EDF: A Report from Poland

Busy mom-of-four Jessica Sirotin, a native of New Jersey, has spent the past 15 years living in Eastern Europe. Currently based in Warsaw, Poland, Sirotin has also lived in Russia and Hungary, and has enjoyed, mostly, every minute of it.

(Jessica Sorotin)

It would be wonderful to think that changing how and what my family consumes is being carried out in the measured and careful way I had planned. In execution, however, I find myself pressured by both circumstances and my four kids.

Nevertheless, I think I have a fighting chance at success. My husband’s family is of Russian/Polish extraction, and in the 15 years we have lived in Eastern Europe (Russia, Hungary and Poland) I have taken to heart many of their ideas about managing the pantry. Even though Communism ended here almost 20 years ago, many people still remember the food shortages and remain very pro-active about how to make do with what they have.

My husband’s aunt and uncle in Moscow had a wonderful apartment. It was tiny but packed with so many of the things needed in the coming year. Tucked away in ceiling cupboards and in their two refrigerators, they kept dried fish, bags of sugar and salt and endless jars of pickles, sauerkrauts, jams and kompots. (Kompot is a Russian/Polish drink - when you are inundated with fresh fruit -- strawberries, cherries, forest berries, rhubarb etc. in the summer, they will pop a few pounds of fruit in a huge pot, cover with boiling water and once it boils add sugar to taste. When it cools you can it or just pop it in the fridge.) Their winter supply of potatoes was kept in a homemade compartment on the balcony.

I am not suggesting that my kitchen looks like theirs. But I always remember that for every meal they made, whether a plain supper or a party for 10, these on-hand ingredients were the starting point. Nothing was purchased until things already on the shelf were taken into account. Nothing went to waste.

With their example in mind, I think I am doing alright even though I forgot to go to the store before Saturday when I began the EDF. I try to keep my shelves stocked with things we eat, not things we crave. There have been no real crises -- minus the lack of bread.

In honor of the region where I have spent many wonderful years, I would like to share a recipe for a classic eastern European summer soup. Through a lucky conglomeration of ingredients found in my pantry and vegetable garden last night, I was able to make chłodnik, a Polish cold barszcz. I served it with dark rye bread, and a Kompo made from a neighborly donation of sour cherries. If it’s sunny, eat it outside and pretend you’re at the dacha.


1.5 pounds beets (small beets are best)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1 cucumber, diced
4 scallions (tops and bottoms) chopped finely
6-10 radishes, grated
5 cups kefir or buttermilk (homemade kefir is wonderful here)
2-3 tablespoons fresh dill (chopped finely)
2-3 hard boiled eggs, sliced (optional)

Wash and scrub beets. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until tender, approximately 25 minutes. Remove beets from water and cool. Reserve the liquid and let cool.

Skin the beets and dice. Put the beets back in the liquid and add the kefir and lemon juice. Check the seasoning, adding salt and sugar as necessary for the proper tartness/sweetness. It should have a slightly creamy tangy flavor. Add the cucumber, scallions and radishes. Refrigerate.

Check the seasoning again before serving. Place as much egg as desired in a bowl and cover with soup. Add dill as a garnish. Serve with bread.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 25, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Eating Down the Fridge
Previous: EDF: The Challenges – and Joys – of Cooking for One | Next: EDF Realization: Size Doesn’t Matter


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Do the beets have to be fresh? My friend gave me a jar of beets her mother had canned and I'm not sure what to do with them. I don't think they're pickled. If I can, all I have to do is get some buttermilk to make this, which would be great.

Posted by: em15 | June 25, 2009 9:02 AM

Forgive me if this is elementary (I'm a beet novice), but how closely do you trim your beets? I'm assuming that the greens are cropped close at the top, as well as the root tail - but my MIL swears that "all of the red will run out" of the beet if you cut them too closely to the bulb. And, what do you do (what can you do) with the beet greens?

And, thanks! - my great grandparents were from eastern Poland, but the only recipes that we've saved in the family are for pierogies.

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | June 25, 2009 10:27 AM

I understand the rationed food *thing* all too well. Not b/c it was ever done so in my house, rather knowing my family in Cuba still lives that way. I did experience 1st hand during my few visits to the island. And Kompot sounds similar to Sangria, sans the brandy! :)

Posted by: FlanBoyantEats | June 25, 2009 11:19 AM

Out of bread? Let them eat biscuits! Quick, simple and highly appreciated, they'll fill that bread need with a minimum of effort.

Posted by: esleigh | June 25, 2009 2:15 PM

Hmm. I'll remember to pick up some beats at the farmer's market this weekend. Last time I tried them, I sliced them thinly and sauteed with butter, salt, and pepper. This sounds interesting.

Leftovers tonight at the Blade household. I'll have to figure out something to do to use the quinoa that's sitting in the pantry,


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | June 25, 2009 6:10 PM



I always use fresh beets - so I am not sure if you could use canned. You might be able to skip the cooking part and extend the juice from the can into the soup base - it might be salty though. If they are salty you could also drain then shred them and mix them with a handful of ground walnuts, minced garlic (2 or three) and a little mayo/yoghurt and salt and pepper. A great Georgian salad and a favorite of my MIL.

I always top and tail the beets - like a radish or carrot - and scrub the skin well. Your MIL is right, I discovered this the hard way the first time I tried to make borscht and it came out only vaguely pinkish.

If the beets come with their green tops, chop those up and toss them in the liquid as well.

If piergoies are the only Polish food you are familiar with - take a look around online. Polish cuisine features some of the best soups and vegetable salads you could imagine.


Posted by: siro50 | June 26, 2009 12:49 AM

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