Culinary Anthropologist


  1. Polish doughnuts (pączki)

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    I hardly ever use recipes from the internet, least of all from unknown food bloggers (of whom there seem to be a few million).  Usually I spend hours, days even, researching the thing I want to make in various books and then come up with a hybrid recipe that, for me, takes the best of each.  But these Polish doughnuts are an exception.  With barely a thought (OK, I did check in a few books, very quickly) I followed this recipe from the For the Body and Soul blog pretty much exactly and it worked so well I’ve barely tweaked it.  So thank you Karolcia (from Poland, studying in Canada).

    smpolishdoughnuts0002.jpgMy aim was to recreate the light, puffy, too-easy-to-eat doughnuts we’d had at Cukiernia Samanta – a fantastic bakery in Zakopane, Poland where they make literally millions of doughnuts, especially in time for Fat Thursday (at the start of Lent) when all of Poland goes doughnut crazy.  We begged for their recipe, but it is a closely guarded family secret.  After many hours of mixing, kneading, resting, shaping and frying this beautiful enriched dough, I succeeded.  My note to self for next time is to let the dough rise (more slowly) in the fridge as it would be easier to roll and shape when cold.


  2. Lacto-fermented cucumbers

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    Lacto-fermenting is another way of pickling.  Instead of using vinegar, you use a salt solution and wait for some special (naturally existing) bacteria to work their magic.  The gherkins retain more of their vitamins and there are other health benefits too.  More importantly, they don’t have that overpowering vinegary tang and taste delicious.

    smgherkins0007.JPGHere’s the science bit:  The salt solution favours the proliferation of lactic acid bacteria.  These bacteria (of which there are many species) ferment carbohydrates into lactic acid, carbon dioxide and other organic acids without the need for oxygen.  This turns the solution acidic and replaces the air at the top of the jar with carbon dioxide gas.  So, other (unwanted) bacteria will now not be able to reproduce. 

    American recipe books will contain warnings, or not include this method of preserving at all.  But this kind of fermentation has been used across the world for centuries.  We came across plenty of food preserved this way on our culinary travels in 2008:  In Poland we loved the big barrels of gherkins and cabbage (ie sauerkraut); in Turkey we ate and drank yoghurt with everything we could; in Morocco our chicken tagines came with preserved lemons; in Mali we drank lots of millet beer; and in Ghana we filled up on fufu (fermented cassava and unripe plantain, pounded to a sticky stodge).


  3. Apple pies

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    Smapplepie0001.JPGThe combination of Żubrówka and apple juice is a popular Polish tipple.  (Or of course, you can omit the apple juice.) 

    Żubrówka (aka bison grass vodka), made in Poland since the 16th century or earlier, is said to boost manliness, stamina and sexual drive.  This is because it’s infused with the grass which the bison of Białowieża forest in Poland love to eat.   These ancient bison are so fond of this special grass that attempts to transplant them to other parts of Europe have failed due to the absence of the grass.  Every bottle of Żubrówka contains one stem of the grass.

    This recipe comes courtesy of Richard Abel, our friend in Zakopane, Poland.  Richard welcomed us to Poland with several rounds of apple pies…