The Polish: A People Obsessed with Comfort Food

This week I’m getting back to what I love best: Creating dishes from old cookbooks. In this case, my dad lent me a parish cookbook from when he was a wee one. (Thanks, Dad!) I think most of us have one or two of these cookbooks kicking around. They’re those lovely fund-raising numbers that women across the country have been compiling for decades.

My dad’s is from his early elementary school days. It’s called Recipe Treasury from St. Cunegunda Church. (And, yes, I can never quite say St. Cunegunda without thinking of naughty bits/acts that also begin with “cun.”) I did some research on our lovely saint. And, she was a weird one. She came from a long line of holy women. Her aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, hangs in my living room (well, a representation of her… that would just be gross if I had dead saints hanging on my walls). She married a Polish prince who later became a king. Interestingly enough, when they took their marriage vows, they also took vows of celibacy. (So much for the naughty acts.) They were married for 40 or so years—which is a long time especially back in the 1200s. She gave away all of her possessions before she died, since (obviously) she didn’t have any children.

OK, enough about St. Chastity. I enjoy cooking out of these kinds of cookbooks because not only does it give you a snapshot of what people were really eating at home when the book was published, but they are usually pretty easy recipes. Since St. Cunegunda’s parish was a Polish one, I didn’t have to dig far to find a few Polish gems.

For the record, I’m half Polish. Unfortunately, my Polish grandmother was not really known for her work in the kitchen. (One of my favorite dishes that she made was creamed corn. Open can, warm in pot.) So, I’m at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to preparing Polish food. I love it. But that’s probably because Polish food is the very definition of comfort food: Heavy on the meat, potatoes, and creams. Light on anything that’s the least bit healthy. And, so we begin:

Pierogi

  • 2 C flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ t salt
  • ⅓ C water

Mound flour on counter and make well in the center. Drop eggs and salt into well. Add water; working from the center with one hand, keep the flour mounded with the other hand. Knead until dough is firm and well mixed. (A few helpful hints from me: Beat the eggs before pouring them into the well. Work the eggs/salt in a bit before adding the water or else you’re going to get a run-away mess.) Cover dough with a warm bowl; let rest 10 minutes. (I put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a towel, and let it rest on the stove top since I had the oven on.) On a floured surface, using half of the dough at a time, roll as thin as possible. Cut out 3″ rounds with a large biscuit cutter. (Another helpful hint: This dough will get tough pretty fast, so don’t over knead or over roll.)

  • ⅓ C onion, chopped
  • 1 T butter
  • 1½ C sauerkraut, finely chopped (we used ours straight from the jar)
  • 2 T dairy sour cream (as opposed to what other kind of sour cream, I wonder)

Mix filling ingredients together. Place small spoonful of filling a little to one side on each round of dough.

Pierogi with filling being added

Thanks to my sister for being the hand model (and for filling all of these bad boys).

Moisten (I hate that word) edge with water. Folder over and press edges together firmly.

Sealing the pierogi

Be sure they are well sealed to prevent filling from leaking out.

Finished pierogi but for the cooking

See how messy this business is?

Drop pierogi into boiling salty water. Cook gently for 3-5 minutes or until they float. Lift out with perforated spoon.

Results

Like I said, the dough was a bit chewy. Also, it has a tendency to dry out so be sure to work quickly. But, they tasted pretty darn good with a dollop of sour cream.

Pierogi all cooked up and ready to eat.

Done but for the eating of them.

Stuffed Cabbage

Also known as Gołąbki (pronounced gowumpki… don’t you love Polish?)

  • 1 medium-sized head of cabbage
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ½ lb ground beef
  • ½ lb ground pork
  • 1 C cooked rice (so, ½ C uncooked and then cook it)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ t pepper
  • 1 can tomato soup (don’t use low-sodium… I did and the finished portion definitely needed more salt)
  • Water
  • Toothpicks

Preheat oven to 350°. Remove core from cabbage. Scald cabbage in boiling water, removing a few leaves at a time as they wilt. (Conversely, it’s probably easier to remove the leaves and just blanch them in the boiling water. But, hey, I had fun trying to peel off cabbage leaves with a pair of tongs.) Cool leaves. When leaves become very small, remove cabbage and reserve for another use. (I dare not think what other uses this woman had for boiled cabbage.)

Stir together onion, beef, pork, rice, egg, salt, and pepper. (I found it easiest just to mush with my hands.) Spread each cabbage leaf with two tablespoons of mixture (I didn’t measure. I just eye-balled it.) Fold opposite sides and roll from one of the open ends. Secure with toothpicks

Place cabbage rolls fold side down in a large roaster or skillet. Stir together tomato soup and two cans of water and pour over cabbage rolls. Cover. Place in oven for 2 hours. Cook until rolls are very tender.

Results

The whole two hour thing kind of threw me for a loop. My mother makes a similar recipe (that she received from her friend’s Polish mother), and she suggested using less beef and more pork or veal in the filling. This will yield a more tender filling once cooked. Although this version is good, I will admit to a bit of chew on the inside. Also, mine weren’t nearly as neat as my mom’s (and she’s not even Polish… sigh).

Stuffed cabbage in sauce

All nestled in the tomato soup

Polish Poppy Seed Cake

Note: Don’t eat this one before any sort of work-related drug testing. Just saying.

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 C flour
  • 2 C cooking oil (the recipe suggests Mazola, but canola or any other veggie oil will do)
  • 1 can poppy seeds (I have no idea what this means. I just dumped a bunch in until the batter looked good.)
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 can evaporated milk (large or small… your guess is as good as mine. I used a large can.)
  • 2 C sugar

Mix eggs, flour, and oil. Add baking soda, sugar, and milk. Then add poppy seeds and mix together. Bake at 350° for 1 to 1½ hours. For best results, bake in a tube pan. When cake is cool, sprinkle it with powdered sugar.

Results

Well, I didn’t have a large enough tube pan. So, I baked it in a cake pan with a pretty design on top. The cake has a nice crispy edge and comes out of the pan pretty easily. (There’s enough oil in it that this shouldn’t surprise anyone.) I ran out of regular oil so had to use a bit of olive oil to make the 2 cups. I could taste the olive oil, but Paul said he liked it.

Cake with powdered sugar on top

I had wanted to make nalesniki (Polish crepes), but I ran out of time. There is also a recipe for tuna ring with cheese sauce which I will not be making anytime soon (even though it’s underlined in my book). Sometimes, recipes should just die a quiet death.

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  1. #1 by Emily (Sister) (Aunt) on 5.5.2011 - 9:18 am

    I cannot wait to make variations on the pierogi filling. And to perfect the dough recipe so it is less chewy. I also want to point out that this was my first gig as a hand model and I had no idea that I was flicking the camera off. Next time, I will not be so vulgar.

    • #2 by e.marie on 5.5.2011 - 12:29 pm

      I didn’t even notice the flick off! So, sassy of you.

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