Polish Food 101 ‒ Groats
Groats (in Polish: kasze, singular: kasza) have been a part of Polish cuisine for hundreds of years; they were popular before Poland had even been established as a country. Today, it’s often regarded as food for the less fortunate, yet groats were common on aristocratic tables as well.
Czerniecki, the chef of the Lubomirski family in the 17th century, wrote about several types of groats. Only after cultivation and consumption of potatoes became widespread in the 19th century, groats ceased to be a staple food. Old Polish cuisine, both that of the aristocracy and of peasants, featured numerous ways to prepare groats: baking, roasting in an oven, cooked either thick or thin. Groats served as the base for nutritious and thick soups, they were eaten with curds or cheese, and seasoned with oil, butter, or pork scratchings. Mushrooms, prunes, or sultanas would also be added, the groats would be seasoned with gravy and served as a meat accompaniment. Groats – often buckwheat (gryczana) or pearl barley (jęczmienna) – is also a mandatory ingredient, along with blood and pork giblets, for the popular Polish kaszanka (a kind of blood sausage). Being such an important part of Polish cuisine, groats are also an element of many folk proverbs.
Today, groats, even those nearly forgotten, such as kasza krakowska (Kraków groats), or those less likable, like pęczak – a type of pearl barley – or millet groats (kasza jaglana), are again in the spotlight; mainly because of chefs, vegetarians and other people watching their diet. Groats, slightly flaked or shelled, have a high nutrition value. They’re an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, and are recommended for people exposed to stress.
Kasza gryczana / Buckwheat
Kasza gryczana is produced from gluten-free buckwheat, which actually isn’t a cereal, but undergoes similar processing. The most popular kasza gryczana in Poland is roasted, with an intense aroma and taste. It’s valued for its pro-health properties: it’s rich in protein, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Gryczana is often served with meat dishes, like roasts and gravies, but also with vegetarian dishes. It’s always delicious served with mushroom sauce or cooked in a dried mushroom broth. A dish popular in bars is kasza gryczana with a fried egg and spinach, with an obligatory cup of fresh curd, buttermilk or kefir. Kasza gryczana can be also served in vegetarian gołąbki (which traditionally are stuffed with meat), vegetarian cutlets (hreczaniki made with kasza gryczana and cottage cheese were popular on Eastern borderlands). It can also be used to stuff dumplings, e.g. with cottage cheese or bryndza, a sheep milk cheese from Podhale region in Southern Poland.
Kasza krakowska, once popular and valued, nowadays merely available, is a type of kasza gryczana. It’s a fractured, non-roasted, smaller and more delicate kind of groat. It’s not used in savoury dishes like soups, but also in deserts. It was Queen Anna Jagielonka’s favourite kind of kasza, regularly sent from Kraków to the court in Warsaw.
Kasza jaglana / Millet groats
Millet groats are back in favour; it’s a real hit for sufferers of allergies and celiac disease. Millet groats come from shelled millet. It exhibits anti-viral properties (this is why it’s recommended for flu, especially for children), a beneficial effect on joints, skin, nails and hair. Jaglana is most often served sweet, e.g. as a warm breakfast with fresh or dried fruit, spices and nuts. This type of groat is great for deserts, but it’s also served with savoury meals, like casseroles, soups, salads, gluten-free cakes, crepes or breads.
Kasza jęczmienna / Pearl barley
Poland produces a lot of kasza jęczmienna of various strains. In shops three particular types are available: pęczak (some call it pęcak), jęczmienna perłowa and jęczmienna łamana. Pęczak is a whole, shelled and polished barley seed. Until recently it was treated as the worse kind, even though out of the pearl barleys, pęczak is the most rich in nutrition. Similar to kasza jaglana, pęczak became famous as a part of dishes like risotto or salads with original ingredients. In the past pęczak was used in kutia, a Christmas Eve desert, which originates from eastern Poland. The finely ground barley grit is thought to be the tastiest. First and foremost, it’s an indispensable krupnik (barley soup) ingredient. The soup’s name even originates from the old-Polish word krup, which means “groats”. Pearl barley is also often served with meat and gravy; just like gryczana, it goes well with mushroom. In regional cuisine and in the older culinary books pearl barley was also used for deserts.
Kasza manna / Farina
Kasza manna, farina is a fine type of groats from wheat. It’s easily digested and thus is often added to meals for babies and toddlers, although a non-gluten diet excludes it. In the past, culinary books were abundant in deserts made with kasza manna, like puddings for example. It’s often used to thicken soups and dough.
Author: Magdalena Kasprzyk – Chevriaux, transl. Agata Dudek, February 2015