When Is Haluski Not Haluski?

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Actually, it’s not about when, it’s about where. Here’s what happened:

The weather was more than agreeable so I decided to take a walk to the local farmers’ market – just looking, thank you, those $8 organic heirloom tomatoes are way beyond my pay grade these days. The problem with “just looking” is that you actually see things. Things like a Brobdingnagian cabbage that was flawless, dirt cheap, and the circumference of an oversized beach ball. I rolled it home and, trying to think outside the box grater, proceeded to burrow through the interwebs in search of cabbage recipes other than coleslaw, stuffed, or soup so I could to put this behemoth to good use. I found 53,900 results for something called haluski; 22,200 results for halusky; 11,600 for halushki; and 3,800 for halushky.

Now, many years ago, I developed a delicious but agonizingly labor-intensive recipe for Bryndzové Halušky, a Slovak national dish: diminutive potato dumplings that involved the adept use of a special kitchen tool (a halušky strainer) and frustratingly hard-to-find bryndza, a pungent sheep’s milk cheese. That had been my halušky connection – with nary a shred of cabbage to be found therein. (And yes, I know that some cultures toss in sauerkraut on occasion.)

I checked into Wikipedia for some orthographic advice. Traveling though Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary and other corners of Central and Eastern Europe, the spellings and recipes were similar, but nationalized, of course. But here’s the kicker, ibidem: “In the United States, most adapted halušky recipes call for egg noodles rather than potato dumplings. Some American cooks include loose, cut, and fried green cabbage…compelled by simplicity [check], difficulty in finding bryndza or acceptable substitutes [check!], and access to affordable cabbage [check!!]….” (Italics and bracketed comments mine.)

Okay, American style gets the nod and as a bonus it only required ingredients I already had in the house: butter, egg noodles, butter, and onions. (Did I mention butter?) Some of the recipes called for bacon but I chose to use the last two hunks of Polish sausage lurking in my freezer from a recent foray to Greenpoint; if you’re curious, they were wiśniowa and zwyczajna (my spellcheck was traumatized and still is in recovery from that one – feel free to send flours).

The recipe is simple and pretty obvious really, but a couple of notes: Cut the cabbage into pieces similar in size to the noodles, and cut the onions into pieces like the cabbage. And most important: you’ll be frying the veggies and boiled noodz in a cowful of butter, but don’t just cook to soften: you want them to pick up some color and get a little crispy – that’s essential – and those crunchy bits sticking to the bottom of the pan are an integral part of the dish too. It’ll require a bit of patience, but keep your focus on crispy and brown (even my plate was brown, but you don’t have to get that obsessive about it) and you’ll turn out some hearty Eastern European comfort food that will Czech all the boxes. 🙃
 
 

A Fish Story

If you’re wandering around Greenpoint in Brooklyn searching for Polish and Eastern European goodies, you’ve probably covered the relevant sections of Manhattan and Nassau Avenues – but you may not know about AS Warehouse at 276 McGuinness Blvd because it’s somewhat isolated, about a block off the beaten path. “Warehouse” describes the physical plant pretty accurately: the place is huge and is anything but welcoming. I’m not suggesting that it’s a must-visit or the best in the neighborhood, but they do stock a variety of items that might not be found in other markets nearby.

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Since I like herring and on-site decisions are anathema to me, I bought one of each kind from Seko, a Polish brand, to be sampled across a few days.


The first one I opened was Koreczki Śledziowe po Meksykańsku (lower right in the first photo), Herring Corks Mexican Style, because it was the most intriguing. Ossssstry smak means ssssspicy taste (although the chili pepper on the label would have afforded sufficient giveaway) and it featured marinated onions, also depicted on the label.


I unrolled two of the “corks” to give you an idea of the product. In all cases, the filets were very yielding and a little fishy – which is to say that they’re not the sweet Vita herring filets in wine sauce that you might know from the refrigerator aisle in the supermarket. (Note that sugar is the fourth ingredient on the label but you couldn’t prove it by me.) The oil was slightly spicy; the onions weren’t especially sharp but they did provide a welcome foil to the modest heat, not to mention the overall texture. Okay, but not my fave.


Next up was Śledzik na Okrągło po Myśliwsku (moving counterclockwise, upper right) translated as Round ‘n’ Round Herring with Onion and Mushroom Stuffing (okrągło means round, myśliwsku means hunter style, which I gather implies mushrooms and tomato).


After one taste, I quickly realized that all of these herrings would essentially be the same but with a dollop of different stuff in each container and I’d better get creative with them if I didn’t want to bore you or myself. So I gave a nod to presentation in this round. The onion and mushroom “stuffing” is the clump in the middle.


All right, so presentation alone wasn’t going to cut it. I had to do something to the fish itself. I opened the Śledzik na Okrągło w Oleju Wiejskim (upper left) translated as Round ‘n’ Round Herring with Countryside Oil – another shot of onion in this one along with some red bell pepper.

I chopped the herring, incorporated the adjunct vegetables plus dill weed, dill seed, celery and scallion, and spread it over a bed of lettuce on rye toast. So Act Three had no serious presentation, but I succeeded in doing something tasty with the herring filets rather than letting them speak for themselves (a good strategy in retrospect since they didn’t have much to say).


Finally, Herring Corks in oil, Koreczki Śledziowe w Oleju (lower left). I decided to pull out all the stops (corks?) with this one and go for flavor as well as presentation.


Unsurprisingly, the unadorned herring was like its mates, so I blended mustard, horseradish, and onion plus capers and scallion for the flavor component, and plated it with Swedish crisp bread and Danish butter, along with thinly sliced cucumber.

