Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cod in Winter Vegetables--A Piece of Polish Christmas Tradition

Sweets are the main subject of food blogs these days: cookies, pies, and Christmas cakes. Perhaps because they look festive and are more photogenic than other traditional Christmas items: fish, turkey, or goose. Is there anything that could compete with hand-crafted cookies meticulously decorated with icing and chocolate?

Sweets are also a big part of Christmas culinary tradition in Poland, but many original savory dishes are key to the Polish Christmas cuisine, especially fish and other vegetarian dishes, which are served on the Christmas Eve supper. The tradition requires that twelve vegetarian dishes are served at this most important meal of the year. With some regional variations to the Christmas Eve menu often includes

1. Herring in cream,
2. Herring in oil,
3. Clear beet soup served with small dumplings or stuffed yeast pastry,
4. Cabbage cooked with porcini,
5. Yellow peas,
6. Potatoes,
7. Fish sauteed with onion, or fish in vegetables,
8. Fish in cream,
9. Fish in bouillon jelly,
10. Winter vegetable salad in mayonnaise,
11. Noodles with poppy seeds,
12. Dried fruit soup or drink.

All kinds of sweets: cookies, cheesecakes, poppy seed cakes, and babkas are served for dessert. All that is just for Christmas Eve, whereas on the first and second day of Christmas we eat many different dishes and a lot of meats and cold cuts, accompanied by horseradish and winter preserves: beets, cucumbers, and mushrooms.

Today, I wanted to share something from this vegetarian menu. However, these dishes are so specifically Polish that I wondered if they would be appreciated by people who did not grow up in our culinary tradition. I decided to post the recipe for fish in vegetables as it is often the popular and healthy option with a decidedly universal appeal. Although this dish is part of the Christmas Eve menu in many Polish homes, we also eat it throughout the entire winter.

Cod in Vegetables

4-6 half pieces of cod fillet,
1 medium onion,
1 cup grated carrot,
1 cup grated celery root,
3 tbsp tomato paste,
4 tbsp grape seed oil,
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg,
2 tbsp chopped parsley,
salt and pepper.

1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan.
2. Salt and pepper fish and fry each side for about 2-3 minutes, until gold.
3. Take the fish off the pan and put aside.
4. Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry onion until soft and transparent.
5. Add carrot and celery and saute on a small heat for about 10 minutes, until soft. You may add a little bit of water to prevent burning.
6. To soften the vegetables add tomato paste and two tablespoons of water.
7. Season with salt water, nutmeg and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes.
8. Transfer the fish back to the frying pan and cover it gently with vegetables.
9. Let it absorb the sauce for couple of hours.
10. Serve cold with bread.

This dish can be served as a stand-alone meal or as a starter before dinner.

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