An introduction to Polish cooking, with Zuza Zak

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
13 July, 2016

New to the library, Polska is a beautiful ode to the nuances of Polish cooking. We caught up with author Zuza Zak to hear more.




What inspired you to write the book?

Ever since arriving in the UK aged 8, I found that people didn't know much about my country and its cuisine. I found myself explaining its variety and defending it many times from the view that it's just meat and potatoes. My friend, Anna, suggested that I should write a book, so I began... that was 6 or 7 years ago now.


Which recipes in the book really typify Polish cooking?



Chłodnik - this is a cool beetroot soup, which is like the Polish gazpacho. We often eat cold soups in the hot summer months and this is the typical one.



Knedle - potato dumplings stuffed with plums. These are my favourite sweet dumplings, which means a lot in the land of dumplings. They are eaten when plums called ‘Węgierki’ are available in early autumn.




Bigos - the typical hunter’s stew. This takes three days to make, and is served everywhere in the winter months. I call it the Polish kimchi, as it's made from Sauerkraut.


If people were coming over for dinner, what would you cook for them?

I would serve a table full of ‘zakąski’ because this is what you should serve when guests come round. ‘Zakąski’ are sharing dishes made to be washed down with vodka. Guests are always welcome in a Polish home and ‘zakąski’ can be anything that can be served informally - herrings, blini, pickles, steak Tartare, pâté... what you serve depends on the time of year and what ingredients are available to you.


What flavour combination is unique to Polish cooking?

I think Poles love to combine sour food, like pickles, with something sweet, like dried fruit, for example.




What’s your favourite story behind a recipe in the book?

Steak Tartare has always been fascinating to me because it comes from the ‘Tartars’ (the Mongols), who rode through Poland. It shows Poland's position between the wild east and the European west. On the 9th floor of a concrete tower block, looking out into a sea of identical, monolithic tower blocks, my grandma Ziuta used to make the best ‘Tatar’ I've ever had.


Could you explain a little about any regional differences?

Poland has many different regions, all with their own specific cuisines, influenced by geography, history and what the earth provides. The Tatra Mountains are know for their sheep's milk cheeses, the lake and seaside regions for their fish, while wooded areas abound in wild mushrooms, bilberries and game, broadly speaking.


What is your favourite local produce?

‘Oscypek’ has to be my favourite local produce - this is a beautifully carved, ornate sheep’s milk cheese from the Tatras mountain range. It is a symbol of the distinct mountain style, which the region's people are very proud of. It is not uncommon to see a ‘góral’ wearing his embroidered, regional trousers at the petrol station.


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