Polish Cheesecake with Blackberry Herb Topping (Sernik z Jeżynami)

What makes a cheesecake Polish? The cheese! Instead of cream cheese, which is used to make New York style cheesecake, this uses farmers cheese, or twaróg. Oh, there’s also a cup of mashed potatoes! Why not? Serniks are traditionally made plain or with raisins. And apparently raisins are just as polarizing in Poland as they are elsewhere (I don’t get it, I like raisins).

Anyway, this sernik is paired with a sharp and refreshing blackberry and thyme topping in an ode to the wild berry bounty of Polish forests.

Smacznego!

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Garlicky Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup

This will be the fourth year I’ve made matzo ball soup for Passover Seder. I will say, if you have a matzo-liquid ratio that works well, STICK WITH IT, and simply add the ingredient that I think made the biggest difference: roasted garlic. I know the list of ingredients looks long, but that’s mostly seasonings, so don’t be alarmed!

To to add more flavor to the stock, I made sure to get some color on the onions before adding liquid, and also made the stock one day in advance so that the flavors could develop.

The keys to this recipe are:

  1. Add lots of roasted garlic to the matzo balls
  2. Get some browning on your onions
  3. Made stock one day in advance

Soup Ingredients:

  • 5 yellow onions
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 5 large carrots
  • 1 bunch of parsley (stems for stock and leaves for garnish)
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp Better Than Bouillon Roasted Vegetable Base (or other vegetable bouillon)
  • 1 tbsp marjoram
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • water

Matzo Ball Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup matzo meal
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 6 large cloves garlic (or more small cloves)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 5 tbsp olive oil (or whatever oil you have available [melted schmaltz if not making vegetarian])
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh parsley (or dill or both)
  • 1/2 cup soup broth
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp marjoram (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

Directions:

Halve 3 onions lengthwise with skin on. Add oil to large wide pot on medium heat. Once hot, add halved onions with skin up. Cook for about 7 min. until onions begin turning light brown.

Halve 3 carrots lengthwise and cut into 2 inch chunks and cut 2 stalks of celery into 2 inch chunks.  Add to the pot along with all other stalk ingredients along with about 16-20 cups of water (depending on pot size). Bring to rolling boil and then reduce heat to simmer and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, finely dice other 2 onions. Add a touch of oil to a hot pan and lightly brown onions for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Set aside.

Cut remaining 2 carrots and 2 celery stalks into small bite size chunks.

Once stock has cooked for 1.5 to 2 hours, remove from heat and strain out vegetables. Then, return stock to the pot and add chopped cooked onions, carrots and celery, and simmer on low heat for another 20-30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Remove from heat, cool, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, make matzo meal. Start by preheating over to 375 F and putting 7 large cloves of garlic with skin on (or more cloves if smaller size) with few drops of oil on a foil sheet. Wrap up foil and bake for 30 min. Remove from oven and open up foil for garlic to cool. Once cooled, squeeze out garlic into a bowl and mash with fork. Add eggs and parsley and whisk together.

In a larger bowl, add matzo meal and spices. Taste a pinch and adjust seasoning if desired. Then add baking powder, eggs/garlic/parsley mix, oil, and soup liquid to the matzo mix and gently stir together with fork until incorporated. Refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Bring soup to a rolling boil then reduce to a simmer. Wet hands and gently form chilled matzo mix into balls slightly larger than ping pong balls and drop into pot. Cover with a lid and cook for at least 40 minutes. Chop remainder of fresh parsley or dill (or both!) and add to soup and serve.

Mushroom Sauce (Sos Pieczarkowy)

Mushrooms, again! This sauce uses regular ole mushrooms like cremini or white varieties and goes great with pasta, kopytka, or meat. Using sour cream gives this the Slavic touch 🙂 If you want to up the mushroom flavor, you can put 2 or 3 dried wild mushrooms in a spice grinder and add that powder while the sauce cooks.

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Healthy Vegan Pea, Bean and Flax Spread (Breakfast or Snack)

If you are looking for an easy vegan breakfast option that is rich in fiber and protein, try this green pea, bean, and flax seed spread, which looks a lot like British mushy peas or avocado toast! This is budget friendly because the main ingredients are canned beans ($0.75 – $1.50) and frozen green peas ($0.79- $2.00 per 8oz). Just make sure your canned beans don’t have anything added other than water or salt.

Simply take a few minutes to make a batch, and have a container ready for the week. Pair this with a whole grain bread and voila, breakfast is served!

You can use these ingredients as a base and get creative with the flavors, additions, or toppings! Other ingredients could include garlic, nuts, nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes or lemon juice. You can top toast with things like smoked paprika, coarse salt, more flax seeds, fresh herbs, or really anything 🙂

Btw, flax seed has been having a moment as a super food, but are there any other Poles who have memories of drinking ground flax seed with hot water to cure numerous ailments in their youth? Or was that just me? I still enjoy flax seeds despite those experiences…anyway, hope you enjoy this.

