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Spring and Summer Favorites
By Robert Strybel, "The Polish Answer Man", Spring and Summer Favorites

Polish-style spring and summer favorites

             By Robert Strybel  *  THE POLISH CHEF

ul. Kaniowska 24, 01-529 Warsaw

            Super markets stock green-picked and artificially ripened strawberries in January and hothouse tomatoes all the year round, but nothing can beat the locally produced, vine-ripened variety in season. The seasonal nature of traditional Polish foods means that each time of year brings with it something to look forward to. Here are some examples of typically spring and summer delicacies.

SOUPS

BABY BEET-GREEN SOUP  (botwinka): Wash extremely well under running water 1 bunch baby beets (which should be no larger than small radishes) together with their greens (tops). Trim away any damaged or blemished sections. Chop quite fine and cook in a small amount of lightly salted  water containing juice of 1/2 a small lemon until tender. Add to 6  c strained meat stock (veal stock is excellent!). Add 1/2 c or so juice from canned beets or 1 T beet concentrate to improve color. Cream with 1/2 c sour cream with and a heaping T flour. Simmer several min without boiling. Season to taste with salt, pepper, a pinch or 2 of sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

FRESH TOMATO SOUP (zupa pomidorowa): Wash, hull and quarter 1-1/4 lb vine-ripened tomatoes and simmer covered on low heat with several T stock and 2 T butter 15-20 min. Sieve into 6 c meat or vegetable stock and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little sugar. Cream with 1/2 c sour cream or plain yogurt fork-blended with 1 heaping T flour. Simmer gently several min without boiling and serve over noodles or rice.

CAULIFLOWER SOUP (zupa kalafiorowa): Break up 1 cauliflower (about 1 to 1-1/4 lb) into small flowerlets, scald drain and add to 6-7 c hot vegetable stock. cook uncovered 10-15 min vegetable stock. Dissolve 1 heaping T flour in 1 c milk, add to pot and bring to boil. Add 1 T butter, salt & pepper to taste and garnish with fresh chopped dill. Serve over egg-drop noodles or croutons (see below).

CROUTONS (grzanki): Allow roughly 1 slice French bread or 1/2 a Kaiser roll 1 t butter per serving. Cut bread into 1/2” squares and brown in melted butter in skillet to a nice crunchy golden-brown at least on 2 sides. Variation: Rye-bread croutons have extra zest and don’t go soggy as quickly as those made with white bread.

EGG-DROP NOODLES (lane kluski): With fork beat 2 eggs with a heaping T flour and 1/4 t salt to get a thick batter, adding a little water to make it smooth and pourable. Pour in thin stream into hot boiling soup and simmer 2-3 min.

CREAM OF SORREL SOUP (zupa szczawiowa): Wash a handful of fresh sorrel (about 1/3 lb) very well in plenty of cold running water to remove all sand. Trim off and discard stems. Chop and simmer in 2 T butter in sauce pan about 5 min. Dissolve 2 T flour in 1 c meat stock or bouillon, add to sorrel and simmer several min longer. Add to 5 c meat or vegetable stock  and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Fork-blend 3/4 c sour cream, gradually adding 1 c soup 1 T at a time. Gradually stir into soup and simmer several min. Serve over halved hard-cooked eggs, allowing 1 egg per serving. Note: Ready to use  bottled sorrel is available at Polish markets and delis.

COLD BEET-GREEN SOUP (chlodnik na botwince): Trim, wash well, drain and chop fine 1 bunch baby beets (including greens), place in pot, cover with water, add 1 T lemon juice, 1/2 salt, bring to boil, reduce heat and cook about 10 min. Set aside to cool. Peel and slice or dice 1 cucumber, chop 4  green onions (tops and bottoms) and  slice very thin or grate coarsely 6 - 10 radishes. Combine with cold, cooked beets and 5 c cold soured milk (buttermilk or kefir). Add 2-3 T finely chopped fresh dill and refrigerate covered until well chilled. Serve over  sliced hard-cooked eggs, allowing 1 egg per serving.

COLD CUCUMBER SOUP (chlodnik ogorkowy): Peel 2 cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, then slice thin into bowl or tureen. Add 2 peeled, coarsely grated brined dill pickles and 1 c of the pickle brine plus 2 -3 T finely chopped fresh dill. Drench with 6 - 8 c cold buttermilk or  smooth-whisked sour milk. Salt & pepper to taste. Cover and let stand in fridge for flavors to blend several hrs. Serve over sliced hard-cooked eggs in bowls.

