Improvised kedgeree recipe

I love brunch food and kedgeree is a great dish, very filling, and the epitome of comfort food. Kedgeree is a quick and easy dish, with roots in Indian cuisine, with the dish progressing and picking up ingredients as it made its way from India to the UK.

As breakfast for dinner is the best idea ever I thought I’d make an improvised kedgeree. We had Indian takeaway last night, and I ordered a vegetarian biryani and my partner had quite a bit of basmati rice left from his rogan josh. So I picked up some smoked mackerel from the shop and threw together a simple kedgeree.

This version is a Monday night cook, so I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand: I didn’t have any coriander, curry paste, or crispy fried onions. But my slapdash version of kedgeree tasted pretty good.

Recipe (this feeds about 2, 3 people)

  • Boiled basmati rice – I mixed it with leftover biryani.
  • Smoked mackerel – about 140g
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped finely
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped finely
  • 1 Thai chili, minced finely
  • 3 green onions, sliced thinly
  • curry power, to taste
  • flavorless oil
  • 4 eggs, hard boiled

Pour boiling water over the fish in a saucepan, cover and let it steep. At the same time hard boil your eggs.

Heat the oil, and fry the onions and peppers with the curry powder until translucent. Continually stir as you fry your onions – I don’t like to let it brown, so I watch over it, carefully. This will take about 5, 10 minutes, depending on how high your heat is. Add your cooked rice and stir, coating the rice with the curry-stained oil – add more oil if your food is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Get your mackerel out of the hot water and remove the skin (it peels off easily) and flake it into the pan (make sure that you’re getting the bones out) add more curry powder if you’d like, and stir. Add the green onions and stir, ensuring that the rice is hot and that the fish is warmed through – you don’t have to cook this over a high heat, I keep it at low. Add the peas, and stir, letting them warm up and thaw.

Take your hard boiled eggs and you can add them either by slicing them in half (as I have done), or you can chop them up, as well (I don’t like chopping them because the yolk will fall out)

Serve with some naan. You can also add some yogurt (especially if you add a lot of spice). Oh, and enjoy.

Quick ‘n’ easy sausage and lentil stew

So, I owe a great debt to Sandra Lee. Though people teased her mercilessly for her “semi-homemade” recipes which weirdly boasted 70% store bought products – and she deservedly got dragged by the Internets for her hate crime of a Kwanzaa cake – she did inspire me to look to purchased pantry items when I’m putting together my cooking. While the ratio for my cooking is not 70/30, I do like to use some packaged stuff when I’m cooking.

This evening, I thought to make sausage and lentil stew. It’s starting to get cool and rainy today, so I thought a stew would be in order. But it’s Monday, a weekday, plus I had a crazy early morning, so I wasn’t in the mood to stand over a stove for hours. So I cobbled together my recipe with bought items. Lentils take time to cook, so I bought cooked lentils in a pouch, and instead of just getting vegetable broth, I thought it’d be a nice idea to use tinned vegetable soup. Along with those two packaged items, I used fresh ingredients. It’s a great compromise, and the dish only took me about half an hour to cook.

Ingredients:

-4 fresh sausages – I get the Co-op skinny sausages because they have practically no fat
-1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
-1 medium carrot, sliced into coins
-a handful of green beans, with the tops chopped
-1 package of baby bella mushrooms, chopped roughly
-3 shallots, chopped finely
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tin of vegetable soup – I used Heinz Classic Vegetable, which is 400g (don’t throw away the tin!)
-1 packet of pre-cooked lentils – I used Merchant Gourmet Tomatoey French Puy & Green Lentils
-Olive oil
-Herbs de provence
-Salt and pepper

This recipe is super easy and quick to cook. So first, heat the oil over medium heat and when the oil is hot, add the sausages and cook, brown on all sides. The sausage casings can sometimes burst, so it may do to puncture them. Don’t be tempted to stir too much and move the sausages, because you’ll want to brown the sausages and to create some kind of fond. I cooked the sausage for about 5, 8 minutes until they were browned all over, I then fished them out and lowered the heat to low (careful that you don’t set off the smoke detector like I did with the cooking)

So set the sausages to the side and throw in the onions, shallots, garlic, green beans, and carrot into the pan and cook, stirring, letting the vegetables brown a bit and color. This isn’t a stir-fry, so don’t cook over a high heat, but you don’t want to cook it to a mush (There’s going to be more cooking later). Saute the vegetables for about 8 minutes, letting some of the vegetables color a bit. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5, 8 minutes, until the mushrooms brown and shrink.

