Bozena and Andrew Bernacik of Olathe , who are native Poles, enjoy joining forces in the kitchen to make dishes from their homeland.
What does your Polish heritage mean to you? I am proud to be Polish. It is just who I am. This spring I am going back to see my mother and extended family and am so excited.
Ours is a people that have endured a lot — especially during communism — but my father was a great patriot, and we grew up very proud of our democratic country. But I must say, I am also proud of the life Andrew and I have made in the United States.
Not only (do we) work together in the (jewelry) shop, we also work together cooking in the kitchen. He is a big help cutting and peeling vegetables and frying onions, which is an important part of Polish cooking.
Here in Kansas City, we are good friends with about 20 families of Polish descent. We love to get together with them to socialize and eat. We always leave with tummies and hearts that are full.
When you prepare Polish foods for others, are you giving them a literal taste of your traditions? Polish food is made from simple ingredients, but it isn’t bland.
Some might think of it as peasant food — using onion, cabbage and potatoes — but it is also very wholesome, comforting food that not only feeds the body but alsothe soul.
To make authentic Polish food is a labor of love. Where did you learn to cook? Many of my recipes have been handed down for many generations. I remember my Grandmother Stefania Johan preparing this meat-and-cabbage stew — or Bigos — in her kitchen in Gliwice. We would eat it with potatoes and Kotlety, which is a dish of pan-fried pork or chicken cutlets.
My mother, Boguslawa Jurkiewicz, cooked every meal from scratch every day. We would have soup, vegetables, meats, compotes and desserts.
It is amazing that we never became fat, but we walked and ran everywhere and never ate processed foods.
For Valentine’s Day, does Andrew prefer a bowl of Bigos over a bauble? Being a jeweler, of course, he thinks he deserves both! Bigos is a traditional Polish dish and is very much like comfort food that is made all year long, but especially in the winter and for festive occasions.
Truthfully, Andrew’s favorite is Golombki (cabbage rolls) with a small amount of meat stuffed inside.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Occupation: Independent shop owner, Jewelry by Andrew
Fun Fact: Bozena and Andrew were born and reared in Gliwice, Poland. Andrew has lived in the Kansas City area for 30 years, and upon a visit to Poland two decades ago he met and fell in love with Bozena.
Polish Hunter’s Stew, or Bigos
Makes 12 servings
2 thick slices hickory-smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups dried plums, cut in half
4 tablespoons oil, divided
1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound ham, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 onions, diced
1 (16-ounce) package mushrooms, washed and sliced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
3 (16-ounce) jars sauerkraut
In a large saute pan, over medium-high heat on the stovetop, fry bacon and kielbasa together. Saute until bacon has rendered its fat and sausage is lightly browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove meat from pan and transfer to Dutch oven.
Meanwhile, in a separate large pot, boil sliced cabbage and plums in 2 cups water until tender. Transfer contents to Dutch oven with meat and simmer on low heat.
Add 2 tablespoons oil to bacon grease in saute pan and brown pork and ham cubes. Using a slotted spoon, remove meat from pan and transfer to Dutch oven with meat and cabbage.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to saute pan and turn heat down to medium. Saute onion and mushrooms until soft and caramelized. Deglaze the pan by pouring in red wine and stir to loosen all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
Season with salt, pepper, soy sauce and sugar, and stir for 1 minute. Stir in tomato sauce and heat just until boiling. Pour contents of saute pan into Dutch oven with meat and cabbage.
Meanwhile, boil sauerkraut in 2 cups water for 15 minutes in the same pot used for preparing cabbage and plums. Transfer contents to simmering Dutch oven. Stir and cover with a lid. Simmer for 3 hours on stovetop, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender. Ladle into individual bowls and serve with slices of rye bread.
Per serving: 457 calories (51 percent from fat), 26 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 85 milligrams cholesterol, 30 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams protein, 2,469 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.