Sturgeon Caviar, Creme Fraiche and Blini

Sturgeon Caviar, Creme Fraiche and Blini

The food of Eastern Europe enjoys a long-standing reputation that can be summed up by one word: heavy. But the region’s food culture is shifting, just like its politics and economic fortunes. Kojo explores the region’s dishes with the author of a Polish cookbook and the owner of a local restaurant specializing in Czech cuisine.


  • Anne Applebaum Co-author, "From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food"; columnist, The Washington Post and Slate; Director of Political Studies, Legatum Institute
  • Jarek Mika Chef owner, Bistro Bohem and Kafe Bohem

Recipes: ‘Polish Country House Kitchen’

From a “Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food” by Anne Applebaum amd Danielle Crittenden. All rights reserved.


Cherry Vodka (Wiśniówka)

Makes one 34-oz/1-L bottle of vodka

“Life is dandy, cherry brandy!” So goes a line from a poem by Russian writer Osip Mandelstam—meant to be ironic, of course, as he lived in the darkest days of Stalinism and died in the Gulag. Cherry brandy, cherry vodka, cherry liqueurs: These are the obvious consequence of Eastern Europe’s famous and abundant cherry orchards, of which there are just as many in Poland as there are in provincial Russia. Do note that this recipe works for any kind of fruit that is not too sweet. In particular it is worth trying with black currants or Polish jagody—wild blueberries—if you can find them.

The quantities given here are for a 34-oz/1-L jar, but do reduce them (or increase them!) in proportion to the bottle you are using.

1 1⁄8 lb/510 g fresh sour cherries (or black currants or jagody)
25 oz/750 ml clear vodka
1 to 2 tbsp sugar (optional)

Pit and halve the cherries. As in all vodka recipes, it is important that the flesh of the fruit be somehow exposed.

Fill a jar with the cherries, but do not pack it. Pour the vodka on top and seal tightly. Leave in a dark place, preferably for at least 2 weeks—or up to 6 months. At the end of that time, open the jar and strain. If you have a veryfine-mesh strainer, that will do. If not, use an ordinary strainer lined with a cheesecloth or even a coffee filter. Set the strainer over a large bowl, ideally one from which you’ll be able to easily pour afterward. Pour the vodka mixture through the strainer and allow the fruit to sit, seeping liquid, for a good hour or so, stirring a bit and pressing if need be to make the liquid go through.

Now taste the vodka. Add sugar if you want an after-dinner liqueur, or leave it out if you want something sharper. Pour (or ladle) into a decorative bottle.


Chicken Soup (Rosoł)

Serves 8 to 10

We don’t know why it is that so many people so seldom make chicken soup from scratch. This is, after all, the ultimate comfort food. Though it might not really have all of the magical flu-curing properties attributed to it in both Polish and Jewish folklore, it is extremely healthful—the main ingredients, after all, are water and vegetables. It’s certainly much healthier than the store-bought versions, which usually contain high levels of sodium and preservatives. A large pot can serve a dozen people; children eat it with gusto. The leftovers can last for several days, and can take many forms, the meat converted into chicken salad or chicken sandwiches, the broth used as a base for other soups. Chicken soup requires no culinary expertise, and it involves only the most humble ingredients. The actual preparation requires very little time: Though the soup does need to boil for a couple of hours, you needn’t watch it while it does so. You can even turn it off halfway through cooking and then finish the boiling-down process later in the day, to no ill effect. We’ve done it many times.

For all of those reasons, chicken soup, or rosoł, is the most basic, most beloved, and most frequently cooked dish in many Polish households. There are as many recipes as there are cooks. The one we are using here is most definitely for chicken soup, not chicken stock: The latter can be made with a handful of bones and leftovers, but the real thing requires actual meat, uncooked, if it is to have enough flavor to make a real meal. The trick to a really flavorful soup, in fact, is to use two kinds of meat—here we use chicken parts and a piece of beef on its bone—as well as more vegetables than you are usually instructed to use. (If you’d like a more delicately flavored chicken broth, you can omit the beef bone.)

Do feel free to add whatever you have in your garden or find at the market, remembering that some vegetables have quite strong tastes and can change the soup’s flavor. Polish cooks sometimes put a slice of savoy cabbage into their rosoł, and Anne occasionally tosses in a zucchini as well. Another popular Polish addition is lovage, an herb that was once very popular and featured in nineteenth-century cookbooks, but has gone out of fashion. It is sweetish, bearing a distant resemblance to fennel. Anne has it in her garden, and if you can find it—farmers’ markets might have it in spring and summer—it adds an unexpected depth. Most
Poles would draw the line at garlic: rosoł is supposed to be rich but delicate, and garlic would overpower the rest of the soup.

