National Pierogi Day

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National Pierogi Day happens on October 8, but that’s certainly no reason not to indulge on the other 364 or so. Typically associated with the cuisines of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, pierogi are known by many names, varenyky in Ukraine for instance.

This photo was taken during a 2019 visit to the beloved Polish & Slavic Center Cafeteria at 177 Kent St in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; they’ve been closed because of COVID-19, but we’re definitely hoping for a refresh.

Bits of bacon and sautéed onion with sour cream on the side, of course, adorned these Pierogi z Kapusta (cabbage) which I ordered because I like saying “kapusta”.

Try it.

See what I mean?

Orthodox Easter – Pascha and Kulich (2022)

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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 – April 24, in 2022. 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. 😉

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 a recent peregrination through Brooklyn’s Little Odessa on Brighton Beach Avenue where Russian and Eastern European shops abound, it seemed that every market was selling kulich, a 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 Ukrainian 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, laden with raisins, and always dressed with a snow-white sugar-glazed cap and colorful sprinkles.

And at Orthodox Easter this year especially, our thoughts and hearts are with the heroic, resilient, brave, beautiful people of Ukraine. We are all Ukrainians now.

🇺🇦 Слава Україні! Героям слава! 💙💛

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.

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Sausage & Peppiz!

Instagram Post 5/9/2020

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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When I was researching adding a Greenpoint, Brooklyn ethnojunket to my repertoire of neighborhood food tours, I bought too many (of course) Eastern European sausages in order to evaluate which would be best (as Melania would have it). There are still a dozen or so in the freezer. Sounds to me like another use-whatever-I-have-on-hand-without-venturing-out-to-buy-more-stuff challenge.

So we’ll start with the most obvious substitution, a sammich endemic to NYC affectionately called Sausage & Peppiz. This one was easy. I already had onions and peppers on hand so I fried them up with some swojska kielbasa adding my not so secret ingredient, fennel seed, which makes everything it comes into contact with taste like Italian sausage. A hit of Parmigiano-Reggiano and bada bing bada boom, Sausage & Peppiz! Mangia!

(All I needed was “the wine with the peaches” as they say at the San Gennaro Festival! 😉)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Piast Meats & Provisions

Instagram Post 9/5/2019

Serendipity took hold as I threaded my way from the bus stop on an isolated, sleepy, residential street to this year’s Peruvian Festival in Passaic, NJ. (Where would we be without our smart phones and Google Maps? Lost, I guess. But I digress.) As signs of commerce gradually began to emerge, I stumbled upon Piast Meats & Provisions at 1 Passaic Street in Garfield. One of a family-owned mini-chain of three stores, the atmosphere was old world Polish charm (in other words, the aroma of smoked pork and garlic permeated the air); storemade kielbasa, cold cuts, pierogi, and baked goods along with Polish specialty foods tempted me to purchase more than I should have since I’d be schlepping those treasures around all day. It was worth every achy muscle.

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Among many other items I bought, these two were particularly intriguing and utterly delicious. This Przysmak (delicacy) Piwny (relating to beer), translated as “beef jerky”, was incredible: soft, spicy, dried beef but not dry beef and not sausage. Sometimes “beef jerky” should be translated as shoe leather, but not this succulent stuff. On closer inspection it looks like marinated flank steak sliced into ½–¾ inch wide strips. Outstanding.

Another sign identified “pork meatloaf”, more of a cold cut really, that looked promising, but right next to it was the same item rolled together in porky matrimony with bacon, Boczek Faszerowany, translated as “stuffed bacon”. Indeed. So it’s sort of pork stuffed pork. Nothing succeeds like excess.

Leek & Celery Salad – Polish Ethnojunket

Instagram Post 3/23/2019

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I’m still contemplating whether I should add a new neighborhood ethnic food tour to my roster of ethnojunkets, this time through Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a focus on Polish cuisine.

I suspect some folks think that Polish food is rather one note – although a good note to be sure – opining that kielbasa and pierogies can only take you so far. But there’s more to the cuisine than you might realize. Take this bracing Salatka z Porem i Selerem (Leek & Celery Salad). You don’t usually think of leeks in the starring role of a cold salad and their snappy presence here easily serves to awaken a jaded palate. Adds a further touch of excitement to that Kielbasa Wiejska with a dollop of zingy horseradish cream we’ll be sampling along the way.