Finally got a satisfying lunch out of the expedition.

That bit of garnish in the middle was the kicker though: baby coriander seed fresh out of the garden that played perfectly with the Eastern European themed fish. I had never even seen it IRL, let alone worked with it, but it looked pretty and tasted just right in this context.

But don’t ask me how I came by it. That’s a story for another day.
 
 

Schav

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In my last post, when I enumerated the odds and ends of greens that were dwelling in my fridge, I didn’t mention the two bunches of young sorrel that had been keeping them company. That’s because I had set them aside to try my hand at making schav, an Eastern European soup sometimes referred to as green borscht.

The character of sorrel is sour – in a good way like lemons are sour, but in this case not citrusy or floral – due to the presence of oxalic acid; its tartness is mitigated by cooking. Since I had never made schav before, I set out to do an utterly basic version, reserving any culinary experimentation for future investigation. Some recipes include potatoes or eggs (beaten and added to the soup as it cooks to thicken it or hardboiled as an addition for serving), but I went with just a bit of diced carrot and onion sautéed at the outset.

Instead of relying on raw eggs and the tempering technique required to thwart their propensity for scrambling when added to hot soup, I opted for a flour and butter roux cooked with the aromatics, added a few cups of very light chicken broth (very light because I didn’t want it to dominate the flavor), brought it to a boil and then down to a simmer, added the sorrel and stirred in a little sour cream which also softens its acidity. (Those of you who have been following me lately know that that was not sour cream. 😉)

I plopped a dollop of “sour cream” in the middle and scattered some herby garnish and cracked black pepper on top and that’s where I stopped.


The inner workings. Pretty good considering it was a maiden voyage.

Schav can be served warm or cold but I had been tasting continually as I was going along, so sadly, it was gone before I had a chance to sample it chilled.

Parting is such sweet sorrel.
 
 

Orthodox Easter – Pascha and Kulich

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Most holidays come equipped with delectable, traditional foods and Orthodox Easter is no exception; it occurs on the Sunday following the first full moon that appears on or after the spring equinox – May 2, in 2021. As an Equal Opportunity Celebrant, I make it a practice to sample as many of these treats as possible around such festive occasions, not because of any personal porcine tendencies of course, but in order to altruistically share information with anyone who might be unfamiliar with these delicacies.

Yeah, right.

According to Wikipedia, the Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second largest Christian church with approximately 220 million baptized members. The majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians live mainly in Southeast and Eastern Europe, Cyprus, Georgia and other communities in the Caucasus region, and in Siberia reaching the Russian Far East.

According to ethnojunkie, each region has its own distinctive, specialty baked goods that are prepared in celebration of the holiday. Many are sweet breads called pascha (or some variant), from Greek/Latin meaning Easter, and ultimately from Aramaic/Hebrew meaning Passover. Let’s check out two of them.


If you go out in search of pascha, you’ll discover vastly divergent varieties depending upon the heritage of the bakery you land on. Polish versions I’ve sampled are puffy, yeasty, a little sweet and are designed to be pulled apart and shared at the table. Some other Eastern European and Russian styles are more like a cheese-filled bread, with veins of sweet, white dairy goodness running throughout. This photo was taken surreptitiously in a Russian market. Shhh!


Shown here is Romanian pască. This particular example comes from Nita’s European Bakery at 4010 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside, Queens – look for the awning that reads Cofetaria Nita. It is unique (at least in my experience) and undeniably stellar. This dense delight, about nine inches in diameter, is actually a two-layered affair, with a rich topping/filling that is virtually a raisin-studded, hyper-creamy manifestation of cheesecake that sits atop a sweet cake-like bread; the religious theme is easily recognizable.


Here’s a view that reveals the layers. If you like sweet desserts, you’ll love this.


On my recent peregrination through Brooklyn’s Little Odessa on Brighton Beach Avenue where Russian and Former Soviet Union shops abound, it seemed that every market was selling kulich, a Russian/Slavic Orthodox Easter bread. Look closely behind the eggs in the first photo and you’ll see an array of them. (Look even more closely behind the kulichi and the sign for яйца and you’ll see packages of the Italian Christmas treat, panettone. Pretty much every market was offering them as well. In terms of taste, they’re pretty close although panettone is a little richer, however I have yet to determine why both are sold in this neighborhood during Orthodox Easter. But I digress.)

Not as sweet as pascha, the cylindrical kulich is often baked at home in a coffee can to achieve the characteristic shape; this diminutive example stands only about five inches high. The Ukranian legend reads куліч (cake) пасхальний (paschal) and around the beltline з великоднем (Happy Easter) христос воскрес (Christ is risen).


It’s somewhere along the bread <-> coffeecake continuum, shot through with raisins, and always dressed with a snow-white sugar-glazed cap and colorful sprinkles.

з великоднем!
 
 

Luda’s Dumplings

Instagram Post 12/1/2017

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Dumplings!
🥟
The spirit springs from Eastern Europe but the spin is straight outta Brooklyn. We ordered the Wild Shrimp (made with parmesan and ricotta), roseate hue courtesy of beet infused dough, and the Classic (pork, beef and onion) because if you’re doing a tasting of anything, always start with the classic. Adorned with our choices of fried onions and bits of roasted mushrooms, Luda’s Dumplings also offers seven other toppings (including 🥓 bacon!) and even more sauces.
🥟
In addition to these perfectly delicious pelmeni, Luda’s Dumplings, 3371 Shore Pkwy, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn serves four other varieties including chicken breast, spinach & cheese, loaded potato, and sweet cheese (in a chocolaty dough). Four more reasons for me to go back!