Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cuke-Miserations . . . A Not So Mizerable Salad

Oftentimes, what inspires me to make a recipe are the ingredients that I have on hand and that need to be used up so they do not spoil (I absolutely abhor wasting food).  This time the ingredients in question were 2 cute little Persian cucumbers (that were not on my grocery shopping list, but that made it in my shopping cart all the same. Yes, cukes can be an impulse buy). Naturally, when I saw the cucumbers lingering in my fridge, I thought, “I must make mizeria!”

Mizeria is a type of Polish cucumber salad that is usually made with sour cream. (Hang on tight, for my creamy plant-based version of the salad in a future posting.) However, it can also be made as a non-creamy salad ala Kuchnia Polska recipe #543 Mizeria z ogórków z octem (Cucumber salad with vinegar). I’m finding that sometimes, it is not that hard to veganize Polish recipes, as some of them are already plant-based enough.  Such are the wonders one discovers when delving into the world of Kuchnia Polska and Polish plant-based cookery.

Mizeria z octem

Before we start making salad together, let’s cuke-miserate a bit.  Shall we?  I think that, mizeria-- a word denoting and connoting misery, poverty, shabbiness, and meagerness in the Polish language-- is kind of a funny word for a cucumber salad. So, it made me wonder why Poles have named such a yummy salad with such derision.  So, logically, I hit the internet (and a couple of Polish-English dictionaries) to do a little research on the topic (and by “a little”, that is exactly what I mean). 

Apparently, other inquisitive minds have wondered about the etymology of mizeria, as well. Explanations abound and range from the ever-popular legend about good ol’ homesick and miserable Queen Bona Sforza shedding tears into her beloved cuke salad reminiscing about Italy while residing in Poland (Girl, I’ve been there!), to an interpretation that cucumber salad was not thought of as a very filling or satisfying meal (at least not compared to meals that typically consisted of hearty potatoes, cabbage, and meat dishes that fueled the Slavs for centuries prior to French or Italian culinary influences on Polish cookery).  You know, just some meager ("mizerne") cucumbers in sour cream and vinegar with some onion slices and seasonings. There is even a Wikipedia page (albeit a very short one) on the term mizeria, which seems to suggest that it’s possible that the salad gained its namesake from sweet cream Spanish origins.

Long story short, I was unable to find a truly definitive explanation of how mizeria gained its name and fame, but I enjoyed researching it (a little bit) all the same.  I think it’d be fun to come up with our own explanations for how mizeria got its name? While you think about your explanation (don't forget to share it with me in the comments section), let me share with you how to make this not so miserable salad.

A Not So Mizerable Polish Cucumber Salad
(Makes enough salad for about 2-4 servings based on serving size and hunger level.)

  • 2 small Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced* (add more, if you like)
  • 2 Tsp Erythritol** (or, to taste)
  • ½ Tsp salt (I used Himalayan pink salt) (or, to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh dill, minced (or, to your liking)
  • 1-3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (or, to taste) –The Kuchnia Polska recipe calls for just a sprinkling of regular distilled vinegar, but I love the stuff so I use more-- and I used the apple cider vinegar instead.***


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix it up, and chill for at least 30 minutes to allow juices to be released and flavors to merge. The salad should have a sweet and sour taste to it. 

* Here is why, if I can, I always use red onions in my recipes.
** You can use any sweetener you like. Here and here is why I choose to use Erythritol.
*** And, here is why vinegar is good for us.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Please Mister, Don’t You Touch Me Polish Tomato Soup

Eat it, instead! All you do is szlurp up, szlurp up. Well, you will be soon, anyhow. 

Polish soups, as my mom always says, are simple to make, you make the base stock and then just add whatever the main ingredient is to make the said soup.  For example, Mushroom Soup =  base + mushrooms, Pickle Soup = base + pickles, Barszcz (Borscht) = base + beets, and so on and so forth. Easy, right? OK, so, it is a little more involved than that, but you will see that Polish soups do follow a bit of a formula that is pretty easy to follow, especially when one is in dire need of a tasty bowl of comforting soup. 

"Zupy i dodatki do zup"
Courtesy of Kuchnia Polska p.289
Polish Tomato Soup started many a meal at our family dinner table, as I suspect it still does in many Polish households because it is a very common Polish soup.  It can be made quickly, and it is quite yummy (one of my favorites—my mouth is watering just thinking and blogging about it now).  There are several variations of the soup; Kuchnia Polska lists 3 recipes (#s 192, 241, and 242) for Zupa Pomidorowa.  I'll be making my plant-based version of this traditional soup based on all 3 recipes, plus my own recollection of the dish.  

I know what you are thinking. Zupa Pomidorowa? I thought this was Polish Tomato Soup and not Italian Tomato Soup! Good eye, my linguistically astute and curious friend, good eye!  Long story short, way way way back in the day, Poland and Italy not only shared trade routes, but also political leaders. As a result, this Italian - Polish connection ended up influencing Polish culture, language, and food to some degree (I wonder if there was a similar Polish influence on Italian culture?  Hmmm, that is definitely something to look into.)  Hence, the term, Zupa Pomidorowa and not tomatsoppa (Swedish), Tomatensuppe (German), or rajčinová polievka (Slovakian).

Zupa Pomidorowa
ala Kuchnia Polska photo #26
Anyway back to Zupa Pomidorowa; it can be made from fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes (either preserved at home or store bought), or even canned tomato paste; it can be made with a creamy base or without; and, it can be made with a variety of “dodatki” (additions), such as rice, noodles, croutons, sour cream*, naleśniki "noodles" (a recipe that I will be experimenting with in the future, to be sure).  At our house, we typically ate this soup with either rice or noodles, and my mom usually whipped it up using canned tomato products.  Although, these days my dad uses his own homemade canned tomatoes.  

My mouth is watering, shall we start touchin' them tomatoes, then?
Don't Touch Me 
Plant-Based Polish Tomato Soup ...
Eat it, instead!
(Makes a big ol' pot of soup. I'd say 4-6 servings, based on serving size and hunger level.)

  • 6-7 cups water
  • 3 small-medium carrots
  • 3 stalks/ribs of celery
  • 1 red onion (cut into 2 halves, dice 1 half, and leave the other half as is)
  • 1/2 bunch of parsley (Italian or curly, it does not matter, both taste the same… at least they do to me)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp (give or take) of liquid seasoning (make sure it is plant-based)**
  • 28 oz canned peeled crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 Tsp of non-dairy plant-based butter spread (can also use olive oil, or just omit altogether)
  • 4 Tbsp of brown rice (optional)
  • 2/3 cup of soy milk (another non-dairy milk can be used, or can omit altogether)
  • 2 Tbsp of tomato paste
  • 1-2 Tbsp of agave syrup, or other sweetener (optional)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh dill and/or parsley minced (optional, but highly recommended)


Combine water, carrots, celery, 1/2 whole red onion, parsley, garlic, bay leaf, and liquid seasoning in a soup pot. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer.  Cook until the veggies soften.

While the broth is simmering and the veggies are softening, saute the remaining 1/2 of the diced red onion with the non-dairy plant-based butter spread or with a touch of olive oil.  You do not need to use a lot of fat, just enough to give the onion color.  If you prefer not to use any spread or oil, you can opt to broth or water saute the onions instead. I find that onions taste much better if they are sauteed with just a bit of fat. So, I begin my saute with a hint of spread or oil and then add liquid to extend the saute.  It works very nicely for me, and really helps to cut down on the fat.

Once the onions begin to get some color, add about 1/3 of the crushed canned tomatoes, and saute for an additional 5 minutes, letting the flavors merge.  You can add some of the broth to the mix, if it gets too thick.

Strain the broth and remove the veggies from the pot. Do not throw away the softened onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. You can discard the parsley, though.  The softened veggies will be used to "nutrify" and thicken the soup. Also, hold on to that bay leaf.

Pour the strained broth back into the pot, and add the reserved bay leaf.

Puree the softened veggies and the tomato/onion saute mix in a blender, and pour the mixture into the soup pot to combine with the broth.  

Add the brown rice, if using. (When I was learning how to cook, to help me remember how much rice to add to the soup, my mom always said to add as many tablespoons of rice as there were people in our family--there were 4 of us. 4 Tbsp is enough, trust me! The stuff expands BIG time. If you add too much rice-- which I have done in the past-- you will get more of a tomato rice mush rather than a soup. Still edible, but just not the same thing.)

Bring the soup back to a boil, cover, and turn down to a simmer.

Combine the soy milk, tomato paste, agave syrup in a cup and temper with some of the hot soup. Add this mixture to the soup. Add pepper to taste.

Let the soup simmer until the rice kernels open up like little butterflies.  

Serve the soup with a healthy sprinkling of fresh dill and/or parsley.  (You can leave this out if you are one of those anti-green dill folks who are not into this -- you know who you are. But let me tell you, if you do leave this out, you will be missing out! Because there is nothing like the taste of these very healthful and flavor enhancing fresh herbs!)

Now, go szlurp up, szlurp up!