COLD FRUIT SOUP (zupa owocowa): Start with about 3 c of a single fruit or whatever combination you like: small strawberries; blueberries; sour cherries (pitted), peeled and sliced apples and/or pears or halved, pitted plums. Place fruit in pot, add 5 -6 c water, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 8 - 10 min or until fruit is fully cooked. Dissolve 1 - 2 T potato starch (or cornstarch) in 1/2 c water and stir into hot soup. Sweeten to taste (with sugar or sweetener) and (optional) season with a pinch of cinnamon, ground cloves or ground nutmeg. Simmer 2 -3 min. Serve  over cooked egg noodles or fried croutons. A dollop of sour cream (or low-fat yogurt) may be added to each bowl. Note: Fruit soups can be served hot, warm, at room temp or chilled.

COLD RHUBARB SOUP (chlodnik  rabarbarowy): Wash, trim and dice 1 lb young rhubarb and place in pot. Add 5 -6 c water, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer several min or until rhubarb is tender. Remove pot from flame. Dissolve 1 - 2 T potato starch (or cornstarch) in 1/2  c water or milk and stir into hot soup. Add a heaping T strawberry or  cherry jam or jelly to improve the soup’s color, then sweeten to taste (with sugar or sweetener). Simmer 2 -3 min. Serve  over cooked egg noodles or croutons. A dollop of sour cream (or low-fat yogurt) may be added to each bowl.

SALADS

CUCUMBERS & SOUR CREAM (mizeria): Peel 2 cucumbers and slice into thin rounds. Sprinkle with salt and let stand 30 min. Pour off liquid. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, 2- 3 pinches sugar and 1 T lemon juice or vinegar. Lace with 1/2 - 2/3 c fork-blended sour cream (or plain yogurt for weight-watchers).  Optional: Garnish with chopped dill.

CUCUMBERS & VINAIGRETTE (mizeria z winegretem): Slice, salt and drain cucumbers as above. Toss with 1-2 small onions sliced thin and broken up into rings. Dress with vinaigrette (see below) to taste.

HOME-MADE VINAIGRETTE (winegret domowy): To prepare slightly more than 1/2 c vinaigrette dressing, combine 1/3 c cider vinegar or white-wine vinegar with salt & pepper and a pinch or 2 sugar to taste, 1 clove crushed garlic (or 1/4 t garlic powder) and  (optional) 1/2 t Italian seasoning. Mix well and stir in 1/4 c Canola or olive oil and mix or shake well. Variation: Lemon juice may be used in place of all or some of the vinegar.

LETTUCE & RADISH SALAD (zielona salata z rzodkiewka): For a genuine Polish-style salad, select (rather than iceberg, leaf, romaine or other varieties). Twist off and discard the cores that holds the leaves together on 2-3 heads Boston. Separate the leaves and wash well and pat dry. Toss with 8 - 10 thinly sliced radishes. For the dressing, fork-blend 2/3 - 3/4 c sour cream with juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1/4 t salt and 1/2 - 1 t sugar and pour over lettuce. Garnish with chopped green onion and/or chives.

LETTUCE & VINAIGRETTE (zielona salata z winegretem): Dress the above lettuce & radish salad with vinaigrette (instead of sour cream) to taste.

TOMATO SALAD (salatka z pomidorow): Wash and slice 2-3 firm tomatoes and arrange on large serving dish in a single layer. Chop 1 med onion fine. Salt & pepper tomatoes and sprinkle with a little lemon juice.  Sprinkle a little chopped onion at center of each tomato slice. Variation: Slice, arrange and season tomato slices as above. Slice 2 small onions wafer thin and arrange on top of tomato slices. Sprinkle salad with chopped chives or green onions.

CUCUMBER & TOMATO SALAD (salatka z ogorkow i pomidorow): Assemble several tomatoes and onions and a cucumber or two of roughly equal circumference. Peel and slice the onions and cucumbers and slice the tomatoes. On a lettuce-lined serving platter arrange even rows of overlapping, alternating cucumber, tomato and onion slices. Fork-blend 1 c sour cream (or plain low-fat yogurt) with juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar to taste. Pour dressing down the center of each row, garnish with some chopped chives and (optional) 2 chopped hard-cooked eggs and dust with paprika. Serve at once, as long standing can makes this salad ‘soupy’.

