Wigilia—derived from the Latin term "vigil"—is the traditional Christmas Eve supper in Poland. Also known as the Star Supper, Wigilia is the main focus of Polish Christmas celebrations. The meal traditionally begins after the first star appears in the sky on the evening of December 24th and is always meatless to honor the animals that kept Jesus warm when he was born.
Fish is served as the main course at this holiday dinner, with a variety of traditional Polish recipes—including much-loved pierogi dumplings and pickled beets—making up the other courses.
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Creamed Herring Salad
When Eastern Europeans enjoy herring, it is almost always pickled. This classic creamy pickled herring salad includes boiled potatoes, hard-cooked eggs, chopped tart apples, onion, and dill pickle, all mixed in a tangy sour cream and vinegar dressing.
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Polish Rolled Herring (Rolmopsy)
Wrap store-bought pickled herring fillets around dill pickles, pickled mushrooms, or pickled onions, to make this traditional Polish dish often served as a starter course at Wigilia celebrations.
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Polish Pickled Beets
Pickled beets are an important component of Polish Christmas Eve dinners, when they are served with other pickled field vegetables on relish trays (an appetizer sampler featuring raw and brined vegetables). Try this quick pickle recipe to "put up" a bounty of beets in less than an hour.
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Polish Kolaczki Cookies
Sometimes called Polish foldovers, kolaczki are filled cookies that are popular at holiday time in Poland. Use a cream cheese dough, with apricot preserves as the filling, to make these cookies. To prepare ahead, fill and freeze unbaked cookies, then bake them straight from the freezer, adding a few extra minutes to the baking time.Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Polish Christmas Cooked Wheat Pudding
Sweet, chewy, soft, and crunchy all at once, Christmas cooked wheat pudding is usually the first course served at a traditional Wigilia supper. To make it, toss cooked wheat berries with raisins, nuts, figs, dates, poppy seeds, lemon zest, honey, and vanilla, for a tasty bowlful that tastes somewhat like a sweet, fruit-filled oatmeal.
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Polish Beet Soup
Don't mistake this soup for Russian beet borscht. While its Soviet cousin is thick and filled with chunky vegetables, Polish red beet soup (or "barszcz") is more broth-like. The clear, ruby-red liquid gets the desired note of sourness from lemon juice or vinegar and is typically served hot for Wigilia, often with mushroom dumplings (uszka) floating in the bowls.
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Polish Honey-Spiced Vodka
Honey-spiced vodka is typically the alcoholic beverage of choice at a Wigilia feast. Mix up a batch of this heady concoction by combining vodka and honey with a fragrant, spice-infused simple syrup including vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, peppercorns, and aniseed.
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Polish Mushroom Soup
Poles consider this sour mushroom soup a national treasure and for good reason. It is hearty, savory, and loaded with great flavor. Combine the soaking liquid from reconstituted dried mushrooms with vegetable stock, to create the broth for this meatless soup, adding pearl barley and sour cream for tanginess and texture. It's even better with kluski noodles, which you can make from scratch, using the recipe below.Continue to 9 of 16 below.
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Polish Kluski Noodles
Thin kluski noodles are a joy to discover in your bowl of soup. Most Americans are familiar with this type of noodle, as it is similar to one found in a popular brand of canned chicken noodle soup. Make kluski easily in your own kitchen, with the classic recipe that requires only four ingredients.
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Brown Butter Trout
Freshwater fish, such as trout, are the typical main course at a meat-free Polish Christmas Eve supper. Dress boneless trout fillets in a simple, delicious lemon-brown butter sauce, before cooking them quickly under the broiler, for an easy entree. Serve topped with extra butter sauce, and fresh snipped parsley.
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Polish Fish in the Greek Style
While it goes by the name "Greek style," this traditional fish and tomatoes recipe is Polish through and through. Quickly pan-fry white fish fillets until golden-brown and crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside. Then smother the fish in a zesty tomato-vegetable sauce and serve hot.
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Polish Noodles with Poppy Seeds
Polish egg noodles in a warm, buttery sauce with ground poppy seeds, honey, raisins, nuts, and candied orange peel are a special favorite at Wigilia time. You can make this classic recipe in 30 minutes, but do allow time for soaking poppy seeds overnight in milk.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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Light Rye Bread With Caraway Seeds
In Poland, most every meal is accompanied by rye bread and Christmas Eve dinner is no exception. Bake up a tasty, tangy, caraway-seed flecked loaf with this no-bread machine recipe that adds whole-wheat flour to rye flour, for a lighter-tasting bread.
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Polish Sauerkraut and Mushroom Pierogi
Sauerkraut and mushrooms are a popular combination in Poland. They make a tasty, meatless filling for the traditional boiled pierogi dumplings enjoyed as a savory side dish at holiday meals and throughout the year. Serve hot with sour cream and melted butter.
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Polish Poppy Seed Roll
No Eastern European dessert table would be complete without a sweet treat made with poppy seeds. Learn how to prepare the classic sweet, yeasty Polish poppy seed strudel that makes a comforting Christmas Eve dessert and a great snack with tea or coffee the next day.
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Polish Dried Fruit Compote
Stewed, spiced fruits are enjoyed year-round in Eastern Europe and are a typical Wigilia dessert. Reconstitute dried fruits in simmering water, nicely-spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and lemon zest, for serving warm. If you like a boozier version, replace some or all of the water in the recipe with brandy.