The only absolutely required vegetables are carrots, parsnips, onions, leeks, and celery root (though if you haven’t got any of the latter, ordinary celery will do). In Polish markets you can buy these particular vegetables grouped together in bundles known as wlosczyzny, a word whose origins appear linked to the Polish word for Italy, which is Wloch. Allegedly, this is because Poland’s Italian queen, Bona Sforza, brought soup vegetables to Poland from Italy (along with the tomato) in the sixteenth century. True or not, the name remains.

We call for 5 qt/4.7 L of water here, but if you haven’t got a pot large enough, you can always add more water during the boiling-down process. Danielle reckons you need a seriously large chicken here, incidentally, and says that if yours is small, then use two.

5 to 6 lb/2.3 to 2.7 kg chicken, whole or cut up, bone-in (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, neck if you have it)
1 lb/455 g veal or beef on a bone (this can be shanks, ribs, anything cheap)
About 5 qt/4.7 L water (depending on the size of the pot you are using; there should be enough to cover chicken)
1 large onion, halved (no need to peel—the skin gives the soup a lovely color)
5 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled, and thickly sliced
2 large or 4 medium parsnips, trimmed, peeled, and thickly sliced
2 leeks (white and green parts), trimmed, halved lengthwise, and rinsed
½ head medium celery root, peeled and coarsely chopped, or 3 celery stalks, with leaves, coarsely chopped
1 slice savoy cabbage, or ½ zucchini (optional)
4 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs fresh dill, plus a generous handful of chopped for garnish
1 thin slice lemon
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
Handful of fresh lovage leaves (if you can get them; optional)
5 to 6 peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash the chicken thoroughly. Put in large soup pot with the meat bones and add the water and onion. Bring to a boil, remove any foam that has risen to the top, and cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 30 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients except for the salt and ground pepper. Cover and cook at a low boil until the meat is tender and the chicken is falling off the bone, about 2 to 2½ hours.

Remove the chicken and let rest in a colander set over a bowl to collect the drippings. Remove the meat bone and discard (or give to a deserving canine friend). With another large colander, strain the soup into a separate pot, bowl, or food storage container. (The latter is helpful if you are planning on refrigerating the soup overnight to allow the fat to harden, making it easier to skim. Many Poles don’t bother with this, reckoning that the melted traces of chicken fat are precisely the magic ingredient that cures the flu). Press the vegetables against the colander to extract all their tasty juices.

Now here’s where you decide which, if any, of the cooked vegetables appeal to you to serve in the final soup. Stop here if you want a clear, minimalist broth (if you are going to add matzoh balls or homemade noodles, for example). Skim the fat off the top (or refrigerate overnight and then skim, as noted above), and season with salt and pepper.

For a more robust meal, pick out the carrots, parsnips, and celery root from the colander. Slice these more or less elegantly and add to the skimmed broth (you can also add these after cooking the matzoh balls or noodles).

Now deal with the chicken. Remove to a carving board and pour the collected drippings into the broth. Shred the white and dark meat into more or less spoon-size pieces—your call as to whether you want to include the skin (a frugal Pole would, but neither of us finds it especially appetizing at this stage), and set aside. (If you’re refrigerating the soup overnight, you can still go ahead and add the vegetables and shredded chicken. They won’t interfere with the fat hardening. Or keep them separate in another container if you prefer, and add to the soup when reheating. Just don’t add any noodles yet). You can refrigerate the soup for up to 1 week (in which case, skim off the hardened fat as directed and add the chicken and vegetables, if using, to the stock so they don’t dry out. The soup can also be frozen at this point).

When ready to serve, reheat the soup and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Using a slotted spoon or ladle, distribute the chicken pieces and vegetables (if using) evenly and elegantly among the soup bowls, and ladle the hot broth on top. Garnish each with a sprinkling of chopped fresh dill.


Hot Mead (MiÓd Pitny na Ciepło)

Serves 4 to 6 (makes about 20 oz/600 ml)

Mead—fermented honey—is a Polish drink that goes back to the Middle Ages. In Polish sagas and epics, warriors drink mead before battles. Even now it has an indefinable, and probably undeserved, reputation as a healthier form of alcohol. In Poland you can buy bottled mead, the making of which grows more sophisticated every year. At a dinner organized in Warsaw not long ago by Slow Food Polska—the Polish branch of the international Slow Food movement—Anne was served several extraordinary organic meads, each made by a slightly different method. The company that produces them, Pasieka Jaros, has been researching and experimenting with ancient methods of mead production for more than thirty years.

This recipe is something slightly different: It’s a hot form of Honey and Ginger Spiced–Vodka, which you can make at home. Serve this as a winter cocktail—or after a day spent cross-country skiing—and drink it in front of a roaring fire.

½ cup/120 ml honey
1 cup/240 ml water
3 to 4 cloves
6 cinnamon sticks
1 whole vanilla bean pod (about 3 in/7.5 cm long)
One 1-in/2.5-cm strip orange rind
1 small chunk from a whole nutmeg, or ¼ tsp ground
16 oz/480 ml vodka

In a medium saucepan, bring the honey and water to a boil, skimming any foam from the surface. Add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean pod, and orange rind, return to a boil, and remove from the heat. Let sit for 1 or 2 minutes, then bring to a boil again. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for at least 30 minutes to steep. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer or a regular strainer lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and again bring to a boil. Pour in the vodka. Stir well and serve piping hot.

Recipes: Bistro Bohem

These twists on traditional Old World favorites are served everyday at Bistro Bohem, a Central European eatery located in the historic U Street neighborhood. Recipes courtesy Jarek Mika, chef and owner of Bistro Bohem.



Sauerkraut Filling
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, drained and minced
salt and pepper to taste

3 eggs
1 container sour cream
1/2 table spoon Kosher salt
1 table spoon baking powder
3 cups wondra flour

To prepare the sauerkraut filling, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the drained sauerkraut and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then remove to a plate to cool.

To make the dough, beat together the eggs and sour cream until smooth. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder; stir into the sour cream mixture until dough comes together. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until firm and smooth. Divide the dough in half, then roll out one half to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into 3 inch rounds using a biscuit cutter.

Place a small spoonful of the sauerkraut filling into the center of each round. Moisten the edges with water, fold over, and press together with a fork to seal.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pierogies and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until pierogi float to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Serve with a spoon of sour cream, fresh parsley, little bit of melted butter, some caramelized onion – all of the above together.


Ginger Dark Beer Slow Braised Pork Shank

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 pork shanks, about 1 1/2 pounds each
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
small ginger root, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
3 cups of vegetable stock (or whatever necessary to almost cover the shanks)
1 cup of dark beer

In a large, sturdy resealable plastic bag, combine tablespoon each of salt and pepper, one small ginger root, cup of dark beer, 3 garlic cloves, minced, a little bit of olive oil and one onion, chopped. Add the pork shanks, shake and seal and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the pork shanks (without the marinate liquid, which you should set aside for later use) and brown over moderately high heat until browned all over, about 5-10 minutes. Transfer the browned shanks to a deep, heavy casserole.

Add the marinate liquid and 3 cups of vegetable stock (or enough to almost cover the shanks but not completely), add 2 bay leaves and 2 thyme sprigs and place in the oven and bake at lower temperature for about 3 hours or until meat is very tender (around 350 degrees) – turn pork shanks every 30 minutes to keep them mostly submerged in liquid.

When the shanks are very tender, strain the liquid, pressing hard on the solids; discard the solids. Return the liquid to the casserole and boil until reduced to 1.5 cups cups, about 20 minutes, pour the pork gravy over the braised shanks and serve.

Serve with side of boiled potatoes, seasoned with parsley, butter and salt and pepper.


  • 13:27:16

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIEastern European fare is more than beet soup, potato dumplings and beef goulash. As the region's politics and prosperity have shifted in the last three decades, so has the cuisine. While still anchored in tradition, chefs and home cooks alike are incorporating new ingredients and reimagining old favorites. Here to talk about what's changed, what hasn't and what we're missing if we haven't given it a try is Jarek Mika. He is chef and owner of Bistro Bohem and Kafe Bohem in D.C. Shaw neighborhood. Jarek Mika, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:27:51

    MR. JAREK MIKAHello, Kojo. Thank you for having me.

  • 13:27:53

    NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from London is Anne Applebaum. She's a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, and author of numerous books, the latest of which is "From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food." She's also the director of political studies at the Legatum Institute in London. Anne Applebaum, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:28:15

    MS. ANNE APPLEBAUMThank you very much for having me.

  • 13:28:16

    NNAMDIAnne, our listeners may be familiar with your Washington Post column or gulag, your Pulitzer-Prize-winning work of nonfiction. So how did you come to write a cookbook full of Polish recipes?

  • 13:28:30

    APPLEBAUMIt's a very good and absolutely valid question. I've actually spent quite a lot of the last 20 years moving in and out of Poland. I did live in Washington for several years and I had been on the Washington Post editorial board and indeed I'm from Washington. But I'm married to a Pole and 20 years ago he, and then he and I purchased and then began to restore a country house in rural Poland, which we have finished more or less. I don't know that you really finish a house.

  • 13:29:00

    APPLEBAUMAnd in the course of that restoration and in the course of living out there and doing some of my writing out there, I discovered Polish food at a certain -- you might even say I had no choice but to discover Polish food. Because living in rural Poland, that's what there is. And either you learn how to cook it or you starve. And so I learned how to cook it and I really did learn to love it.

  • 13:29:21

    APPLEBAUMAnd the inspiration for this book interestingly was a visit to Washington of a group -- I mean, sorry, a visit to Poland of a group of my Washington friends who came, had a look around, went to some restaurants, tried what I was cooking out of my garden. And one of them, Danielle Crittenden stood in my kitchen and said, right. The time has come. We have to write a cookbook. And I said, Danielle, I don't write cookbooks. I write history books. And she said, no, no, no. Now we're going to write a cookbook and she talked me into it and we wrote it. And that's the book which has now appeared.

  • 13:29:51

    NNAMDIWell, take us into the intersection of your academic work and your foray into food by giving us a sense of how political changes within Poland are reflected in the country's cuisine.

  • 13:30:05

    APPLEBAUMWell, it's actually one of the themes of the book. You know, Polish food, as we know it in the United States and as is often known outside of Poland is of course the food of poverty. And it's the food of immigrants. It's really the most simplest kind of Polish cuisine. It doesn't reflect the very rich and complex kinds of food you can find all over the country.

  • 13:30:25

    APPLEBAUMBut it's also the case that Polish food itself has gone through a kind of revolution since 1989. People have -- the growth of the economy, the growth of the free market, also the growth of restaurants and the growth of entrepreneurs who began packaging and redesigning and working on traditional Polish food products. And people began -- have begun to experiment with Polish food in the way they've done with Italian food or French food or American food.

  • 13:30:55

    APPLEBAUMThey've made it lighter. They've used different ingredients. They've, in some cases, rediscovered older dishes that you couldn't make anymore because those kinds of meats or fishes were so hard to obtain during the Communist period and they've brought them back. And the result has been in the last several years in particular, kind of revival of Polish food. Polish restaurants, but sort of new fashioned Polish restaurants with different kinds of tastes and different kinds of décor are -- you now find in all the major cities, and people really experimenting with food.

  • 13:31:26

    APPLEBAUMAnd Poles are certainly writing Polish cookbooks for themselves with new versions of their recipes. And my book was an attempt to sort of sort that and define it and explain it for American readers.

  • 13:31:39

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Anne Applebaum. She's a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate and author of numerous books, the latest of which is "From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food." Asking you to join the conversation at 800-433-8850. What are your favorite Eastern European dishes, 800-433-8850? If your family has Eastern European roots, what traditional meals stand out in your memory? You can also send us email to, send us a Tweet at kojoshow.

  • 13:32:12

    NNAMDIWe're also talking with Jarek Mika. He is chef and owner of Bistro Bohem and Kafe Bohem in D.C. Shaw neighborhood. Jarek, what are some of the hallmarks of Czech cuisine and how much do we see influence from other Eastern European food traditions in evidence in Czech cuisine?

  • 13:32:29

    MIKASo I think Anne has already touched on the basics of Central European food being a peasant food, being kind of the food that people eat that is not expensive that can fill up on very easily. And, you know, Europe being a very close knit society, I think Czech Republic is one of those tiny little countries in the middle surrounded by Poland, surrounded by Germany, Hungary, Russia really on the east side. And so the Czech cuisine has taken on kind of a little bit of every of those cuisines together. So...

  • 13:33:06

    NNAMDIThe ultimate hybrid.

  • 13:33:07

    MIKA...ultimate hybrid. And it's interesting because, you know, the Czechs make the same dishes as the French do but except using expensive meat, or they use the cheapest one available. They make the same kind of pasta as the Italians do but instead of flour they might use potatoes. So they sort of learned from every country that surrounds them and created the cuisine that, you know, pleases the palate of the place.

  • 13:33:37

    NNAMDIYou can see lots of sweet paprika garlic, which shows the Hungarian influence. Any dish made with pork a staple?

  • 13:33:45

    MIKAWell, pork is definitely a staple of the entire cuisine. Braised pork is one of those most popular dishes. It's also known as the national dish of the Czech Republic. Slow braised pork, sauerkraut, bread dumpling, potato dumpling. That's probably one of those dishes that you'll find in every restaurant, you know, throughout the Czech Republic. And I think as Anne mentioned, it's one of those dishes that is, you know, changing now. You know, we used to serve braised pork served with five pieces of dumplings and sauerkraut. And the sauerkraut didn't have much of a flavor and the pork really didn't have much of a flavor.

  • 13:34:24

    MIKAAnd nowadays the original flavors of Czech cuisines are coming back. You know, they're using more of ginger root, we're using more caraway seed. You know, things that had been around before communism are now coming back.