RADISH SALAD  (surowka z rzodkiewek):  Trim if necessary, wash, dry and slice thin (with knife or on slicer blade of hand-held grater) 2 -3 bunches radishes. Place in serving dish and toss with 1/2 c finely chopped fresh dill. Salt, sprinkle with 1 - 2 t sugar and drench with 1/2 c fork-blended sour cream.

RADISH, CUCUMBER, GREEN-ONION SALAD (surowka w rzodkiewek, ogorka i szczypioru): Trim, wash, dry and slice 2 bunches radishes. Peel and slice thin 1 cucumber. Chop 4 - 5 green opinions. Toss ingredients together and dress with sour-cream sauce as in Polish-style lettuce (above).  Optional: Garnish with 2 - 3 sliced  hard-cooked eggs dusted with paprika.

LEEK SALAD (salatka z porow): Remove and discard (or freeze and use for soups) green tops of 3 leeks. Cut leeks in half lengthwise and wash well under running water to remove imbedded grit. Cut each half in half lengthwise, producing 12 leek sticks. Place them on cutting-board side by side and slice thin.  Place in bowl. Add 2 peeled cooking apples, diced fine, sprinkle with lemon juice and toss ingredients. Season with salt, pepper and a little sugar  and lace with mayonnaise.

CABBAGE SALAD/COLE SLAW (surowka z bialej kapusty): Shred or grate 1 small head cabbage, sprinkle with salt and let stand at room temp 30 min. Pour off any liquid and squeeze dry. Sprinkle with lemon juice, season with a little sugar and pepper and lace with fork-blended mixture of  1/3 c sour cream and 1/3 c mayonnaise.

MAIN COURSES

BREADED PORK CUTLETS (kotlety schabowe): Cut bones away 6 center-cut pork chops (reserving them for soup stock) or slice boneless center-cut pork loin 1” thick and pound with meat mallet pound on both sides until 1/4” – 1/3” thick. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a pinch of marjoram and/or garlic powder if desired. Dredge in flour, dip in egg wash and roll in fine, plain bread crumbs. Gently press breading into cutlets so it stays put during frying. Fry to a nice golden brown on both sides in hot lard, vegetable shortening or oil, drain on paper towel and serve immediately with dilled new potatoes and lettuce or radish salad.

CHICKEN-BREAST CUTLETS (kotlety z piersi kurczaka): Pound 4 skinned and halved chicken breasts to between 1/8” and 1/4” thick. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and (optional) hunter’s seasoning, dredge in flour, dip in egg wash and roll in bread crumbs, shaking off excess. Fry in several T hot butter to a nice gold-brown (several min per side), drain on absorbent paper and serve immediately. Dress portions with parsley sprigs and lemon wedges. Serve with rice or potatoes and mizeria or lettuce.

MEAT & RICE GOLABKI (golabki): Prepare filling by combining 1 lb raw ground meat (pork, pork & beef, pork-veal-beef combination, or ground dark-meat turkey) with 4-6 c undercooked rice, 1-3 chopped butter-fried onions and 1 egg. Mix ingredients well and salt & pepper to taste. Place oblong portion of  filling at base of  wilted, parboiled cabbage leaves with thick center vein removed, roll up and place snugly in roasting pan in no more than two layers. Drench cabbage rolls in roasting pan with either 4 c tomato juice (plain or containing several dashes Tabasco or ¼ - ½ c spicy-style ketchup) or 3 c puréed or stewed tomatoes. Bake covered at 350° 1 hr. Reduce heat to 325° and cook another 2 hrs. They’ll be even tastier when warmed up the next day. 

MINCED CUTLETS (kotlety mielone): Soak stale white bread rolls (app. ¼ lb) in water or milk until soggy. Fry 2 sliced onions in a little fat until golden. Run drained soaked bread and onions through mincer or process briefly. Combine with 2 lbs ground pork (or pork & veal or pork-veal-beef mixture), add 1-2 eggs, mix well by hand to blend ingredients and a dash of garlic powder, a sprinkle of marjoram, and salt & pepper to taste. Form 12 - 16 meatballs depending on size desired. Fry in hot fat as is or (if you prefer crustier cutlets) first dredge in flour. Fry to a nice golden-brown on both sides, flattening them somewhat with spatula. Reduce heat, cover and simmer on low another 10 min or so until fully cooked.

