Sunday, December 25, 2011
When asked about our nationality, I always answer "Polish and Russian"...but I am not exactly sure what part of the cultural stew of eastern bloc countries denotes my actual lineage. A Lithuanian coworker has told me that my maiden name means "brain" in Lithuanian, and my aunt claims my dad's mother was from Lithuania. My dad spoke fluent Russian and Polish because his parents were Russian and his father died when he was 10 years old and my grandmother remarried a Polish guy, so at his house, they spoke only a combo of Russian and Polish (many of the words are similar). Even though my dad was born in Hamtramck, he didn't know how to speak English, so he and his twin brother were held back a year from starting kindergarten until they could speak it. In Hamtramck in those days, you could easily get by without speaking English. The newspapers were in Polish, the store signs were all in Polish, and Mass was said in Polish. But in school, one had to speak English, so my dad learned. On my mothers side, my Grandmother was Polish (we never called her bapcia, only "Grandmother") and her husband was Polish and Czech. I never really knew my dads mother (she died before I was born) or my mom's dad (he was hospitalized most of his life) so the grandparents I best remember were Grandmother and Tata (my father's step dad). And they both spoke Polish all the time - in fact, Tata spoke very little English. My Grandmother spoke English with her West Virgina twang, and only lapsed into Polish when the adults were talking about something they didn't want us kids to understand. I picked up some words here or there, but sometimes my dad could never remember if a word was actually Polish or Russian, so it was kind of a blend. But we definitely ate lots of Polish food when I was growing up.
It recently dawned on me that I am the matriarch of my family. I am the eldest child of my parents, who both passed away in 2010. I'm now the "old lady" at the family gatherings - although I don't have the bapcia look about me quite yet. I'm not wearing a babuschka yet, but the least I can do is always make sure I bring some Polish food to family gatherings. The other day, my coworker Greg and I decided to go to Hamtramck for lunch. The city of my own birth is still a Polish stronghold, but there are lots of other cultures there now too. On the menu at Polish Village was an item that caught my eye - kotlet grzybowy. I was sad to find out that the mushroom cutlet was sold out for the day, but I was determined to try to make it myself at home. It wasn't a dish we regularly made at my house, but my mother found a cookbook at a garage sale for me entitled Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans. It was the first Polish cookbook published in the U.S. in English in 1948, I have the 1958 printing - it might still be in print today...one can buy it new on Amazon. Of course there was a recipe for mushroom cutlets in the book. Mushrooms are a beloved Polish food and as a kid, we always went mushroom hunting every fall with my dad and uncle. Mushroom cutlets would be a great meatless dish to have during Lent or for the traditional Polish meatless Christmas Eve dinner Wigilia. Since it was Christmas eve, I tried making some last night for our dinner with the neighbors. They came out great - I can't wait to make them for Lenten Fridays. I tweaked the recipe a bit after I did a little more reading online. It was hard to find a recipe in English, so I am happy to put this on the interwebs for the next soul looking for a Polish mushroom cutlet. Smaczne!
Kotlet Grzyby (GZHIH-bih) or Mushroom Cutlet
3 cups stale bread cubes
1 lb fresh mushrooms (any kind - I used crimini) chopped fine
1 onion, chopped fine
3 T parsley, chopped fine
1 T butter
salt and pepper
More butter, for frying
In a dish, soak 2 cups of the stale bread cubes in enough milk to get them soft. Squeeze the milk out of the bread....the bread need to be as dry as possible. In a blender, process the remaining cup of bread cubes into fine crumbs, and set aside.
In a skillet, fry mushrooms, onion and parsley in 1 T butter. until the mushrooms are slightly dry and the onion soft, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add mushroom mixture to a bowl with the soaked bread and eggs, stirring to combine. In the skillet, heat some more butter to fry cutlets. Form the cutlet by making a patty in the palm of your hand, pressing reserved dried bread crumbs into each side. The cutlets are difficult to hold together before they are cooked, so be gentle. Working in batches, carefully place them in the skillet, and fry on each side until well browned. Add more butter as needed. Season with salt and pepper. The cutlets would be excellent with a dollop of sour cream, but we ate them as they were.