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Polish Christmas Recipes

Although nobody will be cooking for a crowd this year and celebrations will undoubtedly be different in many ways, maybe reaching for some nostalgic food can bring a comfort this people this Christmas. If you are looking Polish Christmas Eve (Wigilia) or Christmas Day recipes scroll down and see if anything strikes your fancy! Stay safe, stay healthy, and Merry Christmas/Wesołych Świąt!

Christmas Eve

Pierogi with Potato and Cheese (Ruskie Pierogi)

Pierogi are always a good option! These can be served on Christmas Eve or Christmas, or both.

Cod Cakes with Leek Mustard Sauce

Christmas Eve, known as Wigilia, is all about the fish, many many fish! Carp usually makes an appearance on Christmas Eve and is usually fried. This dish is good for a crowd (I see you, 2021…or 22) and is a nice change up.

Red Barszcz (Czerwony Barszcz Wigilijny)

Christmas Eve fish shares its spotlight with barszcz, which kicks off the meal. This meatless beet based broth is served with mushroom uszki or paszteciki (recipe below).

Paszteciki (Savory Mushroom and Cabbage Pastries)

Barszcz is traditionally served with mushroom uszki (similar to tortellini), but you can change it up by serving paszteciki on the side instead. These go quickly!

Christmas Day

Hunter’s Stew (Bigos)

This hearty dish made of sauerkraut, meat, and other veggies is good to make a day or two in advance because it tastes better after the flavors sit together. It also will make your fridge smell, but it tastes good, so make it anyway.

Vegetable Salad (Sałatka Jarzynowa)

Depending on where in the world you are, this salad goes by sałatka jarzynowa, olivier salad, Russian salad, or something else I don’t know about. This recipe is meatless, but you can add cubed ham or kielbasa. Either way, it shows up on many Polish holiday tables.

Łazanki (Noodles with Cabbage and Onion)

Caramelized onions and cabbage turn these simple and affordable ingredients into a satisfying meal.

Stuffed Cabbage (Gołąbki)

Cabbage rolls filled with meat are a classic. If you make these for a small 2020 Christmas (no big gatherings!!!), you will have leftovers for daysss. That’s a good thing!

Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms and soup…two things you can usually expect in some form at a Polish meal!

Pickled Carrot Slices

This pickling recipe can work for cucumber pickles, or anything else you might want to pickle! It is a base that you can add to with other seasonings such as mustard seeds (a Polish classic), allspice, chili peppers, or many other things. This recipe is all brine, no vinegar!!!

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Blueberry Pierogi (Pierogi z Jagodami)

Pierogi with fruit fillings are very popular in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus…that whole area. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, sour cherries, and plums are common because those grow so well in the region.

Try to make these when blueberries are in season, usually late spring through summer, because they ARE the filling. Out of season, blueberries tend to be, but are not always…flavorless. If you have a craving you can’t beat, you can use frozen blueberries and thaw them before use. 

Once pierogi are assembled, your can refrigerate them and cook them the next day, or you can freeze them for a few weeks.

This make about 3-4 dozen pierogi.

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Łazanki (Noodles with Cabbage and Onion)

Łazanki is Polish recipe that typically combines wide flat noodles with cabbage (or sauerkraut), onion, and sometimes meat and/or mushrooms. Łazanki also refers specifically to the wide noodle used. If Wikipedia is to be believed, then łazanki came to Poland and the region in the 16th century when the Italian born Queen Bona Sforza introduced a multitude of new foods, including lasagna-type noodles. I believe it! Bona Sforza brought all sorts of vegetables up north-east with her and the Polish names of some of these foods sound like their Italian counterparts, like tomatoes (pomidori-pomidory).

This recipe is vegetarian, but you can add kiełbasa or bacon and use melted pork or chicken fat as well. Łazanki noodles are difficult to find outside of Polish delis, so you can use wide egg noodles, or even break up lasagna noodles instead. It is important that you give the onions and cabbage enough time to cook down and naturally sweeten.

Smacznego!

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Red Barszcz (Czerwony Barszcz Wigilijny)

Barszcz, borscht, borshch, are all names for beautiful beet-based soups of Eastern European origin. Beyond beets, there are few similarities between barszcz recipes from country to country, region to region and family to family. Many people typically think of a Ukrainian variety (barszcz ukraiński), filled with chunks of vegetables, and some with meat. There’s also chłodnik, a refreshing cold beet summer soup that is served with sour cream or buttermilk.

This barszcz is more of a broth, with small bits of grated beets on the bottom and is the variety that is always served for Wigilia, or Christmas Eve. This soup is usually paired with small mushroom dumplings.

Many other Christmas Eve barszcz recipes yield a sweet flavor. I don’t know if this is a regional variation or simply a family variation, but I did not grow up eating barszcz with any sugar or sweetness beyond what came from the beets themselves. To each their own! Continue reading