* I am currently experimenting with making a non-dairy plant-based sour cream that would be suitable for a soup garnish.  I'll get back to you once I have perfected my concoction. So, do stay tuned.

** If you don't have liquid seasoning on hand (something like Maggi or Bragg's Liquid Aminos), some veggie bouillon or a combination of vegetable seasoning and salt to taste would be suitable substitutes. I've never tried it, but soy sauce might work, as well. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kiss my Butternut Squash Kisiel!

I didn't think that my first recipe post would be a Polish dessert, since I have much more of a savory tooth than I do a sweet tooth. But necessity and curiosity often lead to inspiration. And, that is the case here, not having much else in the fridge but a butternut squash combined with a desire to get started on my food blog has led me to my first plant-based Polish recipe post.  So, kisiel it will be!

Kisiel (pronounced key shell) is an unpretentious and satisfying dessert that can be made using a variety of fruits (my favorite kisiels are the berry kind ... they are berry berry good); and according to Kuchnia Polska, kisiels can even be made with coffee, chocolate, or nuts. I think of kisiel as a cross between a pudding and Jello; it is thickened using a starch such as potato starch or corn starch. I suspect arrowroot would work too, but I have yet to try it. These days one can buy instant kisiel packets, but we will not be having any of that here.

Flipping through Kuchnia Polska, I came across recipe 1085 Kisiel z dyni (pumpkin kisiel), which became my inspiration for Butternut Squash Kisiel. (In case you are wondering, there are 1531 recipes in Kuchnia Polska! This book is 799 pages thick and that's not counting the unnumbered pages with the awesome communist era 1970s photographs.  I told you, this is one serious cookbook!)

Butternut Squash Kisiel
(Makes about 4 10-12oz. servings or 8 5-6oz. servings)

  • 1 small-medium sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 cups of (ginger infused) water for cooking/steaming butternut squash
  • 1 cup water for kisiel (I used the reserved cooking water from the butternut squash)
  • 1/2 cup cold soy milk (or any other non-dairy milk you prefer)
  • 4 Tbsp. of cornstarch (you can also use potato starch or arrowroot powder)
  • 7 oz. of date puree/syrup* (or to your liking)
  • 2 Tbsp of agave syrup (or to your liking)
  • 2 1/2 Tsp of vanilla flavoring (if you've got the real stuff, use that)
  • 1/2 lemon's juice
  • 4-5 cloves (optional)
  • Dash of salt


Add butternut squash chunks to a large saucepan with 2 cups of the ginger infused water and 4-5 cloves. I used fresh ginger infused water (just boil and steep water with slices and chunks of raw ginger) and cloves to boost the antioxidant content of the dish; however, these steps are optional, you can use plain water and omit the cloves, if you like.

Cook/steam the butternut squash until it is soft. Poke it with a fork to determine when it is done.  I'm not sure because I forgot to record it, but I think it took about 10 minutes or so. When done, remove the cloves (if you are using them). Drain the butternut squash reserving 1 cup of the water for the remainder of the recipe (think of all those nutrients floating around in that water). Or, if you do not reserve the fluid, be sure to have a cup of water handy.

Puree the butternut squash making sure it is uniform in consistency. You don't want any lumps or chunks in the kisiel. I used a hand-held blender, but a regular blender, food processor, or even a potato masher will do.

Add the date puree/syrup*, agave syrup (I added this because I thought the kisiel needed to be a bit sweeter), vanilla, and lemon juice to the puree and blend well. 

Dissolve the cornstarch in the 1/2 cup of cold soy milk.

In another medium saucepan, bring the 1 cup of reserved butternut squash (or plain) water to a boil, and then remove from heat.  Stir in the cornstarch and soy milk mixture into the heated reserved water, return to the heat, and  bring it back to a boil all the while whisking constantly.  Add, the butternut squash puree mixture and whisk it well. You can stop whisking when you see the mixture start to glisten a bit.

Pre-moisten your dessert bowls with cold water (this will allow the kisiel to slide out later should you want to turn it out --like a Jello mold-- rather than eat it directly from the bowl), and pour the mixture, dividing it equally, into your serving bowls. Chill for at least 3 hours, or if you prefer, you can eat it warm.

Kuchnia Polska recommends serving the kisiel with a raspberry or black currant syrup, which does sound rather nice and would add a little extra color to the kisiel.  I did not have either and was fine eating it without a fruity syrup.  I did find that the kisiel tasted better on the next day after the flavors had a chance to merge.