  • 13:34:38

    NNAMDIIndeed if you can go to our website you will find recipes from Jarek and recipes from Anne's book. And one of the recipes we've got on the website from Jarek is a Ginger Dark Beer Slow Braised Pork Shank. Again that's on our website You can also join the conversation however by calling 800-433-8850.

  • 13:35:00

    NNAMDIAnne, you recently wrote a piece asking whether Eastern Europe still exists. Politics aside, where do you see overlaps between borders in terms of cuisine. And what dishes do you consider uniquely Polish?

  • 13:35:14

    APPLEBAUMThere are absolutely a lot of overlaps in cuisine and Poland is a little bit -- Polish food actually is different from Czech food. There's a Scandinavian influence. There's a slightly different -- you know, there's more fish. Poland has a long coast and so on. But my favorite -- some of my favorite Polish dishes are the ones that are really unique to Poland. And they aren't made anywhere else that I know of.

  • 13:35:37

    APPLEBAUMOne of them is a soup called zurek. And the only way I can think of to describe it is it's called sour bread soup. And I suppose it's distantly related to the kind of bread soups and garlic -- bread and garlic soups that you can find in Italy and some other places. But I found that when I have visitors to Poland this is what I tell them to order in restaurants. And -- because it has a sour taste. It's based on a vegetable broth. It can be made differently. It's actually an Easter -- traditionally served at Easter. Sometimes it has a boiled egg in it or some slices of sausage, depending on how you cook it.

  • 13:36:11

    APPLEBAUMAnd the unique thing about it is that the stock really that it's based on, aside from the vegetable stock, is a kind of -- something you -- it's made with sour bread. Basically you can leave rye bread in water and it ferments slightly. And the soup has a slightly fermented taste, which sounds very, very weird but I promise you everybody who tastes it says it's amazing. I've never had anything like it.

  • 13:36:39

    NNAMDIAnd Ann says it is perfect for Easter. Jarek, Passover began Monday and Jewish food traditions have strong influence within Eastern European cuisine. Jarek, where do you see that?

  • 13:36:51

    MIKAWell, it's actually one of those things that most Czech people don't realize until they move out of the Czech Republic into a place such as the United States. And it actually came to me when I started cooking for friends. And I was cooking, so to speak, traditional Czech dishes, potato pancake being one good example. And I was approached by my Jewish friends and I learned that that is actually their traditional dish as well.

  • 13:37:19

    MIKAAnd so there is a huge influence in our cuisine that sort of connects us to the Jewish cuisine, to the Jewish world.

  • 13:37:30

    NNAMDIAnd if pressed to name one sort of quintessentially Eastern European dish we might come up with borscht or beet soup. But a traditional soup we might not know about is made of mushrooms. Who did you get your recipe from?

  • 13:37:47

    APPLEBAUMWell, I have several mushroom dishes in my book, which includes mushroom salads and also mushroom -- different ways of cooking mushrooms. The Poles are obsessed with mushrooms and pick them and know a great deal about them and can tell you which one is which and which one you can eat and not eat.

  • 13:38:06

    APPLEBAUMI have a couple of mushroom soups in my book. One is a more traditional one that comes from a neighbor of ours in the country. And she can make her mushroom soup with literally -- it's a kind -- I don't know even how she does it. It's a sort of handful of dried mushrooms, a beef bone, a couple of vegetables and you have this delicious, again slightly sour, very mushroomy, woodsy flavored soup. And that's -- I've recreated her version to best that I can.

  • 13:38:33

    APPLEBAUMAnd then I also have another one that's slightly less traditional, which involves adding a little bit of Madera, used both dried mushrooms and fresh mushrooms. So I give the reader two choices, one a very traditional version and one a much more modern and really unusual subtly different tasting wild mushroom soup.

  • 13:38:52

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Anne Applebaum. Her latest book is called "From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food." Also joining us in studio, Jarek Mika. He is chef and owner of Bistro Bohem and Kafe Bohem in D.C. Shaw neighborhood. Onto the telephones. Here is Joelle in Ellicott City, Md. Joelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:13

    JOELLEOh, hi there. I am so excited to hear about this cookbook. I lived in Poland for a year in Krakow. And I wanted to ask Anne if she had any different recipes for bigos in her cookbook. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

  • 13:39:29

    NNAMDIAnne, any recipes for bigos in your cookbook?

  • 13:39:32

    APPLEBAUMThere of course is a recipe for bigos. As the caller knows bigos is one of the great Polish national dishes and it's a sort of hunter's stew. It's a thing that you serve at midnight at the end of your very boisterous party to keep people going for the next two or three hours into the wee hours of the morning. Or else you serve it, you know, after hunting, you know, on a freezing cold afternoon. And it's made with different kinds of cabbage, different kinds of sauerkraut and also different kinds of meat. The best kind is made with venison and with other kinds of game. And we give -- we have, I think, an excellent version of that in our cookbook.

