What I’m Cooking

Regina Wypych is a Nutrition & Marketing Executive for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, where she dabbles amongst other things, in recipe development and nutrition-related blogs. She lives the good life in Oratia, in the Waitakere Ranges of West Auckland, where she gets to play with her bees and hens and feed her whanau and friends with home-grown kai.

You’d expect, as a Beef + Lamb New Zealand representative, that I’d use this opportunity to wax lyrical about cooking up our wonderful grass-fed red meat on the barbeque over summer (it’s true that our last two dinner parties starred mouth-watering Slow Cooked Pulled Lamb and barbequed tender beef eye fillet with a salsa verde). However, at the moment my kitchen is in a flurry of activity as I try and keep up with all the produce coming out of our māra kai (home veggie garden).

Growing up of Polish heritage in New Zealand was something like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ but with Poles instead of Greeks. It was everything Polish: Polish school on Saturday; our marae was the Polish Association House; Polish dance practices; Sunday Polish Church; but best of all was the Polish food. As a kid, I was always a bit embarrassed to open my lunch box at school; where the rest of the kids had marmite and chip sandwiches, my lunch-box always had some pongy Polish garlic sausage and weird gherkin. No-one ever wanted to do swapsies with me. How times have changed, now I delight in my Polish kitchen and all the uniquely cultural food that comes out of it.

One thing our Polish family is religiously serious about at this time of year is the production and preserving of gherkins. The high school artwork that one of our kids produced (it hangs in our kitchen) is a scene of our gherkin preserving – a testament to how much this task consumes our summer and how we’re all just a tad obsessed with filling the cellar with a year’s supply of ‘Ogórki’ (Polish dill gherkins). When other families go away to the beach over the summer break, our crazy family stays put to look after our large garden when it’s at its most productive.

At the end of each work day you’ll find us in the kitchen preserving whatever has been harvested. It’s a family effort too – hubby does the picking, Mama and I do the preserving and Tata’s (Dad) strong big worker hands ensures the screw bands are tight. You’ll often find us foraging the neighbourhood in others gardens to get enough dill flower heads (an essential ingredient) as our own supply begins to run low.

Each Polish family has their own way of making Ogórki, and many a heated debate is had about whose way is the best, but essentially it’s gherkins, a dill flower head, peppercorns, garlic, a couple of bay leaves and then either a grape or horseradish leaf and brine – no vinegar. Most of this is grown in our own garden.

Another family favourite that I’m cooking at the moment is a cold beetroot soup called ‘Chłodnik’. I make this soup with all ingredients from our backyard so it’s a real garden to table dish. Over summer it’s too sticky in Auckland to have our hot traditional Barscz, so this chilled soup, my Babcia’s (grandmother’s) recipe, is a gorgeous, colourful alternative.

Chłodnik (pronounced H-wod-neek) is a refreshing, light way to start a meal or to have as a lunch. It’s perfect for any summer day and keeps for days covered in the fridge, in fact its flavour develops when left for longer.

Ingredients:

4 beetroot
2 large or 3 medium potatoes
¼ – ½ cup white or cider vinegar
4 spring onions
1 cucumber or ½ telegraph cucumber
½ cup chopped dill leaves (although the more the better)
4 hard-boiled eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Cream to serve

Method:

  1. Fill the kettle with water, boil and allow to cool. Set aside.
  2. Wash beetroot and cook whole, with the skin on. Don’t cut the top off completely as the colour will drain out of the beetroot, and you need it for the soup. Boil until cooked through, test with a skewer. Bigger beetroot may need to cook longer than the smaller ones. Allow to cool on a plate.
  3. Peel and dice potatoes into 0.5-1cm square pieces. Cover with salted water (1 dessertspoon) and cook until just cooked through but still firm, about 3-5 minutes. Reserve cooking liquid from potatoes.
  4. Peel and grate cooled beetroot into a large container.
  5. Add cooked potatoes and reserved salted water and pour over cooled boiled water.
  6. Place in fridge overnight.
  7. First thing in the morning, boil eggs and allow to cool.
  8. To the beetroot and potato liquid, add finely chopped spring onions, finely diced cucumber (pips removed); white vinegar and dill leaves (the more dill the better). Aim to have all chopped vegetables a similar size.
  9. Remove whole yolks from boiled eggs. Dice the egg white and add to soup mixture.
  10. Take the egg yolk and rub it between your fingers in the soup liquid. It will disintegrate and impart creaminess to the soup.
  11. Put the soup back in the fridge for the rest of the day to allow all the flavours to develop.
  12. Sample the soup and add more water, salt, pepper or vinegar to taste.
  13. Serve with extra dill on top, sourdough rye bread and a jug of cream – just add a small amount to each soup bowl. The cream is optional.

For images of my Polish kitchen go to @reg_simplelife

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