Tag Archives: Poland

Traditions and Eggs are Meant to Be Broken

Wonderfull Masher

Pierogi is a traditional dish in Poland, so popular that the Polish have a festival dedicated to it. They cook it traditionally for Christmas, explains Emilia, because it’s a social dish. The whole family would gather in order to make rounds of dough, fill them and fold them into tens and hundreds of the mouthwatering filled pockets, and eat them together at the holiday dinner. Pierogi is the plural name for the dish, but no one would ever use the singular form, pieróg: You can never have just one.

This way to spend the holidays definitely beats the customary Israeli way: The traditional way – in which the hostess would stand for three days in the kitchen and cook just so that friends and relatives can ditch her cooking behind her back – has evolved: these days, everyone brings a dish or two so than everyone can ditch everyone behind their back.

Cut Onion and Waste

The full name of the dish is Pierogi Russki – meaning Russian Pierogi. There is no explanation as to why ‘Russian’. The origin of the dish is unknown, but its name indicates its eastern European roots, as “pir” is an ancient Slavic word for festivity. The dish also exists in the Russian kitchen, but they call it Varenyky.

Curiously, the Russians have a different dish by the name of Pirozhki – A fried roll filled with various stuff. For me, this Russian dish connects with stolen pleasures, since it was always smuggled to me as a bribe by the huge Russian shopkeeper on Friday morning (the first day of the weekend in Israel), so I’d stay quiet and let my father purchase a huge stock of Russian delicacies – a whole galaxy of culinary adventures in terms of a Israeli small town in the 1980’s.

Ready Dough

Someone in Poland made a whole mess out of the names of things, and now we can only stand in the kitchen and scratch our heads. At some point of the private history – not the one written down in books but the the history of peasants and women, the one that describes the slow processes of cheese making and bread baking – someone might have come home from a long journey. And that someone, I imagine, might have brought home a new kind of filled dumplings, different then whatever they had before: Russian-style pierogi. Oh, the joy! New tastes, new smells. But this story doesn’t add up: how come the Pierogi Russkie is nothing like the Russian Pirozki? Both dishes are dough filled with something, but that’s where the similarities end. I suspect our ancient Pole lied about the destination of his quest, and instead of going to Russia might have just spent a few months in the next town, eating perfectly Polish dumplings.

Pierogi are traditionally filled with either meet, sauerkrout, mushrooms or a Purée of potatoes and onions. We made the potato version. For Christmas, one would also make a sweet version, filled with fruit. And young Polish cooks would try new, less laborious fillings, such as spinach. “my mother would NEVER do that”, says Emilia.

The mother is generally the highest authority for Pirogi making. No one can ever compete with their mother’s Pierogis, says Emilia. Every young mother would complain to her young daughter during the preparation, saying that her Pierogis would never be as good as her mother’s. Every young girl would roll her eyes and say, my god, how boring. And most young girl who would grow up and become young cooks would say, oh my, these Pierogis would never be as good and tasty as my Mom’s splendid Pierogis.

Closing A Dumpling

(this, of course, can be just the same for Dads and sons and every other combination of the genders, that is if Dad cares about traditional cooking, which is to my experience rare. But in case there is someone like that – there’s nothing wrong with it! On the contrary! Come! Join us in the kitchen! I will face the challenges of genderless and PC writing with much delight.)

For the filling we mashed some potatoes, using my brag-about traditional potato-ricer I got at the flea market. The result was not much different then to mash it with a potato masher but we played around with it a bit, excited to discover it was made in the GDR and creating long worms with it.

Maayan With Masher \ Potatoes in Masher Mashed

After that we’ve made the dough. Emilia was as tense as an Olympic springboard diver. The traditional way is to make the dough on a cutting board, but it’s much easier to cut corners and just make it in a bowl… Emilia, however, faced the challenge successfully:

Flour Mountain With Hole \ Egg Poured Into Flour \ Flour Mountain With Egg \ Kneading

Polish mamas would fold the Pierogis with their hands, creating a lovely traditional ornamentation . When my friend Bat-El made this dish with Emilia and Sashka, she showed them a way to fold the dough with a fork so that it would make a nice ornamentation and also stick together better. This way, the Pierogis tend to open less when cooked. However, we made one with the traditional folding so you could see it for yourselves.

