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Meat and vegetables

Bigos ("hunter's stew") is a classic example of a one-pot dish, originally prepared with what-ever game a hunter (or poacher) could get.

Bigos ("hunter's stew") is a classic example of a one-pot dish, originally prepared with what-ever game a hunter (or poacher) could get. The line-up of extras is also variable, though the usual basis of bigos is chopped white cabbage, sauerkraut and dried mushrooms, cooked with pork, bacon and żywiecka (Polish sausage). Adding a little lard is traditional and gives a wonderful depth of flavor, whereas the question of whether or not to add a few tablespoons of tomato purée is a great talking point among serious cooks.

Meat essentially means pork in Poland, whether a fried breaded cutlet, roasted with prunes or served with stewed cabbage. Chicken (not usually considered to be "real meat") is typically served with as de volaille (stuffed with butter and garlic). Beef is also less popular, unless it is served as the ultra-popular zrazy, established in the 14th century by King Władysław himself. Pieces of beaten, seasoned sirloin of beef are rolled around a filling of chopped fried bacon, breadcrumbs, dill cucumber and mushrooms, and then fried or grilled.

The usual accompaniment of zrazy – and indeed other meat dishes (but never fish) – is buckwheat. This is also the most traditional stuffing for favourites such as gołąbki, literally "little pigeons", which are stuffed cabbage leaves and roast suckling pig. Another favourite side dish with various roast meats is a cucumber salad named mizeria (literally "misery"). The name is no indication of the wonderfully refreshing flavours, with wafer thin slices of cucumber dressed in a combination of soured cream, lemon juice, a dash of caster sugar and salt, garnished with minced dill or spring onion, and chilled before serving. The origins of mizeria are attributed to Queen Bona Sforza, but the reasons vary. The name may have stemmed from her weeping nostalgically for Italy whenever she ate it (before settling in and living happily in Poland). Alternatively, she may have eaten mizeria in such quantities that the consequent pain of indigestion made her ask for a misericord (a dagger for committing suicide).

Meat dishes also frequently accompanied by various beetroot dishes. Ćwikła is also one of the most historic, made with baked or cooked beetroots, sliced and layered with a dressing of vinegar, caraway seeds, horseradish and lemon juice. Beetroot is also popular puréed, sliced and fried in batter, or grated and combined with a little soured cream or minced onion.

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