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Seven of the best Polish Easter dishes

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From eggs with caviar to rye soup in a bread bowl, cookbook author Zuzu Zak has selected the dishes she most associates with Easter in her home country.

Released April 9, 2022 at 3:00 p.m. CET

In Poland, mazurek cakes provide an opportunity for people to get creative.

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When I grew up in Poland, Easter was even more important than Christmas. And the most exciting part was the tradition of making Święconka basket. First we colored boiled eggs with red cabbage and onion skins and then engraved designs on them. The decorated eggs, called pisanki, were placed in the basket on a white, embroidered napkin, along with a sugar lamb, some bread and sausage, salt and pepper, maybe a piece of cake, some vegetables, and a daffodil. The baskets were taken to church on Easter Sunday before breakfast to be blessed. This is just one of the culinary traditions practiced throughout Poland at Easter, but there are many dishes that have a special role to play at this time of year.

Baba is a traditional cake in Poland at Easter time.

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1. Baba wielkanocna

The cake most commonly eaten at Easter in Poland is a large yeast cake called Baba. And whoever bakes them is very careful not to drop them. In fact, some cooks won’t even let people in the kitchen while they’re in the oven, and there’s certainly no such thing as opening the oven door early. Babas come in a variety of styles — my mom, for example, makes a beautiful three-color baba by dividing the dough into three parts and flavoring each part with lemon, chocolate, and poppy seeds before assembling them into one.

Zurek: a traditional Polish soup.

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2. Eggs with salmon roe or caviar

Eggs are a must on the Easter table in Poland, but how you prepare them is up to you. Many opt for classic deviled eggs, some like to color their egg whites with beetroot juice. For us, on the other hand, Easter revolves around eggs filled with salmon roe or caviar. You simply take out the cooked yolk, fill it with roe and squeeze some lemon on top, then sprinkle with parsley or dill and serve.

3. Żurek, fermented rye soup

My favorite Polish soup, Żurek, is traditionally served in a hollowed-out bread bowl with hard-boiled eggs and white sausage. The soup is based on żur, a garlic-flavored fermented rye mix that gives the soup its distinctive flavor and is prepared 4-5 days in advance. The other key ingredient is marjoram. Sometimes I make a veggie version with dried mushrooms in place of the meat.

Various baked goods are presented at Easter, including mazurek.

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4. Mazurek cake

This is one of those desserts that takes a lot of effort, not because it’s complicated to make, but because of the decoration on top. It’s essentially a crust base covered in either caramel or almond paste and decorated with nuts, dried fruit, and/or pastries. In my first cookbook, Polska, I make a salted caramel version with pecans on top, but in Poland people can get really creative with the decorations to make their cakes stand out and feel festive.

5. Salatka jarzynowa

This is the quintessential Eastern European salad, known by many names – Russian salad, Olivier salad, or as we’ve always called it in my family, sałatka jarzynowa, which simply means vegetable salad. While you’ll find it at most Polish festivals, the inclusion of eggs and mayonnaise means it’s particularly appropriate at Easter. There are many variations, but it usually includes cooked carrots, parsnips, potatoes, leeks, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs, all very finely chopped. It can often include peas as well, although my current favorite recipe is my grandma’s original, which calls for beans instead.

Cheesecake served with a hot fruity drink.

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6. Cheesecake

Cheesecake is said to have its origins in Eastern Europe – I’m not surprised, as quark or twaróg is one of the main ingredients of the region. When I was traveling around the Baltic States, it seemed like every coffee shop had their own flavor of it – pistachio, pumpkin, meringue, poppy. My mom recently started baking a gorgeous steamed halva cheesecake. And while it’s a dish eaten all year round in Poland, there’s certainly no Easter celebration without it.

7. Pie

Making pie is quite a laborious process, but if I ever manage to do it, it’s at Easter. Pies are eaten throughout Poland, using meat popular in each region. In the north, near the Baltic Sea, fish pies are popular. In Silesia in the south-west you might have rabbit pie, while in the Mazowsze area of ​​central Poland, where I come from, it’s more like pork. I like to add plums to mine, so my uncle Kazik taught me how to make it.