover you prefer your soup even more sour and add it later on.

Place the grated cucumber into a small pan, cover with water and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Put aside.

Once the stock is ready (or rather the meat is tender enough), remove the meat and the carrot. Strain the stock and throw out the remaining cooked vegetables (unless you like them).

Here you can either refrigerate the stock in order to remove fat (see TIPS above) or continue the preparation without the fat removal.

Remove the bones and cut up the meat into bite-sized pieces.

Cut up the cooked carrot and grate the raw one.

Peel the potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Put back the stock into the pan, add the potatoes and cook until soft.

Then add the grated cucumber, the meat, the carrots and let it simmer for about five minutes.

Adjust the taste with freshly ground pepper, salt and, if you find the soup not tangy enough, add some of the brine from cucumbers.

Just before serving chop some dill to every plate, add a splash of cream or coconut milk and serve.

Winter Salad with Salt-Brined Cucumber, Leek and Apple

leek_cuc_saladpSomehow, even though lettuce is available throughout the year, I rarely have it in winter (while I can have prepare a green salad sometimes every other day in the summer!). At this time of the year I often need more crunch, more texture in cold side-dishes and this one is a good example. This salad is based on one of the many versions of the Polish salt-brined cucumber and leek salad, usually prepared during cold months. Vinegar-pickled cucumbers can be used here too, but I prefer salt-brined ones which are a typical source of vitamin C in the winter and have less “violent” flavours. The super light sauce is barely perceptible, but I think a good dose of freshly ground black pepper is an important taste improvement.

TIPS: Some people find eating raw onions or leek difficult. If it’s your case, after slicing it, sprinkle with salt, rub with your fingers and leave for about 15 minutes and then rinse. It should make it milder.

Salt-brined cucumber can be found in Polish, Russian or Ukrainian shops, but I regularly buy it also in Germany (in an organic shop), so look for it in organic shops too. The visual difference of the jar is that vinegar-pickled cucumber’s brine is clear while the salt brine is a bit muddy at the bottom and not perfectly clear.

If you cannot find salt-brined cucumber, you can use vinegar-pickled, but rather the milder ones which have a low vinegar content (more sugar and more water). I’m not sure if the amount shouldn’t be cut down in this case… it depends how strong they are.

If you have fresh dill or parsley, they suit this salad, but are not very important.

Since salt-brined cucumber is already salty, I don’t add any more salt, but you can add it of course to the sauce if you wish (or if you use vinegar-pickled cucumber).

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves two-three as a side-dish):

1 big apple (I prefer rather the tangier varieties)

1 medium leek (the white and light green part only)

3 big salt-brined cucumbers

Sauce:

2 tablespoons good quality oil (it can be any neutrally tasting oil or olive oil)

1 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine/cider vinegar

freshly ground pepper

(fresh dill or parsley leaves)

Cut the leek in half lengthwise and then slice it.

If you have problems with raw leek, sprinkle with salt, rub with your fingers and leave for about 15 minutes. Rinse it. (It should make the taste milder.)

Cut up the remaining vegetables, coat in the sauce and season with freshly ground pepper just before serving.