Wigilia: Traditional & Simplified

Even if you have never prepared Polish-style Christmas delicacies from scratch, I’m sure you will find many of the following recipes quite easy to follow. Most will serve from 4 to 6 people, so simply multiply the ingredients for larger groups.


HERRING IN OIL (sledz w oleju):

Drain 12 – 16 oz. jar of marinated herring, discarding onions and spices. Plunge into cold water for no more than 1 min. and drain well in colander. Place in clean jar or bowl and drench with salad oil to cover. Refrigerate over night or longer. When ready to serve, remove herring with fork to serving platter. Top each piece with a little half a spoonful of very finely-chopped onions. Decorate platter with parsley sprigs, pickled mushrooms and/or gherkins.


CREAMED HERRING (sledz w smietanie):

Store-bought creamed herring are not very good, because they contain all kinds of chemical preservatives to prevent such a spoilage-prone combination as fish, cream and onions from going bad. Instead, drain a 12 – 16 oz. jar of marinated herring, discarding onions and spices. Plunge into cold water for no more than 1 min. and drain in colander. If desired, cut herring into smaller, bite-sized pieces and arrange on lettuce-line serving dish. Fork-blend 3/4 c. dairy sour cream (or plain low-fat yogurt for dieters) with 1/4 c. mayonnaise (regular or light), 1 t. sharp brown prepared mustard, the juice of 1/2 a small lemon and several dashes of white pepper. Drench herring with sauce just before serving. Note: herring are served either with rye bread or boiled potatoes.


HERRING SALAD (salatka sledziowa):

This is a more economical way to serve herring. Drain 8 oz. jar marinated herring and discard onions and spices. Dice herring and place in salad bowl. Add 2 c. cold, cooked diced potatoes, 2 peeled, diced apples, 2 chopped onions, 2 chopped dill pickles and/or 10 gherkins and 1 t. chopped fresh parsley. Toss gently and fold in sauce: fork-blend 1-1/2 c. mayonnaise with 1/2 c. sour cream and 1- 2 T. brown prepared mustard. Chill at least 2 hrs before serving. Optional: for a gourmet twist add 1 heaping t. capers.


SHORT-CUT EGG & RICE PIE (kulebiak na skróty):

Crescent-roll dough can also be used to prepare this old treat that accompanies clear soups. Combine 1-1/2 c. cooked rice, 5 chopped hard-cooked eggs and 2 diced onions sautéed in 2 T butter or oil until lightly browned, add 1 beaten uncooked egg 1 – 2 heaping T. chopped fresh or frozen dill and salt & pepper to taste. As in preceding recipe, obliterate manufacturer’s perforations. Run filling down center of dough-sheet and fold sides over it to overlap. Pinch seam to seal and pinch together any other openings that might appear. Place seam-side-down on baking sheet, tuck ends under, brush with egg wash and bake according to pkg. directions or to a nice golden brown. Let cool at least 30 min at room temp before slicing and serving. Note: The fillings for this pie and the pasties in the preceding recipe are interchangeable.


CLEAR BEETROOT SOUP (czysty barszcz czerwony):

In pot combine 3 c. beet juice (from canned beets) and 2 c. apple juice and heat. In it dissolve 3 vegetable bouillon cubes (enough for 3 c. bouillon). Add 2 T. vinegar and season to taste with a little garlic powder, liquid mushroom extract, pepper, sugar. Add 2 T. unsalted butter, simmer a few min., switch off heat and let stand a few min. covered for flavors to blend. Serve in large teacups with hand-held paszteciki (below).


FILLED SOUP PASTRIES (paszteciki):

Simmer 2 finely chopped onions in a little butter until tender and just barely browned. Combine with 1 c. cooked rice, 4 finely chopped hard-booked eggs, 1 raw egg, a heaping T. fresh chopped dill (now available year round in better supermarkets!) and salt & pepper to taste. Mix well. Open a tube of refrigerator crescent-roll dough and with floured thumb obliterate manufacturer’s perforations. Instead cut dough sheet into 2 parallel strips and run filling down the middle of each strip. Roll dough over filling snugly to form a roll and cut it at an angle into 2- 3 pastry rolls. Pinch together ends of each pastry roll to keep filling inside. Repeat with other roll. Bake according to instructions on package or until nicely golden brown. Serve hot with beet root soup.


CLEAR MUSHROOM SOUP (zupa grzybowa czysta):

Soak 1-1/2 oz. dried boiled mushrooms in 3 c. water several hrs or over night. Cook mushrooms in the water in which they soaked until tender. Cut cooked mushrooms into thin strips or dice. Combine mushrooms, their liquid and 1-1/2 c. vegetable stock and bring to boil, then reduce heat. Brown 2 finely chopped onions in 2 T. butter and add to soup. Simmer several min. longer. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice and serve over cooked noodle squares or ribbon-type egg noodles. Optional: Garnish with a little chopped fresh parsley before serving.


EASY MUSHROOM-RYEMEAL SOUP (latwy zurek wigilijny):

Crumble up 4-5 slices Polish bakery rye bread (with crust removed) into 6 c water in pot and let soak several hrs. Add 1 mushroom bouillon cube and bring to boil. Remove from heat and beat with egg-beater or hand-held mixer until smooth. Add 1 bud crushed garlic, 1 t marjoram, 1 T white vinegar and salt & pepper to taste.


FRIED FISH (ryba smazona):

Wash and dry 2-1/2 – 3 lbs fresh or thawed fish fillets (pike, carp, walleye, lake or ocean perch, catfish, cod, haddock, pollock, etc.), salt well, drizzle with lemon juice and intersperse with lemon slices and refrigerate several hrs or overnight. (Optional: If desired, intersperse also with onion slices.) Rinse and allow to drip-dry, salt & pepper, dust with paprika and sprinkle with a pinch of sage, roll in 50-50 mixture of plain bread crumbs and flour and fry in hot oil until golden brown on the outside and fully cooked on the inside. Drain on paper towel and serve with horseradish sauce: fork-blend 2/3 c. mayonnaise, 1/3 c. sour cream and 1 heaping T. prepared horseradish. Season to taste with lemon juice, sugar and a pinch of salt. Serve fish with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut salad (below).


CREAM-BAKED FISH (ryba zapiekana w smietanie):

Wash and pat dry 2-1/2 – 3 lbs northern pike, walleye or perch fillets, sprinkle with juice of 1 lemon, salt well and refrigerate several hrs or overnight. Rinse and pat dry. Brown fillets in a little oil or butter until just barely golden on both sides, then transfer to casserole. In skillet in which the fillets were browned, gently simmer 2 small onions sliced wafer thin until transparent, adding more fat if needed. Spoon onions over fish and bake in pre-heated 375° oven uncovered about 15 min. Meanwhile, in saucepan melt 2 T. butter or margarine, stir in 2 T. flour, stirring into a paste and diluting with 3/4 c. milk. Add 1/4 t. salt and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, gradually stir in 1/2 c. sour cream and 1 t. lemon juice. Heat but do not boil. Pour sauce over fish and bake another 15 min. or until fully cooked. Garnish with a little fresh chopped parsley and/or dill just before serving.


WALLEYE POLONAISE (sandacz po polsku):

Cut 2-1/2 – 3 lbs walleye fillets into 4″ pieces and cook in 1 qt gently boiling vegetable stock (home-made or bouillon-cube type) containing 1 T. vinegar 5-10 min. or until done (but not overcooked). Transfer with slotted spoon to warm serving dish. Chop 3-4 hard-cooked eggs and toss in 3 T. hot melted butter, but do not cook. Add a heaping T. fresh chopped dill, salt & pepper and toss to blend ingredients. Sprinkle hot fish with lemon juice and cover each piece with a little of the egg topping. Note: Other fish fillets may be prepared the same way.


POACHED FISH POLONAISE (ryba po polsku):

Cook 2 lbs firm fresh-water fillets in vegetable stock (containing 1 T vinegar) to cover about 5 min or until done. Remove cooked fillets with slotted spoon to platter and keep warm in oven. In saucepan melt 3 T butter and switch off heat. Add 4 – 5 finely-chopped hard-cooked eggs and toss to coat evenly with butter. Add 2 -3 T fresh finely chopped dill and salt & pepper generously. Toss to blend ingredients. Sprinkle fish with lemon juice and top with hard-boiled-egg topping. Serve immediately.


CHEESE & POTATO-FILLED PIEROGI (pierogi „ruskie” z kartoflami i twarogiem):

For pierogi dough, sift 2-1/2 c. flour onto board, sprinkle with 1/2 t. salt, deposit whole egg and 2 T. salad oil at center and blend ingredients. Add about 1/2 c. cold water a little at a time, working the dough constantly to absorb it. Knead dough until smooth, roll it into a ball and let is rest beneath an warm inverted bowl 10 min. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: cook 1 lb potatoes in lightly salted water until tender. Drain and cool. Add 1/2 lb crumbled farmer cheese and mash well together with the potatoes until mixture is uniform. In 2 T. oil lightly brown 2 chopped onions and add to mixture. Mix well and salt & pepper to taste. Roll dough out thin on floured board, cut into rounds with glass or biscuit-cutter, place a spoonful of filling at center of each round, fold in half and pinch edges together to seal. Cook in batches in a large enough pot of boiling salted water so they float freely without crowding. Cooking time is roughly 10 min. but test one for doneness just to be sure. Remove with slotted spoon and drain. Serve with melted butter, bread crumbs browned in butter or sour cream.

There are also many good pierogi on the market (Kasia’s, Mrs. T’s, Giorgio’s and many local brands) which I urge you to try. The most suitable for Wigilia are: sauerkraut & mushroom, potato & onion, cheese & potato (known in Polish as ‚ruskie’) and plain cheese. To serve, simply do one of the following:

– fry in butter, oleo or oil and med-low heat until a nice golden crust forms on both sides;
– place in skillet, add 1 c boiling water, cover snugly and steam on high heat. When water evaporates, they should be ready.
– heat in microwave according to pkg. directions.

Typical toppings include: sour cream, melted butter, fried chopped onions or butter-browned bread crumbs. The plain cheese variety may be dusted with confectioner’s sugar or drenched with sour cream fork-blended with confectioner’s sugar frequently. About 1/4 t. vanilla extract and/or several drops of almond extract may added.


SAUERKRAUT & MUSHROOMS (kapusta z grzybami):

Rehydrate 1/2 – 1 oz dried bolete mushrooms over night and cook in same water until tender. Chop mushrooms and return to their stock. Drain 1 qt sauerkraut, reserving juice. Swish sauerkraut around in a large pot of cold water, drain in colander, press out moisture, and chop coarsely. Place sauerkraut in pot, scald with boiling water to cover, add 1/2 a bay leaf, bring to boil, then reduce heat and cook uncovered on med. heat about 1 hr. Replace water that evaporates and stir occasionally. While sauerkraut cooks, in 3 T. oil fry up 8 oz. diced fresh mushrooms and 2 chopped onions on med. high heat, stirring frequently, until fully cooked and browned. Drain sauerkraut of excess moisture, add the cooked mushrooms and their stock, the fried fresh mushrooms and (optional) 2 – 3 canned anchovy fillets, finely chopped. Season with a few dashes of pepper, mix well and bake in covered casserole in 350° oven 1 hr. After switching off heat, leave in oven until cooled to room temp. Prepare a day ahead. Refrigerate over night and bake another hour or so before serving.


DRIED-FRUIT COMPOTE (kompot wigilijny z suszu):

Soak 1 c mixed dry fruit and 1/2 c raisins in 2-1/2 – 3 c. water 2 hrs. Add a little water more water, if all has been absorbed, and 3 – 4 T sugar and cook about 15 min. Optional: add a pinch of cinnamon and/or juice of 1/2 a small lemon. Serve room temp or chilled.


POPPYSEED NOODLES (kluski z makiem):

Cook 1 lb pkg of wide or medium-wide egg noodles or lasagna according to directions or until tender. If using lasagna, after it has cooked cut it into roughly 1″ squares. Dot hot, freshly-drained pasta with a little butter, stir in 1/2 – 3/4 canned poppyseed pastry filling, add 1 c plumped raisins and 1/2 t lemon zest. Toss and refrigerate before serving.


WHEAT & HONEY DESSERT (kutia):

In small pot with tight-fitting lid bring 2 c water to boil. Stir in 1 c bulghur wheat and cover tightly. Wrap pot in dish towel and blanket and let stand until water is absorbed (about 1 hr). When wheat has cooled to room temp, stir in 1/2 – 3/4 canned poppyseed filling, 1/4 – 1/2 c ground or chopped almonds or walnuts and 1 c plumped raisins. Note: Kutia can also be prepared with 3 c cooked rice or barley instead of the wheat.


OAT PUDDING (kisiel owsiany):

Bring 2 c. milk to boil and remove from heat. Fork-blend or whisk 1/2 c. oat flour with 1/2 c. cold water to a smooth paste and whisk into hot milk. Add 1 heaping T. sugar, 1/2 t. vanilla extract and cook on low several min., stirring frequently. Pour into dessert dishes and let cool to room temp. Serve at room temp. (the traditional way) or chilled with a little fruit syrup or preserves. Note: To get oat flour, simply whirl uncooked rolled oats in food-processor to a fine powder and sift through sieve.


STEWED PRUNES & RICE:

Soak 1 c. pitted prunes in 2 c. water several hrs. Add 2 T. sugar, 1/4 t. grated lemon rind and cook in same water 15 min. or until very tender. Season with a pinch of cinnamon if desired. Cook 2 c. rice in 2 qts boiling water until tender. Drain well. Serve stewed prunes over rice.


CRANBERRY JELLY (kisiel zurawinowy):

In pot bring 2 c canned jellied cranberry sauce to boil. Remove from heat. Dissolve 2 T cornstarch in 1/2 c cold water and stir into hot cranberry sauce. Return to heat and simmer a min or so, stirring frequently. Serve at room temp as is or topped with cold coffee cream.


NOODLES & FRUIT (lazanki z owocami):

Cook a pkg. of lasagna-type noodle squares or flat egg noodles. Usually the pkg. directions are for the chewy, somewhat rubbery ‚pasta al dente’ Italians like so cook a little longer until noodles are really tender. Drain in colander. Transfer to serving dish. Dot with butter or Butter Beads, tossing lightly, and spoon 2 c. room-temp. canned cherry-pie or apple-pie filling. Toss lightly. Variation: The canned fruit fillings are also good over cooked rice.


GINGERBREAD CAKES (pierniczki):

Cream 2 eggs with 1 c. sugar until white. Combine with about 4-1/2 c. flour, 1 c. honey and 1 t. baking soda dissolved in 3 T. water. Sprinkle in 1 t. ginger, 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/4 t. ground cloves and 1/4 t. pepper and work ingredients by hand into a dough. Knead on floured board, sprinkle with a little flour and roll out to a thickness of 1/4″. With biscuit-cutter cut into circles and bake on greased cookie sheet in pre-heated 400° oven about 10 min. Remove from oven. When cool, store in air-tight tin. Prepare at least a week ahead, as the cakes becoming tender during storage. Enjoy them just as they are or glaze with white or chocolate icing before serving. Variation: Other than rounds, they can be cut into stars, hearts, angels and other shapes as desired.


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