Christmas is my favourite holiday of the year, and it’s not because I was born just a few days before the big day (and my daughter also) on Winter Solstice. Actually, as far as birthdays go, it’s not ideal. It gets hurried through and swept away along with all the last moment Christmas preparations. The reason that I love Christmas so much is that it’s a very special time in the Polish calendar. The presents are considered symbolic and secondary, it’s the magic that makes it so special. It is difficult to explain the nature of the Polish Christmas magic to the uninitiated. Folk tales weave stories of animals speaking in human voices on the eve of Christmas, dead loved ones joining us for the Christmas meal and strangers with magical powers that date all the way back to the very beginning of time. Christmas Eve is considered the most magical and this is our main event, with a meal that stretches from the twinkling of the first star, through 12 or 13 dishes, with various soups, warm courses and drinks, into the depths of the night. I would to share with you my favourite dishes of Polish Christmas, the ones I am looking forward to the most.
Little Ears with Borsht (main picture by Laura Edwards from Polska cookbook)
This is a very traditional Polish Christmas dish, usually the first soup to be served on Christmas Eve.
For the dough:
400g plain flour
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of salt
125ml warm water
Splash of oil
For the filling:
Aprox. 15 dried wild mushrooms
150g sauerkraut, drained
1 bay leaf
4-5 allspice (pimento) berries
splash of red wine
1 tablespoon butter
large onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
For the soup:
15 dried mushrooms
5 beets, peeled
1 celery stalk with leaves
5 allspice berries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon caster sugar
salt and pepper
First, wash all the mushrooms, then soak them in boiling water for 2 hours.
To make the soup place all the remaining ingredients apart from the final 4 in 2lt water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour.
Take half of the soaked mushrooms, place in 1lt of water and bring it to the boil. Cook for 1 hour minimum, ideally 2.
Sieve the 2 soups into one pan and add the remaining ingredients – lemon juice, marjoram, sugar and seasoning. Simmer together for 15min.
Cook the remainign mushrooms covered in about 1cm of water for about 45min, add the sauerkraut, bay leaf and cook for a further 45min. Add a splash of wine whenever the mixture looks dry.Remove the bay leaf and blend in a food processor.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion in it until golden, add it to the sauerkraut-mushroom mixture. Allow to cool.
To make the dough place the flour, egg yolks, butter and salt in a mixing bowl. Add warm water a bit at a time and bring it all together with your hands into a dough. Kneed it for 10-20min then cover with a damp tea towel and place in the fridge for 20min.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface as thinly as you can.
Follow this diagram to shape your little ears.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil.
Cook the little ears a few at a time. Allow them to rise to the surface then give them 2min more and remove.
You can also freeze them and cook them later or refry them once cooked.
“Ryba po Grecku”
This is my favourite dish on the Christmas table, you can make it with any white fish, but I tend to use Pollock. This is a dish that tastes best lightly chilled, traditionally, it stands on the table along with many other things, but you could serve it as a starter.
2-3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, grated
1/2 a celeriac
1 tablespoon butter
250g white fish, filleted, cut into chunks
100g tomato paste
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Sarepska or Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a pan and add all the vegetables – cover and sweat for about 30min
Melt the butter in a separate frying pan. Dust the fish in the flour and fry in the butter for about 4-5min each side. Place on the bottom of a serving dish.
Into the vegetables, add all the spices, the tomato paste. lemon juice and seasoning. Simmer for 15min then taste and adjust seasoning.
Cover the fish with the sauce and allow to cool before placing in the fridge.
Dried fruit soup
After all the feasting of Christmas, whatever country you hail from, we could all do with this soup, eaten as a dessert or even drunk as a compot throughout the meal, it is incredibly good for digestion and was recently featured in The Guardian Cook Magazine.
2.5 litres of water
200g prunes, pitted and halved
200g dried apricots
100g dried apples
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon of cloves
1 vanilla pod, cut open
Place all the dry ingredients in a large pan and cover with the water. Bring to the boil, the turn the heat down and simmer for about an hour and a half.
Take out the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick and serve at room temperature.