Add the vegetable soup and then fill the can, 2/3rds full with water and add, and then raise the heat to high and stir, letting it get to the boil. Add the sausages back and stir carefully, so you don’t splash the food. Add the lentils, and continue to stir and cook. Sprinkle the herbs and grind some fresh pepper and keep on cooking. You’ll want to cook the food for about 15, 20 minutes – you’ll want the liquid to reduce significantly and become a thick gravy. The lentils will become soft and tender. The lentils will get tender as you cook – if you let the food set for a bit and stir, you can create a crusty bottom, which can be nice. That’s up to you.

Once the lentils are cooked, scoop it out and serve it with some crusty bread. Oh, and enjoy.

My attempt at making Thai basil fried rice

When living in Chicago, I ate a great Thai restaurant in Old Town called Tiparos Thai. Unlike most people who go to Thai restaurants to order Pad Thai, I always got the spicy basil chicken. It’s a mouth-scorching dish of chopped meat, bell peppers, green beans, Thai basil leaves, and steamed jasmine rice. The dish was studded with tiny bits of hot chilies. After eating it, my lips were swollen and numb as if I had stopped by a Michigan Avenue plastic surgeons to get my lips done. This dish was so hot that it almost hurt to drink water afterwards…

Despite the pain of eating the dish, I ordered each time I went to Tiparos.

It’s difficult to explain the draw of this dish because the taste is so spicy sometimes it feels almost unpleasant to eat it. The basil Thai has a different, silvery, tea-like taste, that gets a pleasant green swampy taste because it’s cooked and steamed. The meat is crumbled and sauteed, the nuggets crispy, giving the rice a nice bite. And the sauce acts as a base for the dish – it’s salty, sweet, and slightly pungent. I always add a bit of Sriracha, to add a fruity sweetness, as well.

Since moving to London, I’ve eaten at lots of Thai restaurants, and have eaten the dish, and enjoyed it, though for some reason I’ve never tasted it as good as Tiparos, though I’m trying (I went to an amazing Thai restaurant in Amsterdam that was pretty good)

Anyways, this is my attempt at making Thai basil rice with chicken. Obviously, this won’t be a 100% accurate – I don’t have all the ingredients in a proper Thai basil rice, and I don’t like buying ingredients I probably won’t use again, so I’ve had to do some improvising.

Also, I used boughten rice. I don’t like cheating but I’m terrible at making rice, and it’s much easier to just buy rice already boiled in the shop. Also there are recipes that call for mince, but I bought chicken and chopped it myself…The texture of mince is a bit too pasty and fine for a dish like this – I enjoy it more with the chopped chicken.

As with most of my recipes, these measurements are at-best, guesses…

Ingredients:

-Thai basil, a handful, to taste, chopped in strips
-Coriander, a handful, to taste, chopped
-300g of boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped finely – almost to a mince (or go ahead and get chicken mince) if you don’t like chicken, you can also use pork, turkey, or beef – whatever you like, or if you’d like, you can leave the meat out, I’m not the police
-1/2 of a red bell pepper chopped
-3 small shallots, sliced finely
-4 cloves of garlic, minced
-4 finger chilies, minced finely – super finely – I seed the chili and remove the rib because these things are spicy AF
-1 jalapeno pepper – I just added this because I had one left in a bag that needed eating
-8, 10 green beans or string beans, with the ends chopped off, and cut the beans in half
-half a white onion, roughly chopped
– 3 large cremini mushrooms – normally, this dish doesn’t have mushrooms (I’ve never seen this dish with mushrooms) – but I had some that I wanted to use
-1 cup of chicken broth (you probably won’t use all of it)
-1 tbl of sriracha sauce (to taste, really)
-2 tbl of fish sauce (this stuff has a very strong taste/smell, so be mindful of how much you use it)
-3 tbl of soy sauce (I use the reduced sodium soy sauce, which still has loads of salt)
-1 tbl of chili paste – I used Gochujang (Korean chili paste)
-2 tbl of sugar
-some white pepper, to taste
-2 packets of cooked jasmine rice
-1/8 cups of cooking oil, something without flavor (peanut, corn, vegetable, groundnut, that sort of thing – not olive, which has too distinct a taste)