POLISH BURGERS (kotlet w bulce): Apart from a sit-down dinner, the above cutlets can e slipped into a bun to form a “Polish burger”. With a splotch of brown Polish-style mustard and a crunchy dill pickle on the side, this is are (hot or cold) at picnics and Polish festivals.

DILLED NEW POTATOES (mlode kartofelki z koperkiem): If you can get real, young, walnut-sized new potatoes, instead of peeling them use nylon scrubber to scrub away the thin skins under cold, running water. Place 2-1/2 lbs scrubbed new potatoes in pot, cover with boiling water, add 1 t salt and cook on med  heat about 30 min or until fork-tender. Drain. Dot with butter (about 1 T) and garnish with finely chopped fresh dill. Toss gently to evenly coat potatoes with melting butter and dill.

CALIFLOWER POLONAISE (kalafior po polsku): Remove any green leaves from base of cauliflower and trim off core. Place cauliflower cored-side-down in a pot tall enough so the cauliflower is at least 3” from the top rim. Add cold water coming up 1/3 of the way up the cauliflower and 1 t salt, bring to boil, reduce heat and cook covered at a gentle rolling boiling about 20 - 30 min or until fork-tender. Meanwhile, in saucepan heat 3-4 T butter until it bubbles, stir in 2-3 T bread crumbs and simmer, stirring frequently, until it is nicely browned. Remove cooked cauliflower from pot, drain well, place on serving platter and spoon the browned bread-crumb topping over it. This can be a side dish or a nice vegetarian meal in itself with some sliced tomatoes and dilled, buttered new potatoes on the side.

VEGETABLES POLONAISE (jarzyny po polsku): Other vegetables may be prepared the same way as cauliflower polonaise, including wax and string beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, peas, peas & carrots, cabbage, etc. Simply cook vegetable in lightly salted water until tender, drain well and garnish with browned buttered bread crumb topping. Optional:  Instead of plain water, vegetables may be cooked in stock or simply add a bouillon cube to the pot. Note: Adding a little sugar (1 t or so per 2 c water) will improve the taste of many vegetables.

EASY SUMMER BIGOS (latwy bigos na lato): Skin and dice or slice thin 1 lb smoked kielbasa. Dice chop. Place in pot, add boiling water to cover and simmer covered 30 min. Wash well 1 head baby cabbage at the loose-leaf stage (not yet formed into a compact head). Trim away base and any wilted or damaged leaves. Chop cabbage coarsely and add to sausage pot. Mix well and simmer under tender, stirring often.  In saucepan lightly brown  2 T  flour in 2 T bacon or fatback drippings and stir into cabbage. Simmer covered another 5 min. Season with salt and pepper and sour to taste with lemon juice or cider vinegar. Serve with bread or boiled, dilled new potatoes. Note: Any cooked cubed meat you have on hand may be added.

CAMPFIRE KIELBASA (kielbaski z ogniska): Use a hotdog-roasting fork or forked stick (stripped of its barks) to impale a 4-inch piece of smoked kielbasa on and roast over a campfire, turning to ensure even cooking. The sausage can also be cooked on a grill. Provide rye bread, mustard and horseradish.  Served in a bun, this is a good Polish-festival food.

BLUEBERRY PIEROGI (pierogi z jagodami): Remove any leaves or stems from about 1 lb fresh blueberries, rinse and drain well in colander or sieve. Dust berries 1 t potato starch (or cornstarch) to make the cooked filling less runny. For the dough, combine 2 c flour, 1 c dairy sour cream, 1 small egg and 1/2 t salt. Work ingredients together to form a smooth dough and knead briefly. Roll out thin 1/3 of the dough, leaving the remainder under a warm inverted bowl so it doesn't dry out. With drinking-glass or biscuit-cutter cut dough-sheet into rounds. Place  a spoonful of  blueberries at center of each dough round, bring ends together and pinch edges together to seal. Cook in large pot of boiling slated water, gently stirring occasionally. When they float up, cook another 2 min. Remove with slotted spoon and serve with sugar and sour cream.

STRAWBERRY OMELET (omlet z truskawkami): For each serving allow 2 eggs, 1 t cold water and a pinch of salt. Whisk well and pour mixture into heavy skillet containing hot unsalted butter (scant T per serving) over entire surface. Cook on low heat, picking up sides with spatula and letting runny egg mixture to flow onto hot surface. It is done when bottom is golden brown and top is set and glistening. Fold in half and serve topped with sliced, sugared strawberry, strawberry preserves or any jam of choice. A dollop of sour cream may be added.

