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Vegetarian Journal July/Aug 2001

Vegan Polish Dishes

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Gorgeous heads of green and creamy white cabbage, noodles made lovingly by hand, slowly simmering soups redolent with caraway and dill, and magenta tureens of red beet borscht are all hallmarks of Polish food—a hearty, simple, flavorful cuisine.

Polish history and geography lent a lot to the cuisine. In the 1400s, Europe developed a taste for products made from flour, and Poland became the largest supplier of grain. With trade came the introduction of many new ingredients. In the 1500s, a Polish king married an Italian princess and she introduced tomatoes, oranges, olives, figs, and chestnuts to the country. Russia, Hungary, and Germany alternately traded with and conquered parts of Poland, always leaving a culinary influence behind.

Sour cream, dill, kasha (toasted bulgur), cabbage and beet soups, and vodka are the Russian contributions to Polish cuisine. Potato dishes come from both Lithuania and Germany. Using paprika as a spice is a Hungarian legacy. Stuffed cabbage or gelumpkis, cholodnik (cold beet and sour cream soup garnished with sliced vegetables), pierogi (boiled dumplings), and kugelis (savory potato pudding) are Polish variations on international themes.

Polish cuisine is not big on spicy, fiery ingredients. Fresh dill is a popular herb, as are parsley, marjoram, juniper berries, and caraway. Pickled vegetables, especially cucumbers and cabbage, are used as both seasoning agents and condiments. Onions are used, raw and fried, to complement savory dishes. The staple ingredients of Polish cuisine—potatoes, red and green cabbage, beets, grains, and dairy products, especially buttermilk and sour cream—are naturally flavorful and require only simple preparation to enhance them. You can substitute non-dairy alternatives to make the dishes vegan-friendly.

Tart and sour flavors are very popular. Pickle juice is used to flavor soups, salads, and savory dishes, as are sour cherries. Lemon juice, vinegar, and even citric acid powder are also added to soups, salads, and desserts to lend a sour tang.

Cabbage, potatoes, carrots, beets, dried beans and peas, cauliflower, turnips, and onions are the bases for many Polish dishes. Traditionally flavored with smoked or boiled sausage, soy sausage or "fake bacon" can be used for the vegan versions. Sometimes garnished with the classic Polonaise (toasted, buttered breadcrumbs), vegetables and potatoes can be a meal unto themselves. Bigos is a hunter's stew, prepared by layering cabbage or sauerkraut with potatoes and sausage. You can make a vegan bigos with layers of green cabbage or sauerkraut, red cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and vegan sausage.

Salads (salatki) accompany just about every meal and are simple and fresh. Bukiet surowek is very popular; a combination of shredded cabbage, sour pickles, carrots, and radishes. Mizeria is a salad of thinly sliced cucumbers tossed with sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar, and parsley.

Potatoes are made into dumplings, noodles, pancakes, and soups. Pierogi are stuffed with potatoes and other ingredients. Simple dishes of boiled potatoes with sautéed onions, tossed with caraway seeds and sauerkraut, are popular evening meals.

Many varieties of mushrooms grow in abundance throughout Poland. Dried mushrooms are used to provide mild, but intense, flavor to soups, stews, and potato dishes. Morels, button, chanterelles, and others are prized for the rich flavor they impart.

Breads and grains are an important part of the national cuisine. Pumpernickel and sourdough rye are made from excellent Polish whole grains. Groats or kasha (hulled buckwheat) are toasted and boiled and baked, used in rolls, stuffing, pie fillings, and for hot cereal. Whole-wheat flour is used by bakeries, while rye flour is more often used by home cooks. Barley is also used in stuffing and soups, or served as a side dish. Barley and mushrooms are a popular combination.

Soups are a really important part of the Polish menu. Barszcz (or borscht) was originally made from the roots of wild vegetables and was quite sour. Today vinegar is added to beet juice to recreate the sour flavor. Grochowka, or pea soup, and krupnik, or vegetable barley, are delicious hot soups. Cold soups made from beets and greens are popular in the warmer summer months. Cholodnik is made from cold borscht mixed with sour cream and sliced cold cooked vegetables, such as carrots or turnips. You can purchase vegan sour cream or you can create your own by puréeing silken tofu with a small amount of lemon juice.

Fruit is a national treasure. In the spring, several varieties of strawberries are available. Later in the summer, plums are eaten fresh or preserved as prunes. Much fruit is simply served, splashed with black currant juice (sok z czarnej porzeczki) or sugar syrup. Fruit soups are popular in the summer, and compotes, or stewed fruit, more popular in the winter. Make your own compote by stewing dried prunes, peaches, apricots, raisins, and apples in a small amount of water, seasoned with powdered ginger and cinnamon. Powida is thick fruit butter, most often made with plums and flavored with anise. Powida can also be made with apples, peaches, and pears.

Polish cuisine is simple, hearty, and easily adaptable to vegan cuisine. Plant some beets, cabbage, and potatoes, or scope some out at your local farmers' markets; you'll be ready to create your own Polish buffet!

Sour Pickle Soup
zupa ogorkowa

(Serves 5)

Sour is a popular flavor for appetizers, entrées, and side dishes in Polish cuisine; traditional belief was that sour ingredients aided in digestion. Traditionally, sour pickle soup is made with beef broth; we've used vegetable broth instead.Serve this soup as is or add chopped, cooked pasta or diced, cooked potatoes for body.

6 cups vegetable broth
11/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup peeled fresh potatoes, diced
1 cup garlic or dill pickles, shredded
Flour, as needed (about ¼ cup)

Place broth in pot, bring to quick boil, reduce heat and allow to simmer. Add carrots, celery, and potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Add pickles and simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. If a thicker soup is desired, mix together equal parts flour and water to make a paste. Add slowly, stirring, and allow to simmer until soup is lightly thickened.


(Serves 6)

Borscht has many variations among the Eastern and Central European countries, all claiming it as their own. Serve this hot or cold, depending on the season.

2 bunches beets with greens (about 8-9 medium beets)
½ cup chopped onion
One-pound can stewed tomatoes
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup vegan granulated sweetener

Scrub and clean beets, but don't peel them. Save the greens. Place beets in large pot, add onion and cover with 3 quarts of water. Simmer for one hour, or until beets are very tender. Remove beets from water, but SAVE the water. Discard onions. Finely chop beets and return to water. Wash and chop greens and add to water. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, and sweetener. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until greens are tender. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Quick Borscht

(Serves 6)

One-pound can shredded beets, NOT drained
2 cups water
3 Tablespoons frozen lemonade, thawed
(or 2 Tablespoons frozen lemon juice and 1 Tablespoon vegan sugar or Sucanat)

In a large bowl, combine beets, water, and lemonade slowly together until all ingredients are well mixed. Blend until puréed. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Enhance with soy sour cream.

Strawberry or Blueberry Soup
zupa jagodowa

(Serves 4)

Sweet flavors figure very highly in Polish cuisine. Until only a few years ago, many kitchens had very few appliances or conveniences. Sweet soups made with fresh fruit were an easy way to create dessert items in basic kitchens. If you must, you can use frozen, thawed berries instead of fresh.

1 pound fresh strawberries or blueberries, cleaned well
11/4 cups water
3 Tablespoons vegan granulated sweetener
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup soy or rice coffee creamer or vanilla
soy or rice ice cream
Optional: 2 cups cooked, cooled noodles

Place fruit in a medium pot, add water and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until fruit is very soft.Place in blender and purée. Return purée to pot, add sugar, lemon juice and cream or ice cream. Stir and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Chill soup for at least 2 hours before serving. It is traditional to eat this soup on its own or served over cold noodles.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

(Serves 5)

This recipe reflects the Polish taste for sweet and sour items, in this case combined into one dish. Cabbage is the staple ingredient of Polish cuisine. Serve this dish as an accompaniment to braised potatoes or to pierogi. It can also be used instead of pasta as an underliner for entrées.

3 cups shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup peeled and chopped tart apple, such as Granny Smith
2 cups boiling water
1 Tablespoon apple juice concentrate
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
4 Tablespoons vinegar

Combine all ingredients in large pot. Bring quickly to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer until cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes.

Boiled Dumplings

(Serves 5: 6 pierogi/serving)

Pierogi are Polish cuisine's ode to ravioli, wontons, and other filled dumplings. Traditional fillings usually start with either potatoes or sauerkraut. You can experiment with sweet potatoes, polenta (corn meal mush), shredded green or red cabbage, or chopped nuts. This recipe bakes the dumplings instead of boiling them. Make several batches of pierogi and freeze them for future use.

11/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup margarine
Approximately ¼ cup water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in margarine, adding enough water to just hold the mixture together. On a floured board, roll out the dough like a pie crust . Cut into 3-inch squares. Place filling (recipe following), about 1 teaspoonful, in the center of each square. Fold squares so filling is completely covered. Press edges together and crimp with a fork. Place on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Pierogi Filling

¾ cup minced onion
2 Tablespoons margarine
2 cups cooked kasha (approx. ¾ cup uncooked; prepare according to package directions)

Place onions and margarine in frying pan and sauté until onions are just soft. Add kasha and continue to cook, tossing, until kasha is combined with onions.

Note: Another traditional filling is mashed potatoes mixed with sautéed onions.

Baked Apples with Fruit Preserves and Nuts

(Serves 6)

This simple dessert can also be made with pears. Serve with soy or rice ice cream if you want to add a little jazz.

6 baking apples, washed and cored
6 Tablespoons vegan granulated sweetener
6 Tablespoons strawberry or apricot fruit preserves
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place apples in baking dish, being sure they are touching each other, fitting tightly in the dish. Place 1 Tablespoon of sugar in the core of each apple, followed by preserves. Sprinkle with nuts. Fill baking dish with one inch of water. Bake for 30 minutes or until apples are tender. Serve warm or allow to chill.

Dill Sauce

(Makes about 1 cup for eight 2-Tbsp servings)

Perfect to serve over boiled or baked potatoes or pierogi.

2 Tablespoons margarine
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped dill
1/2 cup soy sour cream (or 1/2 cup silken tofu mixed with 2 Tablespoons lemon juice)

Place margarine and flour in the top of a double boiler. Stir to blend. Add stock and cook, stirring, until thickened and smooth. Remove from stove, and quickly stir in dill and sour cream.

Cabbage Soup (Kapusniak)

Serves 6

A staple soup of Polish cuisine, made with staple ingredients. Make an extra batch and freeze it.

2 Tablespoons margarine
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups water
2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato

Melt margarine in a soup pot. Add cabbage and pepper and sauté until cabbage is browned, about 7 minutes. Add water, potatoes, and tomatoes, and cook for 20 minutes, covered, or until potatoes are tender.

Excerpts from the July/Aug 2001 Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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Last Updated
June 26, 2001

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