Polish Comfort Foods

By: Tamara Gabler

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A comfort food can be anything to anybody. For me, it is waking up to my grandma cooking in the small kitchen of her basement. The scent of toasted buttered breadcrumbs drifting through the air ducts to greet me from my sleep filled me with a warm sense of happiness, and a full tummy when I imagine my favorite foods. Being first born generation American, my two older sisters and I were raised in a typical Polish household and thus developed a very predisposed palette towards eastern European delicacies. While we still loved our pizza, burgers, and hot dogs we also loved things like kielbasa, sauerkraut, and liver pate. Tastes of which your typical 6-year-old normally would have never seen the likes of in a classic American setting. Grateful that I was raised in such a unique household, I must admit, that my absolute favorite comfort foods will always be well-known dishes of Polish heritage that have been rising in popularity across the Unites States. Here are my top three…

Pierogi

Pierogi (pronounced “pyeh-rog-ee”) are a dumpling using unleavened dough, stuffed with a variety of fillings. The classic and most common combinations being mashed potatoes & cheese, sauerkraut & mushrooms, ground beef, and farmer’s cheese. There are also unique alternative options for fillings like spinach & cheese, grains such as buckwheat or lentils, and sweet varieties like strawberries or blueberries and other fruits. You are limited to whatever your heart desires when it comes to stuffing these delicious dumplings with a spectrum from salty, to spicy, to sweet.

Pierogi are a Polish national dish enjoyed by everyone young and old. There have been claims noted by other surrounding Eastern European countries as well as expeditions that brought the idea from China, but nothing has ever been confirmed. One thing that is known for sure if that the word “pierogi” first appeared in Polish cookbooks and literature in the second half of the 17th century.

pierogi(Smorgasbord dumpling lunch with my family, pit stop at “Diabeł jada u Mariaszka” eatery in Poland- pierogi pictured in center and left)

To learn more about histories and interesting facts about Pierogi click the link below:
http://www.polskafoods.com/polish-food/facts-history-about-pierogi

Kopytka

Kopytka (pronounced “co-pit-kah”) are one of the lesser known dumplings that my family is especially a fan of. Originating in Northern/Northeastern Poland, kopytka are a boiled dumpling shaped like little trapezoids, usually compared to the Italian gnocchi. The meaning behind “kopytka” roughly translates to “little hooves”, which it gets its name from the shapes that they are formed into. They are made from boiled potatoes, flour, eggs, a variety of seasonings, and cottage cheese or sour cream to add to the moisture and flavor of the dumpling.

These potato dumplings are normally served with sautéed onions and fried bacon bits or in a creamy mushroom sauce. In addition, they are served with a side of various kinds of meats or stews. How my family serves them is with the classic sautéed or caramelized onions, or plain buttered and toasted bread crumbs. Personally, I am a fan of when they are left over the next day and you can cut them to smaller pieces, pan fry them until they get a little browned on one side, add some cayenne and garlic salt and serve with an over-easy egg.  Kopytka are a versatile Polish comfort dish that can be used in many different culinary interpretations, from casual to fine dining.

kopytka(My mother’s homemade Kopytki masterpiece)

To learn more about different types of Polish dumplings, click the link below:
https://culture.pl/en/article/a-foreigners-guide-to-polish-dumplings

Zapiekanki

When you turn every corner in Kraków, Poland you see the most common street food that every Polish food vendor has on their menu, Zapiekanki (pronounced “zop-yeh-khan-key”). Literally translating “to baked until crispy and brown” this comforting quick bite is simply summed up as an open- faced pizza sandwich. The order goes as such: one half of a baguette or other long white bread cut lengthwise, topped with fillings such as mushrooms, browned onions, bacon, spicy sausage, ham or any other combination you might crave. These fillings are then topped with a hard yellow cheese with a high fat contact for lavish meltability, all garnished with a healthy splatter of tomato ketchup to top off.

Invented in the 1970’s during the strict time of Poland’s Communist regime, this classic Polish dish drifted off from the mainstream eye but was revamped and grew in popularity once more during the 21st century. For myself, this was a typical comfort food during college because it was quick, easy, and required not much more than my toaster oven that I had on my dorm room desk. Many people have probably already been doing just the same for many years, but personally, it reminds me of walking the streets of Kraków in Poland, enjoying a massive open-faced sandwich with my family, and listening to the street performers while the sun’s rays warmed my face and the Zapiekanka filled my belly.

zapiekanki(Picture of my sister Monika enjoying a Zapiekanka)

To learn more about the history of Zapiekanki see link below:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zapiekanka

pierogiday(My feature dish for Quantity Production class at Kendall College- Pierogi day!)

Given that the holidays are in our midst, I can only imagine the plethora of comfort foods that are on everyone’s menus. Whether it is American, Polish, or any other cuisine that you have grown up with, one thing that cannot be beat is having a dish that brings you back to the comforts of your childhood.

From my family to yours as you dig into your next feast- Smacznego!

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