DESSERTS

POLISH APPLE TART (szarlotka): Combine 2-3/4 c flour with 1 c confectioner’s sugar, 4 egg yolks and 1/4 t salt and blend ingredients into a uniform dough. Do not knead!  Roll into ball, wrap in foil and refrigerate at least 30 min. In pot combine 2-1/4 lbs tart cooking apples, peeled and sliced, with 3/4 c sugar and 3 T water and cook, stirring frequently, until apples are tender. Season a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or ground cloves or any combination thereof.  Divide chilled dough in 1/2. Roll one half out thin into a rectangle or square to fit your baking pan. Pierce all over with fork and bake in preheated 390° oven 10-15 min. Sprinkle surface of baked dough with 3-4 T crushed vanilla wafers and spread apple filling evenly over surface. Season with 1 t vanilla sugar. Roll out remaining dough half and cover apples. Reduce heat to 350° and bake about 45-60 min.

APPLE SPONGE CAKE (placek biszkoptowy z jablkami): Peel, core, and slice thin 5 good-sized cooking apples. Sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice and cover so they don’t discolor. Separately, beat 5 egg yolks at high speed until fluffy, gradually adding 5 T confectioner’s sugar and 5 T sifted flour. Beat 5 egg whites and gently fold into yolk batter. Pour 1/2 the mixture into a buttered tube pan, add the apples and top with remaining batter. Bake in preheated 375°oven. Serve warm or cool dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

PLUM CAKE (placek ze sliwkami): Beat 1/2 c butter and 1 c sugar until smooth (about 2 min).  Continue beating, adding 2 eggs 1 at a time. Mix 2 c flour with 2 t baking powder and 1/4 t salt and sift into bowl. Gradually stir in the butter-sugar-egg mixture, 1/2 t vanilla extract and 3/4 c milk, beating the whole time until smooth. Transfer dough to greased square or rectangular baking pan. Top dough with ripe Italian plum halves (wegierki) cut-side-up and sprinkle with a pinch or 2 cinnamon (optional). Dot with about 2 T cold butter and bake in preheated 350° oven about 40-45 min, or until inserted wooden pick comes out clean.

STRAWBERRY KISIEL (kisiel truskawkowy): In pot combine 1 c water and app. 1/2 c sugar and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Dissolve 3 T potato starch in 1/2 c cold water, stir into sugar water and slowly bring to boil stirring constantly. Add just under 1 lb hulled, washed, dried, crushed (processed) strawberries. Portion out into dessert bowls pre-rinsed with cold water. Chill. Serve kisiel (pronounced: KEY-shell) with cold coffee cream, half & half or vanilla sauce (The latter can be easily whipped up by combining 1 c cold milk with just enough instant vanilla pudding mix to produce a nice, pourable sauce!)              

STRAWBERRIES & SOUR CREAM (truskawki ze smietana): Hull, wash and drain fresh strawberries and cut small ones in half and slice larger ones. Fill individual dessert dishes and provide sweetened sour cream (1 c sour cream fork-blended with a heaping T confectioner’s sugar) for your guests, allowing app. 1/4 - 1/3 c sweetened sour cream per serving.

STRAWBERRY ICE-CUP (puchar lodowy z truskawkami): Hull, wash and drain 1 qt fresh, ripe strawberries. Halve or slice strawberries of roughly equal size and sprinkle with sugar (app. 1 T sugar per 1 c berries). Let stand 30 min at room temp. Into parfait glasses place 1 scoop vanilla ice cream or frozen vanilla-flavored yogurt, a heaping T sugared strawberries, add another scoop ice cream, top with another spoonful of strawberries and, if the parfait glass permits, add another scoop ice cream and top with a little more strawberry mixture. Top with a dollop of real whipped cream  and crown with 1 nice, whole, unblemished strawberry.

 SUGARED STRAWBERRIES (truskawki z cukrem): Place whole, hulled or unhulled, washed strawberries in a bowl with a dish of granulated sugar next to it. Invite your guests to take the strawberries with their fingers, dip them in the sugar and enjoy.

SUGARED TOMATOES (pomidory z cukrem): Sprinkle sliced tomatoes with sugar and enjoy. The taste is reminiscent of red currants (czerwone porzeczki).

HONEYED CUCUMBERS (ogorki z miodem): Peel cucumber and cut into spears. Drizzle with honey and serve. Tastes a bit like watermelon – only better!

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