  • 13:40:13

    NNAMDIJarek, it's my understanding you've done some work with the Czech embassy, and you have a solid group of customers who are ex pats. How big of an ex pat community is there in D.C., and is it kind of underserved when it comes to having restaurants to go to for a taste of home?

  • 13:40:29

    MIKAWell, actually, that was probably one of the reasons why I decided to open up a restaurant that focuses on Central European, Eastern European Czech cuisine, because I wouldn't find any that would cater to people, you know, of my type, you know, somebody who's not looking to eat like, you know, we used to eat a hundred years ago, and somebody who's looking for a little bit more modern environment and, you know, a little bit more hip kind of place.

  • 13:40:59

    MIKASo I think there is a community that is underserved, and, you know, the Communism connection is really interesting because there obviously is a big community that you would not think of having much to do with Central Europe, but for example, Ethiopian community is one of those closely connected communities to Czech Republic. During the communist times, a lot of, you know, Ethiopian doctors were basically educated in the Czech Republic, so they are, you know, fluent in Czech.

  • 13:41:31

    MIKAThey might have married, you know, the Czech. So there are groups that are belonging to Central Europe that you might not normally think as, you know, being connected to us.

  • 13:41:43

    NNAMDIAnd these are the people who are making up your patron base. We are going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation on Eastern European Cuisine. If you have called, stay on the line. If you haven't, but would like to, the number is 800-433-8850. You can also send email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:44

    NNAMDIIt's Food Wednesday. We're talking Eastern European cuisine with Jarek Mika. He's a chef and owner of Bistro Bohem and Kafe Bohem in D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood. Anne Applebaum joins us by phone from London. She's a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, and author of numerous books, the latest of which is "From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food." She's also the director of political studies at the Legatum Institute in London. Jarek Mika, tell me what is this I was just sampling, and tell me everything you know about poppy seed.

  • 13:44:16

    MIKASo you've some sampled some of our traditional pastries called kolache. Kolache being a yeast-based pastry, sort of kind of like a Danish, and the one that you had was filled with poppy seed filling. And the reason I brought poppy seed is because that's one of the very popular ingredients in our cuisine. We use it for baking quite a bit, and actually Czech Republic produces the most poppy seed in the world after Afghanistan.

  • 13:44:47

    NNAMDIThat I didn't know.

  • 13:44:48

    MIKASo I figure that will be -- that will be nice to have.

  • 13:44:51

    NNAMDIAnne, it's my understanding that you and your co-author Danielle Crittenden, both tested your recipes. She here is the Washington D.C. area, and you in Poland. Were there any ingredients that she could not find here in the U.S.?

  • 13:45:06

    APPLEBAUMThere were, although interestingly, poppy seed not one of them. We have a poppy seed cake recipe as well, and you can buy them in -- I don't think they're the smokeable kind but you can -- they sell in Afghanistan, but you can buy them to cook with in Washington. The one thing that we found that we couldn't replace easily was a kind of Polish farmer's cheese. It's a little bit like a kind of dry version of cottage cheese and it's used in a lot of Polish cakes. It's sometimes used in pierogies and so on, and it's extremely light.

  • 13:45:37

    APPLEBAUMAnd so, for example, Poles use it in cheesecake. And so instead of heavy cheesecake that we're used to in the United States, it's very light, airy, almost -- not even terribly sweet cheesecake, and we couldn't quite repeat in exactly the same way in -- without this particular kind of cheese called tvaroh which the Poles have and Russian have as well. But we found that if you use ricotta, which is the Italian version, then you get something very close.

  • 13:46:04

    NNAMDIJarek, what ingredients have been a challenge for you to find here?

  • 13:46:07

    MIKAWell, it's funny to Anne talking about quark or tvaroh, which is one of those ingredients that, you know, is hard to come by, although I have to say that things are changing and there is local producers now that make tvaroh available. So we've been lucky enough to find it here in Washington. We've struggled -- I mean, we struggle basically every day getting ingredients, you know, for our recipes, because a lot of them are not available. A big problem I'm having is flour. The amount -- the variety...

  • 13:46:41

    NNAMDIAll-purpose just won't do.

  • 13:46:43

    MIKAAll-purpose just won't do, and the variety here is not as wide as it is in, you know, in Central Europe. And so we find that a lot of the ingredients we sort of have to recreate and make a lot of stuff ourselves.

  • 13:46:59

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones, and Carol in Baltimore, Maryland. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:47:05

    CAROLThank you. I'm 71, and I grew up in Pennsylvania, and my mother made this thing, and I don't remember the name of it. And I'll tell you, she took what she called lung, I guess that's lung, baked it, and then we had this thing we put at the edge of the table, this machine -- not machine, and you screwed it onto the edge of the table and you turned this big handle, and you pushed the lung through it and it sort of chopped it up, and then you added onion and I don't know what else. And then she put it in this dough that she made, this thick dough, and baked it all day it seemed. What was that, do you know?

