Of all my historical anecdotes, this one is, probably, the most outrageous. Catherine the Medici, the Dowager Queen of France, mother of a succession of three kings, spared no expense (and no intrigue!) to secure kingdoms for all her boys. When the throne of Poland became available, she bought it for her favorite son, the future French king Henry III. Polish noblemen, the Szlachta, went out of their way to impress Henry with their hospitality. He was wined and dined literally out of his wits (according to historical records, he was not an Einstein to begin with, and totally under the influence of his mignons, or favorites).
At the banquet given by Prince Radzivill, he was served rolled slices of meat stuffed with mushrooms. At the same time as this dish was served, one of the guests, somewhat in his cups, I imagine, yelled, “Za Radzivilla!” (To Radzivill!). Young King Henry loved the dish. The next morning, suffering from a serious hangover, he was trying to remember what it was called, but in his vodka-clouded mind, the dish and the toast blended into one: Za radz… Za raz… Zraz… Meanwhile, his brother Charles IX, King of France, died, and Henry rushed home to grab the still warm throne. The name zrazy, however, stuck (http://icookbook.ru/hostess-a-notes/about-products/1151-istoriya-zraz.html)
Cute story, but the word zrazy actually means “slice” in Polish, and this very popular dish originally looked like thinly sliced beef stuffed with mushrooms, sometimes also called Beef Roulades. In time, numerous variations sprung up; among those kartoplyaniki (Polish), or kartofel’niki (Russian), in which beef was replaced by potatoes – a lot cheaper! – and the stuffing would be ground meat, if you were lucky, or mushrooms. My grandmother made them for every holiday, and they were always our favorite holiday appetizers and snacks.
However, I put a new twist on them. On Rosh haShana, the Jewish New Year, we wish each other a sweet year, and it is traditional to dip challah in honey instead of salt and to eat honey cakes. In my family, we went a lot further than that. Starting on the eve of Rosh haShana, throughout the High Holidays season, until the last day of Sukkos, there was no salt on the table, we dipped bread in honey, and most of the food had a sweet flavor to it. So I made my Kartofel’niki with sweet potatoes, rather than traditional Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian regular potatoes. This is a vegetarian, stuffed with mushrooms recipe, but you can easily replace mushrooms with ground meat – everything else stays the same.
It’s very basic: you need some flour (I use whole wheat), fresh cilantro or parsley – your choice! – cinnamon, salt and pepper. To make it vegan, use egg substitute of your choice, but I used a real egg. Peel and boil your sweet potato and dice your mushrooms, onions, and cilantro.
While the potato is boiling, saute mushrooms with onions until soft. Season with salt and pepper, add cilantro, and take off the heat. Let it cool off.
When your sweet potato is ready, mash it up. Add the egg or substitute, add flour, give it a dash of cinnamon and season with salt and pepper. Mix really well. Now you have your potato “dough” and your filling ready, and we can start.
This is the tricky part, and it is also the part your kids will love the most if you let them participate. Dust a board or working surface with flour. Dip your palms in flour, pick up some potato “dough” and roll a ball about the size of a ping pong ball. Put it down and flatten it. For the next step, my grandmother used a thick-bottomed vodka shot glass, but I don’t have any, so I’ve invented my own technique. Feel free to develop yours! Take a tablespoon of the filling and press the bottom of the measuring spoon into the dough. Make sure not to sink it all the way through!
Now upend the filling into the indentation and cover it with dough. The dough is very sticky – that’s why all kids love it! – so you have to keep dipping your fingers into flour. Make sure your filling is completely and securely hidden inside the dough, otherwise your mushrooms will run away from you!
All you have left to do is fry them on both sides on a lightly misted with oil frying pan. It only takes a couple of minutes on each side, and they become golden brown and beautiful.
They are delicious hot, cold, or warm, as an appetizer, side dish, or snack, or just a delightful addition to your holiday table. Have a healthy and sweet year – Shana Tova! A Zis Yor!
- 1 large sweet potato or 2 smaller ones, boiled
- 1 cup (4 oz) mushrooms, diced
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, diced (alternatively, parsley)
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 egg or substitute
- A dash of cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel and boil sweet potatoes.
- Dice mushrooms, onion, and cilantro. Saute mushrooms with onion until soft, add cilantro, season with salt and pepper, mix, and remove from stove. Put aside to cool.
- Mass sweet potatoes, add egg, flour, cinnamon, season with salt and pepper.
- Dust board or working surface with flour. Roll a ping-pong size ball, place on floured surface, flatten.
- With bottom of measuring spoon, press gently in the middle of flattened dough. Fill indentation with 1 tablespoon of mushroom filling. Close sides securely.
- Preheat lightly misted with oil shallow frying pan to medium, fry Karofel’niki for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown.