Christmas is a very special time. In Poland we celebrate especially the Christmas Eve. Well, we celebrate for the next few days as well, but the menu for traditional Polish Christmas Eve is different, special and unique. We have to remember that this was the time of the year when fresh fruits and vegetables were not available. People had to use what they had in their cellars or what they managed to preserve. This is why instead of fresh fruits, they used dried ones, salted herring instead of a fresh one, groats and cabbage.
If anyone ever tells you that there is something like one set of traditional Polish Christmas dishes, than do not believe him. Each part of the country has its own regional dishes, that are typical for it. There is a borsch team and mushroom soup team. For most of my life I was absolutely positive, that Christmas Eve equals borsch with “ears”. Than I got married and found out about the mushroom soup.
What we eat at Christmas also depends on the social class our ancestors belonged to. Mine were mostly peasants living in small villages on the East of Poland. So meals, my grandmothers tell me about are simple, local and adjusted to the season of the year.
Below we collected few of our most popular Christmas Eve recipes.
Gołąbki z kaszą gryczaną (Gołąbki with buckwheat)
Traditional gołąbki are usually with rice and meat. However it’s not a reason not to eat gołąbki on Christmas Eve! This is the meatless version of gołąbki.
We will need sauerkraut. But not hacked, chopped or sliced, but the whole head. My grandma fills a huge wooden barrel with sauerkraut before the winter and on the top she leaves few heads of cabbage. Specially for Christmas Eve gołąbki. However if you do not have a wooden barrel or didn’t have time to make your own sauerkraut this year, don’t worry. Take the fresh head of a cabbage and boil it with one teaspoon of citric acid and salt. It has to soften a bit. Than you just hold your cabbage with its root up and cut each leaf separately.
Boil the buckwheat (the amount will depend on the amount of leaves and its size) with a few dried mushrooms. Fry chopped onion and add some more chopped mushrooms. Mix everything, add salt and pepper and fold with the cabbage leaves. Then put it tightly in the roasting pan, add some oil and water and bake for about an hour. If you have trouble with holding gołąbki together, you can help yourself and tie them with a bit of a thin rope or a thread, just remember to remove it before eating :-).
Pierogi z kapustą i grzybami (Pierogis with cabbage and mushrooms)
If there is a Christmas version of gołąbki, is there also any Christmas version of pierogis, you ask? Of course! And as you probably already know, it contains sauerkraut and mushrooms.
Boil the sauerkraut in unsalted water to get rid of the sour taste. Change the water as many times as you like, to reduce the sourness. Add mushrooms, bayleaf, allspice and boil until the cabbage is soft. Then put everything on the colander to get rid of the water. Add some fried onion, salt and pepper, bread crumbs and an egg. The consistency is important here.
For the dough you will need some flour, about 3 table spoons of oil, one egg and some water. How much you ask? Well, Polish grandmas do everything “na oko”, what means they measure it with their eyes. So just mix the wet ingredients and then add gradually the flour. If the dough is too thick, add some water.
Kompot z suszu (Dried fruit compote)
A traditional non-alcoholic drink for Christmas is dried fruit compote. It make sense, since fresh fruits were hard or even impossible to get at this time of the year. So, what fruits did our ancestors use? The ones they preserved during the Summer and Autumn: apples, pears and plums.
All you have to do is to boil them with a little bit of cinnamon and cloves. You can also add some lemon juice.
So here you have 3 traditional Polish Christmas Eve dishes to try out in your home. What we have to remember is that each region had its own typical dish. Christmas Eve table for sure looked different in each part of Poland. Even in our PolishOrigins team, Christmas dishes look different depending on the region. So do Polish people avoid meat through whole Christmas, you ask? Of course not. Christmas Eve is the last day of Advent where we are vegetarians. After Christmas Eve dinner and unwrapping presents that Christmas Star brings us (well… we have different present suppliers in different regions of Poland and yes, we unwrap presents on Chrismas Eve), there is a mass at the midnight called Pasterka. After coming back from it, you are allowed to eat whatever you want… but this is a completely different story.
If you would like to learn more about traditional Polish Christmas Eve recipes, we prepared a pdf with 12 of them. All are gathered from our Polish grandmothers. Including the massive recipe for beetroot sourdough borsch. To download it just click HERE.
Aleksandra and the PolishOrigins Team