This feels like a lot of ingredients, and it is, and it’s going to be a lot of cooking and adding…You’ll be cooking over a high flame for a lot of the cooking, so keep a window open and turn on a fan (if you have one)

Before cooking, create the sauce. In a bowl or large cup, add in the broth, sriracha, fish sauce, soy sauce, chili paste, sugar, and white pepper and mix, seeing that the sugar is dissolved (I heated the broth which made the sugar melt easily)

Heat the oil over a high flame in a nonstick pan. Throw in the beans, onions and bell pepper and cooking for about four, five minutes, stirring constantly, don’t stop. The onions probably won’t color too much, and you’re not looking into browning the veg. Add the meat and stir and continue to cook, you’ll want to get a good browning on the meat – cook for about four, five minutes. Depending on how small you’ve chopped the meat, you might already have cooked the chicken at this point, but if it’s still a bit raw, no worries, it will cook.

Add the garlic and the chilies and cook for another few minutes, until you smell the garlic cooking (it’s a great smell, btw) and then add the shallots and stir and saute for another few minutes

Remember you’re cooking over a high heat, so don’t stop stirring, you don’t want anything to burn.

Add the sauce and cook…You’ll want to let the sauce get sticky and tacky, and so that it coats the veg and meat and get browned, stirring constantly. Depending on the heat, this can take about five, ten minutes. Fold the cooked meat and veg, stirring seeing that the food is coated with the sauce.

Add the basil and the cilantro and stir, letting the cilantro wilt.

Add the rice and stir constantly – you don’t want to cook this too long, because overcooking the rice will blow it out. Depending on if you like the rice to be crispy, you can let it sit for a few seconds and brown. Sprinkle some white pepper – white pepper’s got a very funky, manky smell, so be careful…

Once the rice is warmed through (remember the rice is already cooked), and you can’t see any white in the rice anymore, then you can plate it. I served it with boughten gyoza. Oh, and enjoy.


Arroz con pollo

London is experiencing a heatwave at the moment – but that didn’t deter me from using my new Dutch oven. We found a nice, little green Dutch oven at a charity shop and I wanted to use it for the longest time.

Cooking during a heatwave is a bit extra, but I’ve been dealing. For dinner last night, I wanted to do something with the Dutch oven and thought arroz con pollo, a Latin American dish that combines wonderful flavours like spiciness, heat, brininess. There are lots of versions of arroz con pollo and this one I cobbled together from a variety of people and sources.

The trick to good arroz con pollo is to get a great fond in your Dutch oven. Once you got that, then you’re golden. Weirdly enough, my arroz con pollo turned out greener than the kind I remember, but who cares – it tasted good. I used dark meat because I knew I’d be stewing the chicken and I didn’t want to overcook the meat, but you can use chicken breast if you’re worried about health – also as I was cooking the dish, I realised that it’s possible to do this vegetarian, just leave out the chicken or substitute it with mushrooms.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken – I had three drumsticks and two thighs – bone-in and skin-on; this is where it’s up to you to decide how you want to do this dish, I used dark meat because I wanted to stew the dish for a little bit; also the the skin and bone add flavour to your dish
  • 1/2 onion, chopped finely – I mean finely, grated even
  • 1/2 carrot, chopped finely
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped finely – see above
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped finely – like the celery and onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely – you see a theme, right?
  • a large bunch of cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped finely
  • 1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 envelope of any kind of Mexican-style seasoning – I used some leftover taco seasoning
  • 1/4 cup of olives, chopped – the olives are of your choice, whatever you got in your refrigerator door. I used the pimento-stuffed kind
  • 3 tbl of capers, rinsed and drained – this is important, ‘cuz these suckers are salty AF
  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 packet of pre-cooked rice (I know, very slatternly of me)

So, first what you need to do is make the sofrito – a base for your dish. Sofrito is usually a mush of aromatics. I don’t have a blender or mixer because a London kitchen is too small for that nonsense, so I had to use two sharp knives, a cutting board, and a lot of patience. For my sofrito, I used the onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro, and just chopped that up over and over again, until I got a messy, gloppy, salsa-like mush. You can do this easier in a mixer, and in fact, I recommend this, as making sofrito by hand was a little much. Once you have the sofrito put it in a bowl and set aside for a moment. 