Traditional Pirogi

Now kids, can you find the traditional Pierogi in the picture?

Pirogi On Board

Emilia’s Mom would probably never make it any other way.

I will upload the recipe very soon, but unfortunately not today… please excuse me 🙂

Floured Foot \ Messy Kitchen



Filed under Meeting

In Search of the Holy Zurek

It’s been A long time since I last wrote: summer has its price. I work as a tour guide now, and this summer was unexpectedly crowded with Israeli tourists. Then when I already had a day off, it was so sunny and wonderful that all I wanted to do was make use of it, before the winter queen comes and blow away all the fun. Summer in Berlin is so great. People feel human once again, smile at each other and respond to one another. In wintertime, it is not only that the sun is gone and the colors turn gray – the smiles are gone, the people are gray. In summer, everyone is cheery, colorful and talkative, like Emillia and Sashka.

Emilia With Dough Sashka In Background

Emilia and Sashka are my friend Bat-El’s roommates. Since Bat-El is Israeli, she is disqualified from participation in this blog – cause what would make it multi cultural? – so she recommended that I meet her roommates – Emilia, who is Polish, and Sashka, who is a Polophile (you know, Francophiles adore French culture, Polophiles adore Polish culture). Sashka studied linguistics and Slavics at Greifswald, where he met Emilia who studied Baltistics and Fenistic – that is, Baltic and Finish languages. Practical people.

In the emails we swapped before our meeting, Emilia warned me that we cannot cook Zurek unless I find a bottle of ZAKWAS DO ZURKU SLASKIEGO, which is literally Sourdough of Zurek Salaki, an ingredient which in my opinion makes the whole process a bit recursive (how was the first Zurek Salaki ever made then?). And so, like the mythological Jason, I went in search of the golden fleece. And what a quest was that! It appears that in the very narrow niche of Polish culinary shops, Zakwas is a highly requested item. They were out of it the day that I came, and took my name down in order to put it aside for me after the next day’s shipment arrives, just in case it runs out before I come in the next morning. And this way, on the day of the meeting itself, I managed to get my hands on a true and original bottle of Zurek.

Original Bottle of Zurek

For those of you who live in Berlin, here’s a list of Polish shops here. Look under “Niemci – Berlin” and then “Sklepi”. If you live outside of Berlin, just wait till one of your friends comes back from a vacation in Poland… or you try to make the Zakwas yourselves. Magdalena Widder explains how in her Blog.

Zurek (Zhurek), a sour soup, is mainly served in Poland during weddings. Weddings in Poland are traditionally held for two days, so in order to get the people through the second day of drinking and partying, they have to help them get over the hangover caused by the first day of drinking and partying. The sourness of the soup is supposed to act as a hangover remedy. This piece of information, delivered to me by Emilia and Sashka, lead to a conversation about how weddings are held in Israel vs. Poland, and eventually to a demonstration of other cultural highlights, such as swearing in Hebrew. Emilia, the actress, was fascinated by the amount of feelings that can be put into a swear such as Kushalaimimashcha, a worn down and melted into one word combination of a full sentence, originally in Arabic, meaning a vagina on your mother’s mother.

The “Slaski” in the name of the dish refers to the region of Silesia, an area which is now divided between Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, and in the past switched hands time and time again between the three. It is curious that a Polish dish with potatoes would be named “Silesian”, and I can try to infer the origin of the name. During the mid 18th century, Silesia was annexed to Prussia, Germany’s predecessor, by Friedrich the Great – an enlightened king and reformer, who also introduced the potatoes to what later became Germany. Fritz had a hard time trying to get his subjects to plant potatoes. Although potatoes were already widely accepted in France, the Prussians thought they were toxic. At the time, the European noble families were culturally very influenced by the French. They spoke and ate French, so Fritz was well aware of the wonders of potatoes. He also knew that potatoes need less water and less space to grow per calorie than wheat, which was the main carb source in the Prussian empire back then. It is said that during one drought, Friedrich the Great wrote letters to all the district rulers, presenting them with the idea of planting potatoes. They did not like it. One mayor even wrote back to him: “The things have neither smell nor taste, not even the dogs will eat them, so what use are they to us?”

