By SHANNON WATKINS
If there’s ever a recipe I give you that makes you turn to one another and say, “Well, I told you that girl would start feeding us weird stuff sooner or later; time to quit reading her,” this is probably it.
A lot of cuisines from different ethnic groups are popular in America, or at least the Americanized versions are; everybody has their favorite Italian trattoria, Chinese buffet and Mexican restaurant. Slightly more exotic but not uncommon foods, depending on where you live, are anything Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese (especially sushi) and of course, French. There’s plenty more, but going out for something different usually entails one of these.
What you really don’t see that much of, though, and that usually slips through the cracks, is Polish food (aside from, say, kielbasa), presumably because it’s not quite exotic enough to stand out in a sea of stir frys and curries and manicotti and escargot. Which is a shame, because it’s hearty and warming and just different enough to pique your tastebuds.
Enter Anna Thomas, author of the popular ’70s cookbook “The Vegetarian Epicure.” Her most recent effort is called “Love Soup” and features dozens of particularly excellent soup recipes, a few based on her Polish heritage.
I tried one last fall but wasn’t completely happy with it; I don’t object to vegetarian food but I do like meat. I tinkered with it again, leaving out a couple of ingredients (red bell pepper and Swiss chard) and adding new ones (the chicken meatballs), and felt satisfied with the results (though it’s worth getting your hands on the original). And yes, dill pickle soup does sound totally bizarre, but then you make it, and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours or so if you can stand to – like all soup, it benefits from a day’s wait – and find something that tastes strange and different, earthy, slightly briny, refreshing and filling, and perfect for the middle of winter.
Dill Pickle Soup with Chicken Meatballs
1/2 cup pearled barley, rinsed repeatedly
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. button, cremini or Portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large carrot, diced small
2 ribs celery, diced small
1 large yellow onion, diced medium
1 medium turnip, diced small
2-3 leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed free of dirt and chopped
1 lb. yellow potatoes, diced medium
1/4 head of cabbage, cored and shredded
2-3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. fresh dill, chopped
1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley or to taste
thyme, dried or fresh, to taste
1 c. dill pickles (Vlasic or Mt. Olive work best), diced small
1 lb. ground chicken
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley
1-2 cups chicken stock
Wash, peel and dice vegetables as indicated. Dice pickles. Work chicken, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, pepper and parsley together with your hands. Put the barley, 1 tsp. salt and 8 c. water in a large soup pot or Dutch oven, bring to a boil, cover and lower to a simmer for 30 minutes.
Warm 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add garlic, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt; keep sauteeing for 10 minutes or until mushroom liquid is released and cooks away; set aside mushroom in a medium-sized bowl when done. Wipe out skillet and heat remaining Tbsp. olive oil over medium; add onion and sautee for 10 minutes; add leeks and sautee for another 10 minutes or until starting to color a little, being careful to stir. Set aside in same bowl with mushrooms.
Take lid off barley and add carrots, celery, turnips and potatoes and another ½ tsp. Salt; simmer for 15 minutes. Heat skillet to medium again, with a splash of olive oil and 1 c. chicken or vegetable stock. Form chicken into 1” meatballs either by hand or with melon baller or small cookie dough scoop (MUCH easier). Drop a few at a time into bubbling stock in skillet and cook for about 1-2 minutes to a side. Gently set each batch into another bowl with tongs. They won’t be done, but will be firm enough to finish in the soup. Top up stock as meatballs absorb it.
After diced veggies have cooked for 15 minutes, add mushroom/onion mixtures, cabbage, dill, parsley, thyme, 2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock and chicken meatballs. Simmer for another 10 minutes; add pickles and simmer for a final 10 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream floating on top of each bowlful.
And really, it’s not that unusual or odd; just unfamiliar to a lot of palates. The original (if not necessarily the tinkered-with version) is the product, like so many dishes, of people with limited resources using ingenuity to make simple ingredients come together into a delicious whole.
So stay tuned for next week, when I finally get around to that squid elbow and candied moose fin ragout with toasted pine cones! You’ll be pleased to hear it’s healthy, too.