As a chubby kid picked on by school bullies in his native Poland, Michal Korkosz sought solace in the kitchen. He browsed cookbooks, magazines and food blogs in search of flavors beyond the heavy fare he’d grown up with. To deal with his weight issues, he experimented with fresh vegetables and healthier techniques representative of other nationalities, such as steamed broccoli with tahini sauce and roasted zucchini slices covered in Parmesan.
He continued his food explorations in higher education, defending a thesis on culinary diplomacy. He created a website called Rozkoszny, meaning “delightful,” which earned two blog awards from Saveur magazine, and wrote a critically acclaimed cookbook focused on the plant-based dishes of his heritage, “Fresh from Poland.”
Over time, he realized that Polish cooking has always been multicultural. He describes Warsaw, where he lives today, as a vegan-friendly city with a melting pot of flavors from all over the world.
Those influences infuse the inventive recipes in his latest collection, “Polish’d: Modern Vegetarian Cooking from Global Poland” (The Experiment, $32.50). Chapters are defined by technique: raw, stovetop, steamed, infused and browned, fermented and preserved, and so on.
Most ingredients are readily accessible, and for those that aren’t, such as szafir and twarog cheeses, substitutes are given. Roasted Eggplant and Sun-Dried Tomato Dip riffs on Middle Eastern baba ganoush, with a Polish version of the nut and seed topping, dukkah, that includes sunflower and nigella seeds. Oyster mushrooms and cannellini beans add substance to Miso Red Cabbage Stew. Panko-coated celeriac slices sub for pork in schnitzel. Soy sauce, lemony mayonnaise and poppy seeds dress up skillet-charred broccoli. And lavender infuses his updated version of his grandmother’s sable cookies.
Each recipe brims with the confidence of a knowledgeable cook who derives joy from bending tradition to suit his tastes. “Cooking is not a test with right or wrong answers,” he writes. “It’s a playground.” And by his rules, no one gets left out of the fun.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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