Next heat oil in your dutch oven over a low flame and place the chicken, skin side down. I choose to do it on a cold surface because I want the skin to render. As soon as the skin starts to brown and sizzle, let it cook, undisturbed for about 7 minutes on one side. I say undisturbed because you want the skin to darken and start to render its fat and crisp up – otherwise, if you mess with the chicken too soon, it’ll just stick to the bottom of the pot (which isn’t the end of the world, btw)

After about 7 minutes, turn the chicken over and cook for an additional 7 minutes and then remove and place on a platter. At this point, I quickly add the sofrito, reserving about half of it. while that’s sweating, remove the skin from the chicken, chop into tiny, tiny bits and add back into the pan – it’s a bit like the lardons of a coq au vin – see, fusion!

Anyways, cook, stirring, letting the skin crisp up – and let the sofrito soften. Add a bit of salt to draw out the moisture and continue to cook, making sure to scrap up any of the browned chicken skin bits. Add the seasonings – I did a quarter of the envelope – and stir, letting the oil and chicken fat bloom all those Latin spices. You gotta stir though because it’s easy for the spices to burn. 

Add the roughly chopped onions and stir, cooking to get the onions to turn translucent. This will take about 8 minutes. You’ll see that you’re getting quite a fond – it’ll be dark brown (well, mine was, anyways)

Start adding the broth a little bit at a time, scraping the browned bits and darkened spices, stirring to loosen the bottom of the pan. Once you get the two cups in, return the chicken and its accumulated juices. Raise the heat to high to get it to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer…If you’re doing chicken breasts, this won’t take very long, with thighs and drumsticks, it takes longer, at least 25 minutes. Your chicken thigh is safe to eat when it registers 75° C on a meat thermometer. When it gets to about 75° C, fish the meat out and set aside and raise the heat to high again and boil down to reduce to about 1 cup of liquid – it should be nice and thick. Add the shredded chicken. Then add the olives and capers and stir. Add the rest of the reserved sofrito and keep cooking. Then this is the most controversial bit of my recipe – I add a packet of the pre-cooked, parboiled rice (the kind that comes in a pouch you gotta squeeze apart to distribute it) Most recipes call for raw rice to be added to the pan right after the sofrito to toast – but I don’t like cooking rice because I always get it wrong. With the pre-cooked stuff, all you’re really doing is heating the rice through. Often these pouched rice comes in clumps, so just make sure you’re breaking up the clumps with your wooden spoon. Add the peas and stir until they thaw (you don’t really want to heat them). Add some cilantro as a garnish (you can also add a chopped green onion – do what you want, I’m not the police)

Oh, and enjoy. 

My second Easter Sunday in London

Easter is a big deal in Polish Catholic homes – more important than Christmas, even. As a kid, my grandmother took the Easter season very seriously. On Palm Sunday, we decorated our palms with extravagant tackiness (mine always turned out looking like something from a mini-challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race), and the Easter baskets were also key to the celebration. Unlike the American Easter baskets – of which I was very covetous – the Polish Catholic Easter baskets were all about feeding the poor and honouring Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead. We didn’t have cute bunny rabbits, cartoon characters, or toys, wrapped in colourful cellophane. I remember my baskets would have jars of horseradish, smoked sausage, butter carved into the shape of a lamb, and a sweet Easter bun (which wasn’t really all that sweet) At the end of mass, we were expected to leave something behind on the alter, which would later be – I hope – donated to the poor.

Once I stopped being Catholic, the holiday was never that big a deal for me, and it was just an excuse for me to go out with my friends to brunch. Easter usually fell sometime in latet April, early May, so the weather started to turn, and it felt very city to get dressed in light linen and go to a trendy restaurant to eat eggs and drink mimosas (this was before I became a teetotaller)

A year and a half ago, I moved to London. Easter is a huge deal here, and we get lots of time off around the holiday. My mother is in town, visiting, and so I decided instead of going out for Easter brunch we’d have dinner at home. I also invited my dear friend Sheila (who’s from Australia), and Cara, a fellow Yank-turned-Londoner (she even grew up in Chicago, so we traded Chicago trivia like neighbourhoods and city haunts)

This year was interesting because I wanted to combine the traditions of my partner, who’s American, my Polish mother’s traditions, but I also wanted to be sensitive to Cara, who’s a vegan. This brunch would be an interesting challenge.

Before I go on, I would like to say that when I write cooking vegan food is a “challenge” I don’t mean it in a “ugh, what a burden – vegan food is so weird, what am I gonna do?” way. It’s not…Vegan food is great and accessible, and vegans should be given more options for their dinner than lettuce leaves and chickpeas.