One might easily despair and leave the fixated German peasants to eat sandwiches for the rest of eternity, but not a clever king like Fritz . He planted 50 acres of potatoes in the royal fields, and posted a real live Prussian soldier, dressed in full battle uniform, from his high army boots to his helmet feather, to guard the field. The clever peasants understood that anything which is worth such a guard is definitely worth stealing, and stole the potatoes under the nose of the human scarecrow (who was of course ordered to look the other way). The story does not reveal how these peasants came to the conclusion that the thing that was worth stealing was also worth a 40 minutes cooking in water and serving in, say, Hollandaise souse, but let’s leave it at that: the Germans thank Friedrich the Great to this day for insisting on the potato thing, and to this day put fresh potatoes on his grave in Park Sanssouci at Potsdam.

Friedrich and Potatoes

Credit to Jay Perley.

How do I know all this? Because I visit this grave with Israeli tourists something like once a week, on the tour to Potsdam. And why am I telling you all these interesting things about Prussian cuisine when we are all about Polish food? Because Silesia, as we have mentioned, was a part of Prussia at the time! All ends meet! This would explain why a Polish soup with potatoes would be called Silesian – the introduction of Potatoes in Poland could have been done through Silesia, which was under Friedrich the Great’s potato-regime. As you might have read in my previous post, the integration of potatoes (as well as tomatoes, beans, corn, and other things) into any cuisine almost always has an interesting story behind it, since all these were introduced in Europe only after the so called “discovery” of America.

There’s also a TON of marjoram in this dish – 1 cup, which is A LOT for a dried herb. By the way, marjoram is also called “marjoran” or “marjorana” in some languages. Although it is called “majorana” in Spanish, my guess is that in Mexico they did pronounce the R. Try to say “marjorana” in a Mexican accent, and you’ll get the Mexican nickname for cannabis, later adopted by American legislators in order to make the whole thing sound fishy, illegal and generally bad – like the Mexicans, you see. I could not find any evidence for this theory on the net, but I think it all goes together too well.

There is no limit to how sour this thing can taste. The Zurek is what makes it so sour. And I was given the honor of tasting the dish in order to determine if we should add any more of it – not, as I first assumed, due to my good taste, but due to my lack of Polish background and out of concern that the soup might taste too sour for me.

Maayan Tasting Zurek

It was sour – and great! They are such a lovely couple, Emilia and Sashka. I hope they get married some day. Really. I’m not just saying that because I want to get completely drunk and have Zurek Slaski on their wedding.

The recipe can be found here. New post, about how we’ve made lovely Polish dumplings (Pierogi), will be published soon.


Filed under Meeting

Zurek Slaski – Recipe

This is a recipe given following my post In Search of the Holly Zurek.


Ingredients Zurek

Ingredients: (8 servings)

7 medium size potatoes

2 medium size onions

2 garlic cloves

1 cup of dried marjoram

2 spoons of sugar

3 spoons of chicken soup powder

2 bay leaves

1 spoon English pepper

Salt according to taste

1 pack sour cream

About 100 g. flour

1 bottle of rye sourdough – a starter for Zurek Slaski, sold in Polish shops (ZAKWAS DO ZURKU SLASKIEGO)


4 Polish white sausages – KIELBASA BIALA (Also available at Polish shops)

8 Hard boiled eggs

Crème Fraiche

Served Zurek

Method of preparation:

  1. Chop onion, smash garlic.
  2. In a big pot, put water, chopped onion, smashed garlic, marjoram, English pepper and bay leaves. Cover pot, bring to boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for an hour.
  3. Chop potatoes in 1 cm cubes. In a different pot, boil potatoes untill they’re soft and put them aside.
  4. Boil the eggs for 15 minutes, then lay in cold water for 5 minutes and take them out (this is the best way to get them to peel).
  5. After the soup has cooked for an hour, add chicken soup powder. Correct seasoning: add salt, pepper if needed.
  6. In a bowl, mix sour cream and half a cup of water. Add flour spoon by spoon till the mixture is homogeneous. For better results, use a whisk or add the flour through a sieve.
  7. Mixing

  8. Add the mixture to the boiling soup. Stir well in order to melt or squash any lumps of flour.
  9. Add sugar and potatoes.
  10. Add sausages (chopped or whole) and cook for another 10 minutes.
  11. In the serving bowls, put the eggs (peeled and cut in half). Pour the very hot soup on top and serve.


Filed under Recipe