Inspired by her Polish heritage, Renatka Behan writes an elegant cookbook that brings traditional Polish cuisine into the modern kitchen. “Love of good food and pride in my Polish heritage are the two things that inspired me to write this book.”
In her debut cookbook, Wild Honey and Rye: Modern Polish Recipes, acclaimed food writer for BBC Good Food Magazine Renatka Behan gives traditional Polish cuisine a fresh look. Her innovative twist on classic Polish recipes is as enticing as her whip-smart assortment of newly designed dishes—many of them inspired by recent food tours in Warsaw, the upbeat “food capital” of Poland.
“My aim is to introduce you to Polish food in a new way … with an emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as a selection of healthy grains,” Behan says.
When asked, “Why fall in love with Polish food?” Behan replied that she could give hundreds of reasons, but she gives us five very good ones in her cookbook. The first is that “Polish food is fresh, vibrant, versatile and modern.” And you’ll find her recipes emphasize seasonal fruits and vegetables.
While Renatka may lighten a traditional Polish menu with her signature substitutions, she preserves what is at the heart of authentic Polish cooking: fresh garden goods, nature’s herbal seasonings, and homemade everything! From white cheese to flavored vodkas, Behan shares her art of making Polish cooking light, and she introduces the use of ancient grains—buckwheat, barely and millet—in place of rice and potatoes. A favorite is her Polish vegan version of risotto, “Kaszotto” (pp. 121-122), made with millet, mushrooms and veggie stock.
Wild Honey and Rye invites lovers of classic Polish cookery as well as those in search of fresh seasonal fare to discover new flavor combinations in soups, market salads, infused honey, vegetarian, vegan, seafood, and meat entrées—and dumplings, of course. Featuring more than 100 beautiful recipes with extraordinary photography, from breakfast to dessert, Behan brings a new wave in Polish cookery. Written for both the novice and seasoned cook, Behan’s cookbook is coined “Modern Polish Cooking” (Nowoczesna Kuchnia Polska), because she simplifies many traditional recipes, decreasing time in the kitchen, and the results are both delicate and elegantly presented.
On each page expect to be transported in time—a bit of an escape to the Poland of old. Before you make Mizeria, a cucumber and dill salad, you visit the Queen of Poland in the 16th century. “Mizeria was said to have been the favourite salad of Queen Bona Sforza, an Italian noblewoman who married the Polish King Sigismund I (Zygmunt the Old) in 1518. She was homesick for Italy and was said to have brought all her Italian cooks with her to Poland to recreate the recipes she missed. ‘Mizeria’ derives from the Latin word for ‘misery’ – but though it doesn’t have the happiest name, it is one of the best-known salads in Poland.” Page 48 features this heirloom salad with its fresh new look that emphasizes presentation.
So enamored was I that I took a week off just to play in the kitchen and road test Behan’s recipes to my heart’s content! In the section titled “Light Bites and Street Food,” I was delighted to find a recipe for “Second Breakfast” (drugie śniadanie). Behan explains: “Kanapki, from the French word ‘canapé’, are a staple in Poland …. The Poles eat Kanapki (an open-faced sandwich) for breakfast, or sometimes for their second breakfast, ‘drugie sniadania’…” Who knew that anyone besides the hobbits of the Shire ate a second breakfast?
Behan’s recipes are written in English with the Polish recipe titles (and other Polish words of interest) appearing adjacent in italics. All measurements are conveniently displayed in both metric and the US traditional “Imperial” system, using cups and ounces. Add to that the benefit of specific details on finding and using fresh ingredients, her building-block techniques, and suggested pairings with other recipes in the book. She even provides the pages numbers. The recipes are straight forward and easy to follow. From the beginning Ren invites the chef to go to the kitchen and experiment—a boon for the more advanced.
I moved easily through this cookbook, sampling recipes from the delights of Polish breakfast (śniadanie) to salads (sałatka), from Light Bites to Sweet Treats, loving the assortments of savory to sweets, the exploration of flavors, and new techniques.
Oh, did I mention that, for the pierogi, Renatka rolls out all of our favorites and then some. Seven different pierogi stuffings—including the fresh strawberry or blueberry recipes featured today!
Before becoming a chief and a food journalist Renatka Behan was a defense attorney in England. Now mother of three and cookbook author, she was born and raised in England. On page one of her introduction we learn that Behan’s father, Longin, was named after the character in Henryk Sienkiewicz’s With Fire and Sword. Both Renatka’s parents were born in Poland before WWII. Her father, uncle, and grandfather fought the Nazis in the 1st Armored Division in the West after being deported to the eastern regions of Russia, near Oblast Archangelsk. Her mother’s family was also deported and sent to labor camps, narrowly escaping with their lives when the war was over. They eventually made their way to safety in England.
“I have often caught myself trying to reconcile the very ‘Polishness’ of my upbringing with the British sleeve of my passport. Perhaps if I had been called Susan, I might have felt less Polish, but being the only ‘Renatka’ in a class of British children did make me stand out a bit.”
Behan’s parting word? “Smacznego!”
By Catherine A. Hamilton
Wild Honey and Rye: Modern Polish Recipes
(Interlink Books, 207 pp., $21.98)
Recipe from Wild Honey & Rye: Modern Polish Recipes © 2018 Ren Behan
PIEROGI WITH STRAWBERRIES, HONEY, AND PISTACHIOS
Makes about 20 pierogi
2¾ cups/12 oz/350 g all-purpose flour or „00” pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
½ cup/125 ml lukewarm water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
For the filling and topping
2½ cups/12 oz/350 g fresh strawberries, hulled, quartered if large, or halved, if small, or blueberries
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Scant ½ cup/100 ml clear honey
¾ cup/1 ¾ oz/50 g pistachios, finely chopped
In a large bowl, mix the flour, whole egg and yolk, confectioners’ sugar, warm water, and oil together.
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky and feels smooth. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a damp dish towel or plastic wrap, and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
To fill: Divide the dough in half and keep one half covered with a damp dish towel to prevent it from drying out. Sprinkle your work surface with flour, then roll out the dough until it is about¼ in/3 mm thick.
Have a floured tray or board on hand. Using a pastry cutter or an inverted glass, cut out 3 in/8 cm circles of dough. Depending on the size of the strawberries, place a couple or a few pieces in the center of each circle. (If using blueberries, 2-3 blueberries will fit.) Fold the dough over to enclose the fruit. Using your thumb and finger, pinch the dough along the edge so that the pierogi is well sealed. Place each dumpling on the floured tray and cover with a damp dish towel while you make the rest.
To cook the pierogi: Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Carefully drop the dumplings in, a few at a time. They will sink at first, but will float up to the top when cooked-this will only take a minute or so.
Lift them out using a slotted spoon and place on a plate to cool. If you have sealed them well, none of the filling should have escaped!
Heat the butter in a large frying pan and gently fry the pierogi on both sides until slightly golden. To serve, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with chopped pistachio nuts.
CINNAMON WHIPPED CREAM
Serve this with blueberry-filled pierogi.
1 cup/250 ml heavy cream
1 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
sugar or vanilla sugar, to sprinkle
Whisk the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon until thickened.
Serve the warm pierogi with a sprinkling of sugar or vanilla sugar and a spoonful (or two) of the cinnamon whipped cream.
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The Polish Daily/Dziennik Związkowy has permission from Interlink to publish the review, photos and recipes of pierogi with strawberry, honey, and pistachios from Wild Honey & Rye.
Publicist, Interlink Books
46 Crosby Street
Northampton, MA 01060