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Join me as I talk about two Polish foods I grew up eating, and a Polish regional cuisine I have learned to love. At the end of the article, you’ll find a recipe for Poland’s most popular dish! Pierogi and paczki are two Polish foods I grew up eating in the United States. You may know them as “pierogies” and “jelly donuts.” Even though you may have tried them before, I wanted to write about them, because I feel like they are as much a part of my culture as they are a part of Polish culture. Plus, they are Polish foods you will definitely like.
Since arriving in Poland, I’ve tried about five kinds of pierogi I hadn’t tried in the United States. Pierogi are dumplings filled with sweet or savory fillings. In the United States, we call them “pierogies.” Potato and cheese-filled pierogi are called Pierogi Ruskie, which means “Russian Pierogies.” In Lublin, the most traditional kind of pierogi are filled with a type of grain calledkasza, which is like a cross between oatmeal and wild rice.
In the United States, I tried a lot of different paczki (PAUNCH-ki). Paczki are fried donuts filled with different things. Most often as a kid, I would eat paczki filled with custard or with raspberry jam. As an adult, I’ve grown to like paczki filled with prunes (dried plums), which might sound gross to you but is actually good if the paczki are covered with glazed donut icing. Since I arrived in Poland, I’ve tried rose petal jam and blueberry and cream cheese
In Poland, we eat paczki on Tłusty Czwartek (TWOOS-ty CHWAR-tek) or Fat Thursday.On the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the season of Lent, Polish people eat paczki until they pop! I celebrated my first Fat Thursday at a middle school in a small town about half an hour from Lublin by bus. I was invited to speak at a competition for Polish students about the United States. After the competition, the teachers came out with plates and plates of paczki. How many do you think I ate?
I did not like the grain-filled pierogi at all! Pierogi are often served with sour cream. Sometimes they are boiled, then fried, but most of the time they are just boiled. Because of this, my pierogi were kind of soggy. It was also too much grain for me. I loved all of the other kinds, though! When I eat a pierogi, I feel comforted. Since it’s a food I grew up eating, I feel connected to Polish culture.
I feel happy, but very guilty every time I eat a paczek (one donut). My first paczek was the bluberry and cheese one covered with chocolate chips that is pictured on this page. When I took my first bite, I felt like I had never tasted anything so decadent!
Rose petal paczki are not my favorite. The first time I had one, I thought I was buying one filled with cherry jam. When I took my first bite, it was sour. It left an herbal taste on my tongue, like I was eating tea leaves. The powdered sugar on the outside helped, though. Now, I like them, though I prefer ones with sweeter fruit flilings.
My first Fat Thursday was a lot of fun, but I felt incredibly sick later in the day. I could only eat two, even though my friends said I would not be very lucky this year. Tonight, my washing machine overflowed.
I haven’t out how to make paczki, but I am going to share with you a recipe for making pierogi. It’s a long recipe, but it’s actually very easy. If your pierogi don’t turn out well the first time, don’t worry. After a couple of tries, you’ll figure it out.
Pierogi Ruskie (Russian-style Pierogies)
from TastingPoland.com and the kitchen of Kate Albrecht-Snow
To Make the Filling:
- Two pounds of peeled potatoes
- Two tablespoons of finely-chopped onion
- One cup of grated cheese (Polish people use cottage cheese, but I like cheddar cheese in my pierogi)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Saute the onion in about one tablespoon of butter. Cook the onion until it is soft.
- Chop the pealed potatoes. Boil them like you are making mashed potatoes. When the potatoes mash easily with a fork, they are done.
- Mash the potatoes and then mix in the grated cheese and onion.
To Make the Dough:
- Three cups of unbleached flour
- Three-fourths cup of boiling water
- One-fourth cup of cold water
- half a teaspoon of salt
- half a teaspoon of oil
- First, you will need to sift the flour. If you don’t have a sifter, use a wire whisk to whip air into the flour. Mix in the salt.
- Pour the boiling water into the flour while stirring the mixture quickly with a fork. Cover the dough and leave it for five minutes.
- Now, mix the cold water in. Let the dough sit for fifteen minutes.
- Spread some flour onto a clean counter top. Keep the flour nearby, because you may need to add more later.
- Squish the oil into the dough. Put the dough on the counter and knead it for five to ten minutes
- Roll the dough out with a rolling pin until it is about 1/4 inch thick.
- Use a glass to cut the dough into circles. Your pierogi should be about 2 and a half inches in diameter.
Put the Pierogi Togther
- Put about one tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle of dough. Fold the cicle in half like a sandwich and pinch the edges together. Make sure the edges or completely sealed, or you will have a mess!
- Fill a large pot with water. Bring it to a boil on the stove. Drop four of five pierogi into the water. When the pierogi float to the top, give them about two more minutes. Remove the pierogi with a slotted spoon and put them on a cookie sheet or plate
- Fry your pierogi in melted butter until they are browned on both sides. Then, eat them!
Do you know how geography affects the foods that are eaten within a culture? Think about some traditional foods you eat. In China, I ate mostly poultry, rice and vegetables because the climate was wet and hot, and there wasn’t a lot of spare land for raising large animals. I also ate a lot of hot foods because people in China believe it is good for hot weather. In Poland, most of the foods I eat involve pork, cheese and either potatoes, dumplings or bread. People do eat vegetables, but the most common ones are root vegetables like carrots or beets. Look at Poland on the map and think about the climate. Why do you think these foods are the most common?
Of course, in the days of fast transport and refrigerated shipping units, I can get pretty much anything I want in Lublin. Because Lublin is a college town, there are more pizza restaurants than Polish restaurants, and there are at least three McDonalds. We also have Chinese restaurants, an Indian restaurant, a French restaurant and a KFC. I try to eat Polish food whenever I can, though. I hope to share with you some other Polish foods in the future!