You don't need a specialty store to make traditional Polish cuisine. You can shop at your regular supermarket for items to create authentic dishes.
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Super Easy Polish Cabbage Rolls
Credit: KGora

To make authentic Polish dishes, you only need to shop at a regular supermarket. While it's helpful to have some European sour, acid-set fresh cheeses like twaróg (quark), you can substitute that with ricotta or even farmer's cheese if you can't find it. I'm fortunate enough to have a terrific Russian grocery, Marky's, near me where I can get such cheeses and more, which delights me because my grandparents were Polish on one side and Ukrainian on the other. Not only are these ingredients regularly in stock, but so are dozens of frozen dumplings, jars of pickled herring, vats of borscht, and all the treats from my childhood. But you should be able to put together most dishes with the items found in the general grocery store, where you can usually even find pickled herring and onions in sour cream sauce in the refrigerated section.

Meats

Dishes such as kotlet schabowy and kotlet mielony are both flat cutlets, the first pounded and breaded, the second minced, mixed with egg and breadcrumbs. While the first is usually pork or veal, the latter can be pork, veal, or beef. You can also make pulpety, or meatballs, with a variety of meats and sauces.

Kotlet Schabowy (Polish Breaded Pork Chop)
Credit: Olenka

The same goes for stews like gulasz and bigos, although they also add the well-known kielbasa and sometimes smoked bacon. A number of famous Polish soups, such as zur, do the same.

So it's a good idea to stock your fridge or freezer with a variety of cutlets, chops, and ground meat for any number of Polish meat dishes, and keep kielbasa and bacon on hand for a range of soups, stews, and even the grill for Polish street food.

Chef John's Bigos (Polish Hunter's Stew)
Chef John's Bigos (Polish Hunter's Stew)
| Credit: Chef John

Dairy

When folks refer to a dish being a la Polonaise, they usually mean that it's cooked in butter and topped with breadcrumbs. Butter is a signature building block of Polish cuisine, with everything from kotlets to placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes) fried in it. Butter is also used as a topping for vegetables as well as dumplings like kopytka, along with sugar and breadcrumbs or other flavorings.

Cheese is also extremely important. A sour acid-set cheese called twaróg (quark) is used to stuff dumplings like pierogies and make desserts such as the highly regarded sernik, or cheesecake.

Both sour cream and eggs are utilized as ingredients. Sour cream plays a large role in the flavor of pickled items like the cucumber salad mizeria and aforementioned herring and is often used as a topper for soups such as borscht. Eggs are also hard-boiled and added to many soups, along with kielbasa, to give them breadth.

Chlodnik - Cold Polish Beet Soup
Credit: Kim

Starches

How do the Poles love breadcrumbs? Let us count the ways. Actually, let's not. We love them in everything and on everything. They add volume to meat, crunch to vegetables, and extra texture to starches. Matzoh meal also comes in handy, with which both Jews and non-Jews alike flesh out potato pancakes. But you can also use breadcrumbs or flour for this purpose.

Perhaps needless to say, but flour is elemental as well. The building block for pastries ranging from paczki (doughnuts) to mazurek, the Easter cake, flour is also elemental for bagels, bialys, and dumplings of all kinds.

Ponczki Polish doughnut
Credit: Kim

Many of those dumplings are also made with or contain potato. Potatoes are also baked and stuffed with cottage cheese and topped with farmer's cheese — a dish called pyra z gzikiem — so a bag of white potatoes are necessary to keep in a cool, dry place.

Rice and other cereals like oats, barley, rye, millet, and kasha (buckwheat groats) are helpful to have on hand. Poles often mix rice into meatballs to stuff cabbage leaves, and other cereals are distilled into soup, become crepes, and fill out tripe. Cream of wheat can even turn into bakba grysikowa, a Bundt cake.

Produce

In addition to potatoes, beets are popular root vegetables in both salads and soups. Cucumbers are pickled whole and made into salads. Likewise, cabbage plays a role in salads, fermented dishes such as sauerkraut, and even main courses. In addition to basic flavor workhorses such as onions, Polish dishes, especially soups and entrees, also utilize plenty of mushrooms. Sauces, which range from dill to sweet-and-sauce, often take tomatoes as their base.

Marinated Beet Salad
Credit: LynninHK

Spices, Herbs, and Flavorings

A home-grown salt mine and the centuries-old alliance with Turkey brought inexpensive spices into Poland, allowing many to cook regularly with salt, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and more from the Middle Ages on. Influences from Italy around the Renaissance brought an allegiance to citrus peel, raisins, and ginger. Babka, which developed from the Italian panettone, contains both raisins and candied citrus peel. Other countries around Poland, such as Hungary, shared goulasz — along with spices such as paprika.

But poppyseeds, dill, honey, and horseradish are four long-time favorite flavors in the Polish kitchen. These scent everything from alcohol to soups and salads to condiments for fish and meat to dessert. No Polish kitchen would be complete without them.

Check out our complete collection of Polish Cuisine.

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