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The Warsaw Voice » Society » December 19, 2007
Christmas eve
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A Delicious Polish Tradition
December 19, 2007   
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We wish you all a delicious Polish Christmas

Wigilia supper on Christmas Eve is traditionally the most important family celebration during the festive season in Poland. According to custom, Wigilia begins when the first star appears in the sky. Before sitting down to the traditional meal, many Poles read fragments of the New Testament about Jesus Christ’s birth and share a wafer of unleavened bread of the type used in Christian religious rituals.

Many Polish homes will have a small bundle of hay underneath the tablecloth to symbolize the poverty in which Christ was born. The table is set for one extra person “in case an unexpected guest arrives.” Traditionally the meal should consist of 12 courses that contain no meat and all should be tasted to ensure a successful New Year.

Below are several of the most typical Wigilia recipes for the ambitious cooks among you to try:

Beetroot soup with Polish-style ravioli

Beetroot soup, or barszcz, is a traditional old-Polish soup. It was served at both the king’s table and in peasants’ homes.

Beetroot soup
400 g of beetroot, 5-10 dried forest mushrooms, 250 ml beet extract, 1 turnip, 1 onion, a piece of celeriac, 1/2 l water, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 bay leaf, 5 pimento grains, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, salt and pepper

Rinse the mushrooms, soak in water, season and boil until soft. Peel the beetroot, wash the pieces, thinly slice into julienne strips, splash with lemon juice, add salt and boil in water for 15 mins. Add the mushrooms and liquid, the beet extract, bring to the boil, take off the heat and leave to stand for 30 mins. Before serving, sieve the soup, add salt, sugar and pepper to taste and reheat but do not boil. The soup can also be seasoned with caraway seeds or marjoram.

Polish-style ravioli stuffed with mushrooms
Dough: 150 g flour, one egg, 2-3 tablespoons of water, salt
Stuffing: 70 g dried wild mushrooms, 1 large onion, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 small white roll, 100 ml milk, salt and pepper

Boil and mince the washed and soaked mushrooms. Sieve the mushroom stock, reduce and put aside. Fry the chopped onion. Soak the white bread in milk and then squeeze out the liquid. Mix the mushrooms with the onion, the white bread and the reduced mushroom stock.

Season with salt and pepper. Prepare the dough. Mix together the flour, eggs, 2-3 tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt. Roll out the dough and cut into 4 x 4 cm squares. Place a spoonful of the stuffing on one part of the square. Fold in half diagonally to form a triangle and pinch the edges together. Join the furthest ends by pressing tightly together. Cook in boiling water.

Polish-style carp in gray sauce

Poles have been breeding carp since the 13th century and it is traditionally served at Wigilia.

1 carp weighing 1-1,5 kg, 600 g mixed vegetables such as carrot, turnip and leek,
3 onions, 1 bay leaf, 4 cloves, pepper, salt, sugar, 1.5 tablespoon of butter, 3 tablespoons of stale gingerbread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of honey, 1.5 glasses of carp stock, half a glass of dry red wine, 30 g ground almonds, 30 g raisins, lemon juice

Wash the carp, remove the scales, cut off the head and gills, fins and tail. Clean out the insides and wash again. Cut the fish into pieces across its length. Wash the vegetables, peel, rinse and place into boiling, salted water together with the washed and chopped onions. Boil for 20 mins. Add the fish portions, the bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for almost 45 mins. While the fish is cooking, prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan, add the honey and gingerbread and mix together. Add the stock a ladle at a time while mixing continuously. Simmer the sauce until it thickens and is of even consistency. Add the raisins, take off the heat and add the almonds and wine. Mix well. Add lemon juice to taste and season with salt and sugar. Place the cooked fish in a dish and pour over the hot sauce. Serve immediately.

Dried-fruit compote

200 g dried plums, 150 g dried apples, 100 g sugar, 3 glasses of water, 2-3 cloves, a piece of lemon or orange rind. Other dried fruit can also be used.

