10 Traditional Dishes of Polish Easter
White sausage, rye soup, cakes with poppy seed or cottage cheese: the numerous traditional Easter delicacies in Poland are surprising, sophisticated and inspired by Spring
Biała kiełbasa (Bya-wah keew-basa)
Easter is a feast of smoked meats and ham, where biała kiełbasa takes centre stage. Biała kiełbasa - white sausage - is an unsmoked minced pork sausage (with the addition of beef and veal) covered in a thin layer of pork casings and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and marjoram. Whether it's in the żurek or amongst the food samples carried in the Easter basket, white sausage is mostly served boiled, sometimes with horseradish, mustard, or ćwikła (horseradish-beetroot relish).
Żurek, or żur is a soup made of home-made or store-bought sourdough from rye flour. It's
garnished with boiled white sausage and boiled egg halves. In remote times, żurek and herring were the main pre-Easter Lent fasting food staples. By the time of Holy Saturday, sick and tired of these dishes, people would give them a festive burial. A pot with the soup would be either buried in the ground or spilled. When it's not attending a funeral, żurek is consumed all year round.
As long as you like your eggs, you'll be fine. The egg symbolises new life and Christ's resurrection. Polish egg-related traditions include colouring, blessing them as part of the Easter basket in church, sharing the blessed eggs while wishing each other all the best for the year ahead and eating them with different seasoning. They're served boiled, stuffed, fried or with mayo - there's no getting away from them. The decorative devilled egg is a hard-boiled egg, halved andfilled with a mixture of the yolks, mayonnaise, mustard, onion and horseradish cream.
Śledź i.e. herring is as popular in Poland as it is in the Netherlands or Denmark. It is present on holiday and party tables at Christmas and Easter. The fish is served gutted and filleted, in pieces that have been marinated in vinegar, oil, with or without vegetables, usually smothered with chopped, raw onion. While Easter calls for a batch of home-made herring, supermarkets stock jars of marinated herring all year.
Grating horseradish roots produces pungent vapours and makes eyes water, but white or red horseradish relish pairs well with the variety of cold cuts. The fiery relish draws out more of the meat flavour. The red type is called ćwikła and its colour is due to the addition of beetroot.
The first of the freshly baked cakes is the mazurek. The recipe is considered to have arrived to Poland from Turkey and started circulating in the 17th century. How the mazurek looks depends on who made it. The flat shortbread can be made of different kinds of dough and toppings, for example marmalade, chocolate glazing, dried fruit or nuts. The sky's the limit.
The sernik is a rich creamy baked cheesecake that differs from its American counterpart in cheese. You could try to replace the exclusively Polish cheese called twaróg with country/ cottage/ quark /curd cheese or ricotta but it won't do the trick. Twaróg is more dense, sweet and less wet than those cheeses and less smooth than ricotta. Sources say that sernik dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church has a tvorog-based equivalent - the truncated pyramid
The tall airy Easter babka is a no-knead yeast cake baked in a Bundt pan. It can be laced with rum syrup and drizzled with icing but custom dictates that it has no filling. The name derives from the word "grandmother" and probably refers to its shape: a grandmother's wide, pleated skirt.
Among the wealth of Easter cakes is the makowiec, a poppy seed roll spun like a strudel. It's main ingredient is poppy seeds and it uses the same type of dough as the Babka. The texture is crunchy and nutty, and it's sometimes covered with sugar icing.
Made entirely of sugar and shaped like a lamb, this is a traditional centrepiece of the Polish Easter table and Easter basket. It often has a miniature red flag with a cross.
Author: Mai Jones, 02/04/2014