Experienced travelers Rich and Altie Metcalf enjoy soaking up the history, art, and local ambiance when they travel internationally. And in each locale, this artistic couple always explores the special foods these regions are known for.
“We find that fun,” says Altie, noting that she and Rich then try to replicate those dishes at home in Green Valley.
They've even taken lessons in Chinese and Thai cooking, but it's his Polish family roots that are most dear to Rich's heart. His mother's family is from the Krakow area, and Rich grew up in a Polish community in New England. “I was raised by my four aunts and my mom in Massachusetts,” he says, and will tell you he first began cooking at age 4 or 5. Which could have been before or after he and a young cousin were tagged as the culprits who had taken bites out of various kielbasa lined up on a shelf.
Rich recalls his mother making pierogi, Poland's “national dish,” with fruit, although the small, semi-circular dumplings of dough are often filled with potatoes and cheese, or pork and mushrooms, which is Altie's favorite.
Rich is particularly fond of Polish cabbage rolls call Golabki (pronounced gaw-WOAMB-kee) and made with rice, ground meats, tomatoes and cabbage. He and his brother also collaborated at home in Green Valley to create a Southwestern fusion cabbage roll that incorporates black beans, yellow corn, cilantro, and any sweet or hot peppers that appeal to them, along with a splash of salsa.
Amongst his and Altie's collection of cookbooks are two of Rich's favorites: a well-worn copy of “Treasured Polish Recipes For Americans” and “From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food,” by Anne Applebaum & Danielle Crittenden.
While traditional Polish foods were primarily hardy and meant to sustain those who worked out of doors in the cold, today's recipes can be adapted by using some healthier substitutes, Altie notes.
For truly authentic Polish food, Rich recommends recipes from the 1800s. His grandmother came to the United State before 1890 and carried her recipes in her head. In the 1900s, with World Wars I and II, ingredients once common in Poland no longer were available “once the Germans took over and definitely not available once the Russians occupied Poland,” he points out.
As a result, many Polish recipes changed due to that lack of ingredients. Down-sized recipes were used in the small food centers dubbed “Milk Bars.”
“Polish folks got used to eating food made with cheaper ingredients — the recipes had the same names, but didn't taste as they did before the Germans and Russians came,” Rich explains.
Fortunately, younger Polish chefs these days are researching the old recipes and offering delicious cuisine again. The Metcalfs in 2017 took a bicycle trip from Warsaw to Krakow, and Rich recalls an outstanding, moderately priced meal they had at the Wierzynek restaurant. The memorable dessert there was ice cream shaped like a large mushroom on a bed of chocolate brownie crumbles!
He points out that this restaurant had been serving food since 1364, when the then-Polish King, Casimir the Great, wanted a feast to entertain the royals of Europe – a feast that lasted for 20 days.
Ready to cook up a Polish dish yourself? Try these recipes!
Polish Cabbage Rolls
Number of rolls depends on size of cabbage head
2 heads of Cabbage (with nice complete leaves)
1 cup of uncooked Rice
¼ lb. Salt Pork, or Bacon
½ lb. Hamburger
½ lb. Pork, ground (Breakfast Ground Sausage has more flavor)
1 can Whole Tomatoes 28 ounces
1 bottle V8 Juice 48 fl ounces
Core cabbage to remove hard center, about 1/3 into head.
Parboil each cabbage head in pot with slightly salted water.
As cabbage leaves soften, remove one leaf at a time and place in container of cold water.
Separate large leaves from small leaves and place on tray.
Cut the thick part off of each leaf (remove rib)
Chop and fry 1 onion.
Dice and fry salt pork (or bacon) to soften.
Fry ground pork (or breakfast ground sausage).
Mix together onion, salt pork (or bacon), ground pork (or breakfast ground sausage) and hamburger. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add uncooked rice and 1 cup of V8 Juice.
Prepare baking dish:
Line the bottom of a 9-by-12 or 9-by-13-inch baking dish (metal or glass) with some of the unused cabbage leaves.
Filling cabbage rolls:
Open a cabbage leaf with cut rib closest to you. Place a small handful of filling in center. Beginning with lower part of leaf, pull cut sides up and over filling. Bring left and right sides of leaf over filling. Then bring top of leaf over top of filling.
Place each cabbage roll, seam-side down, in baking dish, making two long rows.
Add squeezed whole tomatoes on top of cabbage rolls. Then pour 1 to 1 ½ cups of V8 Juice on top of tomatoes. (If you have extra slices of bacon, place them on top of rolls, too).
Spread the rest of cabbage leaves on top of the cabbage rolls.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil.
Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 2 hours.
Southwestern Cabbage Rolls
This fusion recipe combines the ingredients for Polish Golabki with the flavors of Southwest and Latin American cuisines.
Ingredients are the same as for Polish Golabki and adding the following to the filling. The amounts are based on your own preferences.
Yellow corn, frozen
Any kind of Salsa, mild or hot
Chop up and fry peppers and garlic.
In a large mixing bowl, add all ingredients & mix.
Yellow corn is added frozen. Black beans (drain from a 15 oz. Can). Fresh Cilantro is chopped.
A few tablespoons of chunky Salsa will add tremendous flavor.
Use “Spicy” V8 Juice, instead of regular V8.
Use “Hot” Breakfast Ground Sausage, instead of Mild.
When serving the SW Cabbage Rolls, you might try a few drops of LIZANO Salsa (from Costa Rica) added to the top of each cabbage roll. LIZANO is actually a puree of vegetables and spices; it’s not chunky.
But you could use just about any hot sauce you enjoy.
Preparing the cabbage rolls and baking them is the same as for Polish Golabki: 350 degrees for 2 hours.
Polish, filled doughnuts
Recipe from Jenny Jones
Makes about 1 dozen
1 ½ cups of all purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 packet of yeast (instant or regular)
2/3 cup (1 percent or 2 percent) milk, warmed to about 110 degrees F.
3 Tablespoons canola oil
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon melted butter
½ cup sugar in large baggie
Your favorite filling (seedless jam or jelly, lemon curd, and/or instant chocolate pudding)
Mix flour, sugar, salt and yeast in large mixing bowl.
Stir in warmed milk, then add oil, egg yolks and vanilla.
Mix for 2 minutes.
Dough should hold together – if not, add a little more flour.
On floured surface, knead for about 50 turns, cover with plastic and let rest 10 minutes.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
On floured surface, roll dough ½ inch thick.
Cut circles with 2 ½ inch round cutter, dipped in flour.
Place mounds on parchment paper (on baking sheet). Cover with towel and let rise in warm spot about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
When paczki are puffy, not necessarily doubled in size, bake for 10 minutes.
Place 1/2 cup sugar in large baggie.
Remove paczki from pan and place on plate or wax paper. Brush each paczki with melted butter and roll in baggie to coat with sugar.
Fill a pastry bag that has a long slender tip, with your choice of filling. Push tip into side of each paczki and squeeze filling in.
For fillings, select smooth jam or jelly. Large pieces of fruit can clog the tip of the pastry bag.
Pączki are best served warm.