  • 13:47:41

    NNAMDIWhere was your mother from, Carol?

  • 13:47:43

    CAROLI'm -- oh, her parents from Lapiai, Lithuania, but, you know...

  • 13:47:48

    NNAMDIAnne Applebaum, do you know what Carol is talking about?

  • 13:47:50

    APPLEBAUMWell, it sounds like she was using a meat grinder. We don't actually have lung recipes. In fact, we stayed rather far away from offal because we reckoned that wasn't going to go down well in contemporary America, but there certainly a number of dishes that you make with -- you grind meat in what sounds like an old-fashioned meat grinder, and then you can either -- we have a very light version of that. We have pierogies, which are almost like dim sum.

  • 13:48:13

    APPLEBAUMThey're meant to be very, very thin and small, and they have little bits of ground meat. We use chicken in fact, which is not what you're supposed to use, but we lightened up the recipe. And there -- but there are a number of other recipes that involve sort of baking ground meat inside pastry. I think ours -- the only one we have is probably the pierogi is probably the closest one, little dumplings.

  • 13:48:38

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Carol. We move onto Brian in Reston, Va. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:48:46

    BRIANHi there. I read "Iron Curtain," Ms. Applebaum, that was a fascinating book. Thank you for that. What I wanted to ask about in particular was, with these national dishes, are there national drinks or certain beverages that pair well with these? And I'll take my answer off the line.

  • 13:48:59

    NNAMDIWell, Jarek, you say that when it comes down to it, your country is known not for food but for beer, and while plenty of Americans might be familiar with Pilsner Urquell, that's just the tip of the iceberg. What are we missing and how tough is it to get a hold of?

  • 13:49:15

    MIKASo beer is definitely very popular. I think the Czechs are per capita the biggest drinkers of beer in the world. But there is also a lot of stronger alcohol that is available. Mainly back in the day it was hard to buy alcohol, so people made it themselves. I think it probably doesn't happen as often nowadays, and they came up with this really strong drink called slivovitz, which is basically a plum brandy which is really, really strong. It's usually 80 to 90 percent proof.

  • 13:49:50

    MIKAIt's made out of plums and till today it's one of the most popular stronger liquors available. A lot of herbal liqueurs as well. You know, there's a very popular drink called becherovka which is an herbal liqueur used for digestion, and it's become very popular recently with, you know, with the renaissance of, you know, Czech alcohol production.

  • 13:50:18

    NNAMDIAnne Applebaum, can you talk with what goes best -- what beverages, with some of your recipes? One of the recipes from your book on our website is a cherry vodka.

  • 13:50:28

    APPLEBAUMWe have several vodka recipes that you can make at home in the back of our book, which, you know, these are infused vodkas. We have a honey ginger spice vodka, we have an orange rosemary vodka. We have a spicy vodka with is Lithuanian called krupnik, and we also have a recipe for mead, which is sort of hot honey -- our version is honey vodka, but in Poland you can actually buy fermented honey. And so these are very easy. Lots of people do them at home.

  • 13:50:57

    APPLEBAUMYou can, you know, you can make them in the fall, keep them over the summer. They can be ready in a few months, and you can then serve them in your own elegant bottles. So we have flavored vodkas, we have mead, we have a few others things too.

  • 13:51:12

    NNAMDIAnd you can find that recipe from Anne's book on cherry vodka on our website, Here is Debbie in Silver Spring, Md. Hi, Debbie.

  • 13:51:22

    DEBBIEHi. Thanks for taking my call. I can't tell you how much I am enjoying the show. My parents are from Poland, and everything you've been talking about, down to the hand meat grinder that is connected to the edge of the table is something I grew up with. So such a joy to hear about it. I just have a question. My mother used to make this wonderful borscht, but it was a warm borscht, it was like a cabbage soup. So whenever I think of borscht, I mean, people assume I'm talking about cold beet soup, but it's this warm cabbage soup with a red base. Have either of you heard of it or know where I can get the recipe?

  • 13:52:01

    NNAMDIFir you, Jarek.

  • 13:52:02


  • 13:52:03

    MIKAWell, it's -- I like this question, because we actually have this warm borscht on our menu and, again, borscht is one of those dishes that every country in Central and Eastern Europe makes it a little different. The Czechs have decided that to make borscht, they basically use the vegetable the house has, with emphasis on red beets. So if you have red beets, you know, you start cooking red beets and whatever root vegetable you have, you can add that. Whatever cabbage you have, you can add red cabbage, you know, you can add sauerkraut, and then you flavor this vegetable broth, or vegetable stew with whatever meat you have.

