From soup-filled to soup-simmered, I have never met a dumpling I did not like. So it was with great excitement that I flipped open From A Polish Country House Kitchen to find not one, not two, but three different recipes for pierogi. Pierogi are boiled and then pan fried half-moon dumplings usually filled with some kind of meat, cheese, or potato filling. Pierogi are usually made en masse as a celebratory meal, since all of the kneading, rolling, filling, and boiling can take the better part of a day. Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden's recipe, however, is scaled back to make just enough pierogi for 4 people, so the challenge is a little less formidable. Their classic "Ruskie" filling of potatoes, ricotta, bacon, and peas is a humble one, but it is nonetheless delightful.
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Bigos, or traditional Polish Hunter's Stew, is one of those homey recipes that changes from household to household. In fact, in From A Polish Country House Kitchen, Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden describe the stew as Poland's version of chili--long stewed meat with a suggestion of vegetable served with thick rustic bread. Their take blends pork, venison, beef, veal, and sausage with cabbage, sauerkraut, and mushrooms for a no-nonsense, take no prisoners, hearty meal for the meatiest of meat lovers. In other words, it is an awesome addition to your late winter repertoire.
Braised cabbage is like the nerdy younger brother to the now hip fried brussels sprouts or effortlessly cool kale caesar salad. Grassy and cruciferous like its siblings, cabbage is simply bigger, bulkier, and (often) less flavorful. But if cabbage is prepared as it is in Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden's From A Polish Country House Kitchen, it has a chance at popularity.
During foraging season, mushrooms appear on the Polish table in many forms. They can be sauteed, pickled, and simmered into soups. These Twice-Cooked Wild Mushrooms present a unique technique: the 'shrooms are first boiled basically to smithereens. Once totally tender, they take a trip to a skillet with butter, onions, and dill to become even more silky smooth before being finished with sour cream.
When I think of Eastern European cuisine I think of pierogi (coming later this week) and I think of barszcz (also spelled borscht). Barszcz is seen in many iterations throughout Poland, Russia, and Ukraine; sometimes it is thick with pieces of beet and shreds of beef, sometimes the soup blushes with sour cream, and other times it it served crystal clear. The traditional Polish version in Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden's From A Polish Country House Kitchen is that of the third type. After simmering a multitudinous concoction of beets, carrots, celery root, leeks, onions, garlic, and beef bones in several cups of water until rich in color and deep in earthy flavor, the entire contents of the pot are strained out. The soup is then served simply with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of sour cream.