That being said, I never cooked vegan food before, so I thought it would be fun to see what I can do. I decided that I wouldn’t go the fake meat route and make some kind of fake ham (Sham?) or tofu lamb chops. Instead, I looked to beans and veg for my menu. I looked at different bean stews, and settled on a Mexican-style bean stew. I didn’t go by a recipe, and instead worked with the kinds of vegetables I thought would work well with Mexican style stew.

That means I bought cans of black beans, red kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, corn. I also got tinned tomatoes. I love cooking with beans – I do meatless Mondays and beans are a go-to for me when cooking vegetarian dishes. I chopped an onion and sautéed it in a large pan with some corn oil (olive oil is too distinct and peppery), and once the onion got translucent , I sprinkled in some taco seasoning (I know, I know – I live in London and so my access to the right herbs is severely limited, so I have to sometimes rely on El Paso). I chopped some red pepper and chili pepper and threw that it – I also rubbed my nose and started to scream and rinse my nose out. Be very careful when chopping chili peppers – wear gloves if you can. After throwing in the peppers and letting them sweat for a bit, I poured some vegetable broth and threw in the tinned veg with their waters (except for the chickpea water – I reserved that for vegan latkes) I cooked over high heat until it was reduced, thick and soupy – like a Mexican-spiced ratatouille. I transferred most of the stew into a Pyrex baking dish, and reduced the remaining stew further until it took on a dark, chocolate colour and poured that on stew and baked in a moderately hot oven for about an hour.

I also made vegan latkes – Mayim Bialik from The Big Bang Theory (is it weird that I don’t reference Blossom anymore?) has a YouTube video in which she makes vegan latkes from a mix. I’m not sure what the benefit is of making it from a box, because I used fresh ingredients, and all was okay. I grated onion and potato and used the water from a tin of chickpeas. I added matzoh meal and created a batter. I seasoned with salt, pepper, and some dried dill (use a light hand when using dried herbs) I fried in batches in hot oil and drained on paper towels. I noticed that not using real egg made the latkes cook longer and the texture was slightly different – softer, maybe? But they still came out crispy and good. I served the latkes with cranberry sauce.

As a side, I also made curry chickpeas, since I opened a tin. This recipe is too easy – I almost don’t need to write it. Fry the chickpea over a high heat, stirring constantly, and add some chopped broccoli and stir fry. Add some curry powder and let it bloom. I then added some frozen peas, frozen garlic, and frozen ginger (I like frozen veg) and stirred cooking until the veg took on some browning (the pan got a bit dry at certain points, so I added a bit of water at a time to deglaze the pan)

The final veg dish was also very simple – pan fry some asparagus and pouring balsamic vinegar and spinning, stir frying constantly, letting the vinegar reduce and get sticky and sweet.

The nod to my Polish culture came with the white borscht soup. It’s also known as żurek, a white sour soup made with sourdough starter. Last year I made this soup and made my own sourdough starter (the yeasty stuff that gives sourdough its name), but this year, I was like, “bump that noise,” and instead got some żurek packet soup and used that as a starter, instead. I sautéed some onion, parsnip, turnip, onion until the veg softened a bit. I then added chicken stock and threw in chopped sausage. I used some smoked Polish kielbasa (a variety made of chicken)

Interesting side story: normally, one would use a white sausage, similar to a brat, that’s sold fresh. I went to the local Polish deli in my neighbourhood the other day. I walked in to store to see a low-hum of contained chaos. There was a large crowd of people getting in their last-minute Easter shopping, and so lots of baskets crammed with food. I went to the meat counter and saw a crowd forming. An angry crowd. As I took my place in the queue, I overheard a lady ahead of me ordering some ham and the girl behind the counter announced to us that there was a power outage and so the digital scale wasn’t working, so we couldn’t buy anything that needed to be weighed. This caused a great amount of consternation among the crowd full of Polish aunties and grandmas who were aghast at this news. “How long is this going to last?” One woman asked. The girl shrugged and said she couldn’t answer. Another woman suggested that the girl eyeball how much she was selling, and the young girl shot back with, “Madame, how could I guess how much meat I’d be selling?” There were more shouts from these women and my partner and I got a bit worried that there’d be a riot dotted with looting, so we skidaddled out of there before it stuff got ugly and just went to a regular supermarket.