Curious to learn more about this hearty cuisine? Any Polish food fans out there? Weigh in please! (Poor choice of words, perhaps. 😉)

Polish & Slavic Center Cafeteria

Instagram Post 3/11/2019

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Ever since my Instagram friend @gustasian suggested it, I’ve been contemplating adding a new ethnojunket to my roster. The Greenpoint corner of Brooklyn boasts some hearty and delicious Polish provisions, not to mention more varieties of smoked and cured meats than you can shake a kielbasa at. To reconnoiter the area, we convened at the PSC Cafeteria adjoining the Polish & Slavic Center at 177 Kent Street where home-style comfort food is the order of the day.

[1] This is Kotlet Górski (Mountain Cutlet) a hefty pounded, breaded, and pan fried pork schnitzel topped with a runny egg and kept company by a scoop of gravy swathed mashed potatoes.

[2] Bigos (Hunter’s Stew) a Polish classic incorporating sauerkraut and sometimes fresh cabbage plus bits of whatever meat the aforementioned hunter bagged that morning. These days, it’s almost always pork, often in several manifestations like chunks of fresh meat and sausage, Poland’s answer to Alsatian choucroute garnie. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Salatka z Burakow (Polish Beet Salad) on the side.

[3] And of course, an order of pierogies was essential: a dumpling by any other name would still spell a treat. Bits of bacon and sautéed onion adorned our Pierogi z Kapusta (cabbage) which we ordered because I like saying “kapusta”. Try it. Sour cream on the side.

Lots more good eats in the neighborhood. What do you think? Should I offer a food tour there?

Lard A’mighty!

Bacon? Delicious.
Pâté? Of course.
Bacon Pâté? Um, yeah, okay. Er, I guess.

Not much to look at, I thought, peering through the thick plastic package. Still, it beckoned to me as I navigated the narrow aisle that bisects Polam International Market, one of the bright spots for Polish food in Greenpoint. Seems like an oxymoron: I think of bacon as having ribbons of fat interspersed with lean (the Jack Sprat recipe for marital harmony) and pâté as a paste, coarse or fine, but easily spreadable. I couldn’t be certain of course, but this looked like little chunks of fried bacon suspended in lard.

Bacon PateOn Bread

At home, I poured it into a bowl to get a better look.

It still looked like little chunks of fried bacon suspended in lard.

Because that’s precisely what it was. So I went online to learn more about what to do with it: Smalec po Góralsku translates as Mountaineers’ Lard. “Spreadable bacon goodness!” proclaimed the description. “Traditional simple peasant spread typically used as a substitute for butter – put it on the dark bread, add some salt and you will enjoy the Polish mountain village specialty.” Okay, I’m game. For starters, I had to get past the fact that I was about to wrap my lips around glorified lard supported only by a piece of excellent pumpernickel. (I had long since given up on trying to figure out an explanation for the “pâté” part.) I took a bite. I understood where it wanted to go, but its charms were eluding me. I felt that it had potential however. What could I do with it to make it delicious enough to write about? And then I remembered Zoltán.

Zoltán was an affable fellow of Hungarian descent who lived in the country. (When you’re a New Yorker, anywhere on the far side of a bridge leading out of the city is “the country”.) I hadn’t thought about him in years. His claim to fame was that every summer, he’d get a fire going in a little pit in his backyard and make Szalonna. He’d impale a hunk of Hungarian back bacon on a stick and hold it over the flames and just as the fat began to sizzle and render, he’d pull it out of the fire and hold it over a piece of fresh bread until the drippings dwindled. Then back over the flames it went for another round – repeatedly until the bread was saturated. Sometimes it was topped with onion, cucumber, or bell pepper. Neighborhood kids would come running to his yard as the heavenly, porky aroma filled the air. The Good Humor man had nothing on Zoltán.

So taking a tip from those ancient sense memories, I concocted a plan. Caramelize thinly sliced onions very slowly in the bacon pâté. While they grow sweet, slice an heirloom tomato and oven toast a slice of pumpernickel. When the onions are done, drench the toasted pumpernickel in the rendered lard, add the onions and bacon pieces, top with a slice of tomato, and sprinkle with wild mushroom sea salt.
Bacon Pate with Caramelized Onions and Heirloom Tomato

Looks good, doesn’t it? Tasted even better.

Of course, I had to go through several of these to make sure they were as wonderful as I thought they were on the first bite. Ah, such sacrifice.

Found at Polam International Market
952 Manhattan Ave.
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY
(718) 383-2763