  • 13:52:46

    MIKAYou know, beef is very popular to go into borscht. You know, we also use chicken, you know, whole chicken, pieces of chicken, and we also add pieces of pork. So by the time you end up cooking this borscht for two hours, you have a really tender meat with a very nice rich flavor of the beets and the vegetables. We put a spoon of sour cream on top, and that's the borscht we know as Czechs.

  • 13:53:16

    NNAMDIHow about you, Anne?

  • 13:53:18

    APPLEBAUMWell, I think what the caller is describing is what the Poles called Ukrainian Borscht -- Borscht Ukrainskie. The borscht which is sort of light, it can be reddish, but the borscht that I have that poles love the most is actually a clear soup. It's hot, I mean, there's a cold version too, but there is a hot version. It's served very clear as a kind of broth, and very, very, hot and very garlicky and spicy, and that's the recipe. We have a couple of borscht recipes.

  • 13:53:50

    APPLEBAUMIt's absolutely true that there are almost as many borscht recipes as there are cooks. It's made in various different ways in different places. But we do have a couple of recipes for different borschts in my cookbook.

  • 13:54:02

    NNAMDIDebbie, thank you very much for your call. Onto Alicia in Haymarket, Va. Alicia, you're in the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:54:09

    ALICIAHi guys. The timing of this is perfect. My mother-in-law was first generation American. Her parents immigrated from Poland and my father-in-law's family immigrated from the Ukraine, and so for the holidays especially we would always do traditional food. So I'm actually diving home from work getting ready to make my pierogies for Good Friday, and borscht for Holy Saturday, and babka for Easter Sunday morning.

  • 13:54:42

    ALICIABut I also wanted to share with you a source. I'm able to find farmer's cheese very easily at Wegmans, which is a major chain in this area, and I get farmer's cheese from them year round actually they have it. But definitely during the holidays, Christmas and Easter they carry it. I just bought a three-pound brick from them.

  • 13:55:01

    NNAMDIAnd somebody else emailed us to say you can get it at the Kielbasa Factory on Rockville Pike between Twinbrook and Rockville at Kielbasa at K-I-E-L-B-A-S-A So thank you very much for sharing that with us, Alicia. Anne, I know your focus is on home cooking, but I'm curious about the difference in the average meal on the go that you might have picked up when you were first working in Poland and what's on offer today?

  • 13:55:32

    APPLEBAUMOh, you may -- this was in the introduction of my book. I talk about -- there used to be this particularly awful thing that you could buy, which was a kind of piece of mushy white bread with melted cheese on it, and that was really the only kind of fast take away food that you could find. This is in the Communist period in Poland, that was easily available. And now I'm afraid you have everything. You have everything from sushi to coffee shops where you can get muffins, to, you know, to Polish places.

  • 13:56:01

    APPLEBAUMMost of the Polish places that are fast will serve you little bowls of soup in cups so that you can drink them and take them away. They will serve you -- there are pierogarnias, so pierogi restaurants that will serve you all different kinds of dumplings with all different flavors, you know, spinach and feta cheese, which actually I don't care for, but, you know, almost any kind of dumpling that you can imagine they'll serve. So the variety of food, and the variety both of Polish food, of new Polish food, of foreign food, is now really the same in Warsaw as it is in any other European city.

  • 13:56:35

    NNAMDIJarek, in addition to a restaurant, you also run a café. What is unique about Czech coffee, and what distinguishes its coffee culture from others?

  • 13:56:44

    MIKAWell, I think it has to do with the weather in the Czech Republic. Czech Republic being, you know, a little bit northern part of Europe. It's always been very cold, and so I think there is a coffee culture that's unlike any other in the world because people are used to living in an urban society, and spending time out in the streets, and if you spend a lot of time or a little bit of time in the winter on a cold street, the only thing you want to do is get indoors, you know, to have a cup of coffee.

  • 13:57:18

    MIKASo it's part of our culture, you know, people use coffee houses for meetings, to catch up with friends, everything happens in a coffee house. So we've sort of tried to bring that culture back to D.C. and that's where the Kafe came about.

  • 13:57:38

    NNAMDIAnd you opened up in the Shaw neighborhood, where I lived for 20 years, but didn't up until after I'd moved. What's up that? Unfortunately, you don't have time to answer that. Jarek Mika is a chef and owner of Bistro Bohem and Kafe Bohem in D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood. Jarek, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:57:55

    MIKAThank you having me.

  • 13:57:56

    NNAMDIAnne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, and author of numerous books, the latest of which is "From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food." She's also the director of political studies at the Legatum Institute in London. Anne Applebaum, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:13

    APPLEBAUMThank you.

  • 13:58:14

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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