Travelling teacher’s guide to culinary wonders of the East by Dariusz Pieniak

We´ve all heard a lot about the cultural and gastronomic differences between Spain and the countries of Eastern Europe, which are commonly considered to be the lands of sausages, potatoes and cabbages constantly boiling. Of course, that is true to a certain degree, but countries like Poland have much more to offer , even those who can´t imagine life without the staple Spanish and Andalusian dishes always on the table. Specifically, I present you with 4 dishes I would like to share with those of you who are looking for creative but traditional alternatives for breakfast, almuerzo, lunch and dinner. Those recipes have accompanied me wherever I went and have earned a special place in my heart. If you give them a chance, I promise, you will enjoy every minute of it!

  1. Breakfast – Matzo bread tortilla

It might sound crazy, especially since matzo bread (a kosher Jewish flatbread) is not something you can find in every single shop. However, it´s great and worth the effort if you can find itJ

First break 6 pieces of matzo bread into small pieces. Then soak them in water for about 15 minutes until they get soft, add 1 egg and mix until all components are blended. Pour the mix onto a frying pan with hot butter (not olive oil) and fry on both sides on low heat until golden (just like you would do with tortilla de patatas). Enjoy!

  1. Almuerzo – Fried oyster mushrooms with onion (seta de ostra / seta de cardo)

Here is a true midday specialty! Perfect on a lazy weekend day or as late breakfast after a long night out. First, dice a half of one medium-sized onion and then slice the mushrooms into long strips. You have to cut approximately 4-6 pieces per each mushroom depending on its size.

Next, add the onions to the frying pan with hot butter (not olive oil). Fry on low heat for about 5 minutes until caramelized and then, add the mushrooms and cook for about 30 minutes. Cover it up for the process of cooking and add water to the pan if it evaporates too fast (you don´t want to burn your mushrooms!). You can uncover it for the final 5 minutes of cooking if you like.

  1. Lunch – Pierogi (Polish stuffed boiled dumplings)

Here´s an all time classic.  An Eastern European gift that keeps on giving.  First, prepare the stuffing. Fry minced beef, chicken breast meat and mushrooms in small pieces and put through a food processor to get the uniformed mix. Don´t forget to add salt and pepper to it!  It is recommended to season it very well as the taste will become softer when the pierogis are boiled. You need to let the stuffing cool down and mix one whole egg with it while cold (it makes it stickier).

Next, prepare the dough using flour, water, and optionally egg yolk and a bit of olive oil (you can add salt too). Roll out the mix flat and cut out circular pieces about 8-9 cm in diameter (You can use the opening of a 250ml mug or a glass to cut out the circles).

To assemble the dumplings, inside the circular pieces of dough place some stuffing, not too much because you will need to close the circles by gluing it into a semi-circular or moon-like shape (just put some water on the edge of your circles and then fold it). About 6-8 pierogi serve 1 person. Boil them for about 15 minutes and serve with some molten butter or bacon pieces.

  1. Dinner – Potato pancakes

This is a true specialty! Shred/grate 6-8 medium-sized raw potatoes. I know it sounds crazy but it´s great, trust me. You can do it manually or using a food processor. Remove as much water from the grated potato mass as you can. The less water, the easier it will cook. Chop/dice a half of a big onion and add it to the potatoes. Add 1 egg, salt, pepper and garlic powder (or finely chopped fresh garlic). Mix all the ingredients and fry using sunflower or vegetable oil (Olive oil will do well too) until they are golden brown. I recommend serving it with mushroom sauce or meat gravy with chunks of meat and/or mushrooms (I do prefer both of them at the same time, though the beef gravy seems to be the traditional option here). 4-6 potato pancakes serve 1 person. Enjoy!

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