Polish Cuisine — Surówka: Raw Vegetable Salad

Poles love their root vegetables.  Celery root, parsnips, and especially beets are a cherished part of their cookery, but this was not always so.  Chef Michael Baruch, a Chicagoan and champion of the merits of Polish cuisine, wrote in his The New Polish Cuisine that a Pole of old would scoff at the idea of ingesting any type of vegetable, and “would rather eat cold gruel as a healthy mainstay.” According to the 1985 HPBooks release (a publisher now focused on auto repair manuals, incidentally) Polish Cooking by Marianna Olszewska Heberle (Amazon affliliate link is to the revised 2005 edition), vegetables became an important part of the Polish royal court’s menu when their sixteenth century King Sigismund I the Old married the daughter of the Dutchess of Bari, who brought with her green vegetables and tomatoes from what is now Italy at her insistence.  The vegetables were a hit and soon trickled down to the masses.

Polish salad recipes are cherished heirlooms passed from generation to generation.  Since we don’t have any Polish grandmothers to consult, we created our own.  Surówka (recipe follows), Polish for “raw,” is usually a shredded raw vegetable salad, simply dressed, and is a popular dish for family gatherings or potlucks.  Countless varieties exist, containing cabbage, root vegetables, tomatoes, or even green beans.  We enjoy any excuse to bring beets and celery root into our kitchen so those were our main ingredients.

Surówka

original World Cup of Food recipe, inspired by Ren Behan’s Polish Carrot and Apple Salad and Polish MealsCelery Root Salad

SERVES 6 TO 8 AS A SIDE DISH

  • 1 medium beet, peeled
  • 1 medium celery root (celeriac), peeled
  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 1/2 yellow onion, peeled
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • about 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper

First we gathered up our ingredients:

ingredients

We then peeled the vegetables and cut them into pieces that would fit into the feed tube of our food processor:

vegetablespeeled

Using the shredding attachment, our vegetables were obliterated into a colorful parfait of flavor:

vegetablesshredded

Seasoned with salt and pepper and tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, the salad was refrigerated for about an hour for the flavors to intermingle and the vegetables to soften slightly.  What resulted was a boldly flavorful, vividly colorful surówka, a perfect pairing for a rich Polish dinner:

surowka1

Surprisingly balanced (we were expecting to taste only beets, honestly), the raw beets were understated in flavor and if anything the carrots stood out the most.  Surówka is almost embarrassingly easy to prepare and would provide an interesting alternative to coleslaw at a summer barbecue or as a side dish to a hearty roasted meat dish.

More Polish food:

Pierogi

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