So because of that, we used the “wrong” kind of sausage for the soup – which was okay, because it turned out well, anyways…I threw in the
żurek mix and cooked for about an hour, adding a spoonful of horseradish, mustard, dried dill and cooked over a low heat, simmering.

To round out the meal, we served it with pierogi and my friend brought some vegan bread. For dessert, I made a quick smoothie by crushing frozen summer fruits (strawberries, red currants, blueberries) and mixing it with vegan yoghurt (made with soy and almond – yum) My Aussie friend also brought dessert – millionaire’s shortbread – and I served some liquor (I drank Pepsi)

We served the food buffet-style, and I was thrilled to be done with my cooking. I planned on serving gooseberry gelatine with peaches, but the gelatine never gelled – I even set it near a window to be cooled – but it stayed as gloppy, lime green slop.

At the end of the evening, I looked at the kitchen and was startled at how destroyed it looked – like a kitchen kabloom took place. I was startled at how secular all this was, though. Like Christmas, Easter is more cultural now – I mean Cadbury eggs? What’s that gotta do with Jesus?

Our party continued as we finished up our food – there weren’t a whole lot of leftovers – I gave some to my friends, and I have to figure out what to do with the leftovers we do have. I’m thinking of baking the leftovers with elbow pasta, not sure…We also have some bread, so maybe a panzanella?

Anyways, Happy Easter!

Back to my roots: Polish dining at Café Maja

I grew up in Brighton Park in Chicago. Brighton Park has a large Polish population and was, at one point, the largest settlement of Poles in Chicago. White flight has made Poles move out of the city in large numbers toward the suburbs, but when I was a kid, the shops down on Archer Avenue all had Polish signs. A big part of my growing up was going to the Polish delis and Polish restaurants.

Chicago is an important part of the Polish diaspora. But so is London. Like Chicago, London has some big Polish areas, especially Acton. Hammersmith is close to Acton, so there is a presence of Polish immigrants in Poland, as well. The other thing about Hammersmith is that the Polish Social & Cultural Association (or Polski Ośrodek Społeczno-Kulturalny) acts as a hub for British Poles or Polish immigrants. It’s a large building in Hammersmith that houses a gallery, two restaurants, and various offices of Polish institutions and bodies.

This afternoon, I went to the Café Maja for lunch this afternoon. It was crowded, as I think we hit the after-church crowd. Sundays are a huge social day for Polish Catholics. After church, families and friends often will make their way to a local deli or restaurant to eat Polish food, talk, gossip, and rest before another busy work week.

Café Maja’s entrance is on the side of the cultural association’s building. You walk into a really casual diner-style dining room. The menu is written on chalkboards behind the counter, and today’s offerings were familiar items: pierogi, Polish sausage, veal cutlet, borscht.

I ordered the grilled Polish sausage that came with two, perfect scoops of mashed potatoes. I also ordered a side of sauerkraut. My partner got the chicken cutlet with potatoes, and he ordered a side of red cabbage. We also ordered a plate of meat pierogi for the table as a starter.

While waiting for my food, I looked around the dining room, and indulged in some people watching, a favourite sport of mine. I saw tables with loud, raucous people, laughing and talking. Two old nuns were sitting at table near the counter. They were eating the tripe soup. The table next to me had some cinephiles who were talking about movies. An older woman behind me was holding court, lecturing her dining companions about etiquette (Emily Post angrily scolded one of her friends to not leave her elbows on the table)

Our food came, the plates crowding our plates. My sausage was scored, blistered and browned, with caramalized onions. The potatoes were perfect scoops, sprinkled with frizzy dill fronds. My partner’s cutlet was flat and nearly the size of the plate. It was golden and crispy, puffy. The pierogi came with little bits of bacon (it would’ve been nice if they came with soured cream or breadcrumbs)

The food was good and comforting, like Polish food is supposed to be. London has a few Polish haute cuisine restaurants, and while they’re good, I can never bring myself to pay lot for fancy, fussy Polish food. Polish food is meant to be hearty and simple and familiar. It’s the kind of food eaten on a cold, wintery day – or if you had a bad day. It’s not healthy food, and scanning the room, I probably saw a lot of hypertension and high cholesterol, but the draw of this kind of food is undeniable.

When you finish a Polish meal, you should be groaning a bit getting, and you should be needing a good stretch, as if the eating was a physically taxing exercise. A large Polish meal also requires that you walk home when you’re done, preferably a long distance, 30 minutes at least.