Author Michał Korkosz shares the vegetarian highlights of Polish cuisine

Offering up a flavour of his home country, Polish food writer Michał Korkosz shares his favourite ingredients — from seasonal sheep’s cheese to traditional pickles. Plus, his top three spots for dining out in Warsaw.

By Michał Korkosz
Published 15 Jun 2021, 12:52 BST
A full Polish breakfast is just one of the recipes available in Michał's new book.

A full Polish breakfast is just one of the recipes available in Michał's new book.

Photograph by Michał Korkosz

I was born in Poland and raised on the cuisine of my mother and grandmother. As I learned to cook for myself, I discovered other cuisines, which are exciting and delicious, but they don’t have the one thing I sometimes miss: nostalgia.

For many, Poland is associated with pork schnitzel (known as schabowy) and kielbasa sausage, often served with cold vodka. It’s true that in Polish cuisine there are stunning meat-based dishes, but our valleys are also rich in wonderful vegetables and fruits. The culture of dairy products and fermented foods is incredibly advanced, and the number of grain-based dishes is countless. Kasza (buckwheat) is a signature of Polish cooking; the dark brown, nutty groats are roasted, but you can also find an unroasted version, which is milder and more delicate in taste. Yellow millet, meanwhile, can be used in everything from salads to puddings.

Poland’s national cheese is twaróg, also known as farmer cheese. I use it as a topping, filling, and spread, but it’s also a fundamental ingredient in sernik (cheesecake). I also love sheep’s milk bryndza, a speciality of the Podhale region in southern Poland, and oscypek from Zakopane, at the base of the Tatra Mountains. The latter is a smoked cheese made of salted sheep’s milk and is only produced from late April to early October, when the sheep feed on fresh mountain grass. Before that, any milk they produce is needed for the lambs. 

In my fridge, there are always a few jars of fermented food. Sauerkraut (kiszona kapusta) is a very important part of Polish cuisine, and ogórki kiszone (dill pickles) are a classic. Fermenting cucumbers at home is easier than people think — and in fact, many Poles do just that. One-week fermented pickles are called małosolne (‘slightly salty’); they’re super-crunchy and fresh, a true delicacy of the Polish autumn.

This is an extract from Fresh from Poland: New Vegetarian Cooking from the Old Country, published by The Experiment (RRP: $19.95/£14.37).

Author Michał Korkosz is passionate about Polish cuisine.

Photograph by Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz

Three unmissable Warsaw restaurants 

1. Źródło
Located in the historic Praga district, Źródło is a casual place that takes an innovative approach to traditional dishes. Be sure to order the gnocchi-like kopytka (literally ‘little hooves’) with brown butter and szafir cheese.

2. Bez Gwiazdek
Robert Trzópek, the chef-owner of this modern bistro, changes the menu each month, focusing on dishes from one region of Poland at a time. Among the dishes I’ve tried here are a barszcz (beetroot soup) with strawberries and chamomile oil.

3. Prasowy
Milk bars — low-cost canteens — usually haven’t changed much since the communist era, but Prasowy, one of the oldest in town, was revamped in 2013.

The must-try dish

Żurek is a soup based on rye sourdough żur, a fermented mixture of flour, water and spices, making it sour, salty and creamy. It’s served with boiled potatoes, eggs and chunks of kielbasa sausage, or you can swap the meat for porcini mushrooms.

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