Butternut Squash Kisiel

*NOTE: I use date syrup as a sweetener most of the time in my smoothies, oatmeal, desserts, etc. because they are really good for you and because they are one of the healthiest sweetener options around. I make my own date syrup by soaking dates overnight, pitting them, and then pureeing them with the soaking water into a smooth (and yummy paste). You can keep this syrup in the fridge, or freeze it (like I do) in an ice cube tray.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cook these wonderful dishes remembering us...

Welcome to Jolka Polka's Kitchen!  I'm very excited to be finally embarking on and sharing this little project/hobby of mine (an idea that came to me one memorable autumn day not so long ago -- November 10, 2012, to be exact) with you my dear and hopefully hungry reader.

You're probably wondering:  What is plant-based Polish cookery?  Is it even possible to create plant-based Polish culinary delights without the seemingly ever present Polish staples of pork, sausage, and dairy? More importantly, will it taste good?  (Gawd, please let it taste good!) Finally, you may even be asking yourself, "Why on Earth is it even worth embarking on such a project?"

A little context and back story may be in order. I am a cycling vegetarian, of sorts.  Yes, I ride a bike with many a colorful vegetable, fruit, grain, and legume bounty in my basket, but that is not what I mean. What I mean is that I repeatedly dabble with plant-based eating every several years or so. Sure, I lapse every once in a while (okay, a lot), but I return to plant-based eating with remarkable regularity. And, that is what matters, my dear friend, because that is what brings me (and you) here.

Long story short (I knew a woman years ago who had a gift of the gab, she used this expression often; I'm pretty sure that she did not know what it meant because her stories were never short. But, I digress...), over a year ago after many years of being a lapsed plant-based eater, I felt compelled once again to eat healthier, more nutritiously, and more responsibly for myself and for the planet. So, I started eating "vegetarian before dinner" an adaptation of Mark Bittman's Vegan Before 6. At the same time, I started researching and reading up on plant-based eating, and slowly but surely, my own eating habits also morphed into being a "vegan before 6".  Absolutely pivotal in my plant-based conversion were: Dr. Joel Furhman's, Eat for Health; Dr. Michael Greger's fantastically informative and research-based web-site,; the book and the documentary of the same name, Forks Over Knives; Dr. Neil Barnard's many books and web-site, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; and Dr. Dean Ornish's historic book, Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease.  So, long story short (tee hee hee), my current gastronomic lifestyle has evolved into cooking and preparing only plant-based foods (mostly low fat) at home. However, I do allow myself more flexibility when I venture out into the world of culinary pleasures and temptations that are ever present in the Bay Area. Hey, I'm human, and I like good food!

These days, as I suspect it is for many of us, my menu is diverse with foods and spices from all over the world. However, given that I am of hearty Slavic heritage, specifically 100% Polish, and that I grew up eating delicious Polish food, I often hanker for a Polish meal that reminds me of my origins but that is not laden with meats, fats, and dairy.  So, you see, I was presented with both a conundrum and an opportunity. Enter Project Veganize Kuchnia Polska a.k.a. this here very food blog, Jolka Polka's Kitchen: Plant-Based Polish Cookery Made with Love.

Again, a little context and back story is in order. In 1979, my aunt and uncle presented our family with a copy of Maria Librowska's 1979 edition of Kuchnia Polska, a seminal and classic Polish cookbook, if not the Polish cookbook of an era, as a going away gift.  
My copy of Kuchnia Polska.
You see, my family's life would change forever, as we were emigrating for the United States of America. We were lucky to have emigrated from Poland before martial law would take hold two years later, but that is a story for another blog. Now, back to the book and to the food.  

Somehow over the years, I have come to hold our family's copy of Kuchnia Polska. The first sentence of the book reads:  "Wzrost i rozwój człowieka, fizyczna i tak zwane samopoczucie wynikają w dużej mierze ze sposobu odżywiania się" (Translation: "The growth and development of humans, both our physical growth and our so-called well-being, largely stem from diet.")  Our copy of the book was lovingly inscribed by my aunt and uncle,"-- aby gotując te wspaniałe potrawy wspomnieli o nas" (Translation: "Cook these wonderful dishes remembering us.") 

"Wzrost i rozwój człowieka ..."
"Cook these wonderful dishes remembering us."
I don't know about you, but I think those there are some deep and powerful words! Because that is exactly what food does, isn't it? It does more than sustain us physically, it also bonds us to our past, our heritage, and our memories. Food creates us. When we eat, we nurture our bodies, our minds, and our souls. 

So, it is with love and very fond memories that I will attempt to veganize and nutrify traditional Polish dishes into healthier plant-based versions that can be enjoyed by not only me, but also you (should you choose to make them).  I can't say that I will always be successful, but I am willing to experiment and try one recipe at a time.