Wigilia, from the Latin term "vigil," is the main focus of Polish Christmas. This meatless Christmas Eve meal, also known as the Star Supper, doesn't begin until the first star appears in the sky.
Not a morsel of food is eaten until every member of the family has broken the opłatek with each other and exchanged wishes for good health, long life, and prosperity. Opłatki are rectangular-shaped Communion-like wafers embossed with the nativity scene or other images.
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Go for a hearty starter with this creamy salmon served with raw vegetables. For a fancier experience, select a variety of caviar and make a spread offering lemon wedges, sour cream, minced onions, hardboiled eggs (whites and yolks chopped separately) and unsalted crackers or toast.
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After the appetizers comes the soup course. The most common is borscht, a red beet soup soured with either kwas (a fermented beverage made out of bread or vegetables), lemon juice, or vinegar. The soup is brimming with boiled potatoes or mushroom-filled "little-ear" dumplings called uszka.
Sour mushroom-barley soup is a good alternative, and even better if you can find kluski noodles to serve the soup with.
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Wigilia is a meat-less celebration because people want to remember all the animals that kept Jesus warm when born. Thus the fish becoming the main course.
Freshwater fish, usually whitefish, carp, lake perch, trout, or pike are served whole or filleted. Breading and pan-frying is a preferred cooking method, but fishes can be poached or baked, and glazed with aspic, depending on family traditions.
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Grains and Cereals
In Poland, housewives save the finest wheat flour for breads and noodles for Christmas Eve. Depending on the region and preferences, that might mean paluszki (long, thin finger-dumplings with poppy seeds), noodles with poppy seeds known as kluski z makiem, or noodles with stewed fruit or jam. Most meals are accompanied by rye bread or chałka (pictured here), an egg twist bread. In Eastern Poland, they serve a dish known as kutia, consisting of wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey, and nuts.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
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Desserts and Fruit Compote
Poppy seeds are considered a lucky food in Poland, so you will find them throughout its cuisine and especially on Christmas and New Year's Eve.
Makowiec is a poppy seed roll or strudel that is wildly popular, as are fruitcake and Royal Mazurek. But it wouldn't be Christmas without kołaczki , the beloved flaky filled cookies, nor gingerbread, nut horns, or sugar cookies.
Kompot, a dried-fruit compote ideally consisting of 12 dried fruits representing the apostles, is served as a "dessert before the dessert." Any dried fruit—apples, pears, raisins, blueberries, cherries, peaches, or apricots—can be used.
For some families, a simple platter of apples, nuts in the shell, dried figs, and dates suffices as dessert.
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Fruit juices, strong coffee, and tea are the beverages of choice. Christmas Eve is considered too solemn an occasion to engage in much tippling, but a sip of krupnik is almost a requirement. This honey-spiced vodka can be served hot or cold, but the serving temperature has nothing to do with its ability to warm a person from the inside out, and the aroma is heavenly. It can be purchased but it tastes so much better when homemade.
Some families might have a sip of fruit-flavored cordials (nalewki) made with summer's bounty.