#33 Date selected: 13/5/16 Date completed: 30/5/16
Country selected: Poland
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu:
- Tomato Soup
- Pierogies (meat filling & fresh mushroom filling)
Kindle book – Polish Cooking Revised by Marianna Olszewska Heberle
Monday 13th June 2016, 9.08am
It feels like forever since I last posted a challenge on here. The reason for this is that I’ve finally managed to get myself a full-time job! The only issue with this being that my new office is about 2 hours from where I currently live. I do plan to move closer sometime in the next few months but for the time being, the number of challenges that I’m doing may be significantly reduced. For now though, let’s venture to Poland!
I’ve become a bit of a convert to Polish cooking over the years. On the rare opportunity that I’ve had to try Polish food, I’ve loved it and have always wanted to try cooking some myself so I was pretty ecstatic when I picked Poland as my next challenge.
Poland is the most populous post-communist member of the European Union (whatever that means!) and the 34th most populous country in the world with over 38.5 million people. It’s bordered by the Czech Republic , Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Germany Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania with a coastline along the Baltic Sea.
The Polish community was devastated by the events of WWII. The official beginning of the war was marked when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939. The Soviets and the Nazis split the country into two occupied zones and controlled one half each. Neither were forgiving on the Polish community.
The Soviets deported hundreds of thousands of Poles out to the most distant parts of the Soviet Union and secretly executed thousands of Polish prisoners of war. The Nazi’s plan was even more sinister and the resulting holocaust is one of the darkest chapters of 20th century history. In November 1939 the German planners had called for “the complete destruction” of all Poles and, under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler, German forces set up six major extermination camps – all in the heart of Poland. Around 3.5 million Jews lived in pre-war Poland and it is estimated that approximately 90% were killed.
The Poles weren’t just helpless victims however. Poland made the fourth-largest troop contribution to the Allied war effort and played an important role in the Italian and North African Campaigns. They were also active in naval and air warfare and the domestic underground resistance movement, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) was one of the three largest resistance movements in the entire war. Throughout the occupation, many member of the movement, supported by the Polish government in exile, and millions of ordinary Poles engages in rescuing Jews from the Nazi Germans. All at great risk to themselves and their families. To date, 6,620 Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the state of Israel. This is more than any other nation and group by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The number of Poles involved in rescue efforts is stated at up to 3 million in some estimates, with some 450,000 Jews being sheltered by Poles.
By the end of the war, Poland’s territory had been reduced by 20% and nearly one-fifth of the population (over 6 million people) perished – half of them Polish Jews. Over 90% of deaths were non-military in nature.
Despite this, Polish culture remains strong to this day and is strongly connected with its intricate 1000 year history. The cuisine in particular has evolved over the years to become very eclectic, sharing similarities with other Central European cuisines, especially German and Austrian. Meat, especially pork, chicken and beef, is very important, as are winter vegetables and spices. The food is hearty and uses a lot of cream and eggs.
One of my favourite Polish dishes that I’ve tried before are Pierogies, which are dumplings filled with sweet or savoury fillings. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to decide that these would be on the menu for this challenge! In the midst of an Australian winter at the moment, I’m also a big fan of soup and decided a Tomato Soup would be a great accompaniment. Due to time constraints I ended up making the soup and Pierogies several days apart but both were delicious and the leftovers were taken to work for a hearty lunch for days to come.
Out of the two, the soup was by far the easiest to make and was quite different to any other tomato soup I’ve tried. You cook fresh tomatoes in butter for about 20 minutes until the skins shrivel and they become all soft. They’re then forced through a fine-mesh strainer to break them down.
The tomatoes are then added to boiling chicken or beef broth (I used chicken). A mixture of flour and sour cream is added which gives the soup a thick creamy texture and it is seasoned with sugar and salt. The soup is garnished with parsley before serving.
The butter and sour cream make this a really rich soup. It’s oily and completely delicious with crusty bread. I definitely suggest adding the chopped parsley at the end (you can also use dill apparently) as this gives a lovely fresh taste that cuts through the fattiness. It’s not an incredibly tomato-y flavoured soup but you can definitely taste it in there and it goes beautifully with the other ingredients. Perfect for winter!
Pierogies (or “small pies”) are a little more complex to make though they can be frozen so making a big batch is recommended. Especially as they are incredibly moreish!
A dough is made using sifted flour, eggs, sour cream, oil, salt and water. It’s then rolled out in portions on a floured board and 3.5 – 4 inch circles are cut, filled with whatever filling you’ve chosen, sealed and boiled a few at a time in boiled water.
I chose to do a couple of different savoury fillings for my pierogies – pork and fresh mushroom – though there a number of sweet fillings that you can also choose (which I will most probably try again in the future!). The meat filling was made up of ground pork, butter, onion and eggs which are fried up together and seasoned with salt and pepper. The mushrooms were minced and sautéed for the other filling, before being mixed with minced onion, butter, salt, pepper and dry bread crumbs.
Whilst the process for the pierogies is fairly time consuming, it is fairly straight forward. The key things I discovered were as follows:
- It’s a very soft dough so make sure your board is floured very well to prevent sticking.
- The dough gets thick and tough the longer you work it and the more additional flour you use so be aware – especially when using the scraps from a pre-cut batch. Always make sure that any dough is covered with a damp cloth when you’re not using it to stop it drying out too.
- Make sure your pierogies are sealed well. I could really taste the difference between the ones that sealed properly and those that didn’t and a good seal makes for really juicy pierogies. I ended up using a little water for a few of mine when sealing and that helped somewhat I think.
- Forget about calories when serving piegrogies. The garnish really helps enhance the dumplings and makes them super scrumptious. I served mine with melted butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice and gherkins. Delicious!
With my mouth still watering from this challenge, it’s time to pick the next one……