Wash the dried fruit and soak in cold water. Weigh down the fruit to ensure that it is totally immersed. Once the fruit has softened, boil it in the same water with the addition of the sugar and spices.

Gingerbread, or piernik

The word piernik comes from the old Polish word for spice. Gingerbread has been known in Poland since the 17th century.

1 kg wheat flour, 400 g honey, 400 g sugar, 100 g butter, 2 eggs, 20 g gingerbread spices, 15 g baking powder

Caramelize two tablespoons of sugar on a frying pan. Add two tablespoons of water, the honey and the rest of the sugar. Bring to the boil, add the spices and then take the pan off the heat. Cool to 20ºC before mixing in the flour, butter and baking powder. Leave the dough in the refrigerator for a few days. Roll out to a thickness of 5 mm and cut out gingerbread shapes. Bake in the oven at 190ºC for 10-15 mins.

And if you don’t like cooking...

Those who prefer to let others do the work can go out to a restaurant on Wigilia or order festive takeout food.

The Villa Nova restaurant at 23 Potockiego St. offers its guests a festive meal in front of a roaring fire. Tables are festooned with Christmas decorations, the restaurant smells of pine and baking gingerbread, and Christmas carols play in the background.

Villa Nova’s proposed Wigilia menu is as follows:

Carp stuffed with raisins and almonds
Herrings in a cream and apple sauce
Cabbage and mushroom dumplings
Traditional kutia sweet dish made with wheat and honey
Dumplings with poppy seeds
Poppy-seed and cheese strudel
Chocolate cake
Honey gingerbread
Wigilia cake
Dried-fruit compote
Mushroom soup

The Dom Polski restaurant at 11 Francuska St. is an excellent option for those who wish to spend Wigilia at home but do not want to do the food preparation and cooking. The restaurant’s top chef has this year, as always at Christmas, chosen a wide selection of dishes for takeout:

Minced herring on rye bread
Jewish-style stuffed carp
Salmon with salmon stuffing served with a plum sauce
Whole baked pike with pike stuffing
Pork fillet marinated in herbs
Potato dumplings stuffed with fresh eel, cabbage and mushrooms or meat
Poultry or wild-game pate
Fried pikeperch or carp
Cabbage with mushrooms
Baked Peking duck
Beetroot, wild-mushroom or fish soup
Sour soup with forest mushrooms
Cheesecake with raisins and chocolate
Plain cheesecake
Poppy-seed cakes

The Ale Gloria restaurant at 3 Trzech Krzyży Sq. at this time of year smells of Christmas trees and cinnamon cookies. The restaurant offers its own version of old Polish dishes typically served in the past to the gentry. Ale Gloria recommends the following dishes for the Wigilia meal:

Herrings in spicy flavored sauce with potatoes
Jewish-style stuffed carp in aspic jelly flavored with raisin wine and mushroom sauce
Pierogis filled with buckwheat, veal and mushrooms, cheese and potato or lamb
Bullion with small lamb-filled dumplings
Wasabi-marinated carp in a horseradish sauce
Haunch of venison marinated in burgundy wine, served on a bed of forest mushrooms with gnocchi and beetroot jam
Wild-boar roulade stuffed with herbs, pickled cucumber and bacon in a Bombay gin and honey sauce
Cod a la Sinatra served with potatoes

Pierogarnie, or dumpling eateries

In Poland, dumplings known as pierogi date back to the Middle Ages. They most probably arrived in Poland from the Far East via Russia and quickly became a traditional Polish dish. They are made with a variety of dough, sizes, shapes and stuffing. A wide selection of pierogis is available in the following Warsaw eateries:

Salonik Pierogowy, 9 Górskiego St.
Przystanek Muranów-Pierogi ¦wiata,13 Andersa St.
Zapiecek Pierogeria,28 Jerozolimskie Ave.
Pierrogeria, 30 Krzywe Koło St., entrance from Nowomiejska Street

Joanna Matysiak
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