A recipe from a grandmother long missed. Potato Ulnyik for #LetsLunch.

An ‘Ulnyik’ for #LetsLunch (from my late Bubba Esther)

One of the most important parts of the Monday Morning Cooking Club project is the preservation of recipes. To preserve those recipes from the older generation for ours. And to preserve ours for the next. And so on.

I grew up in Melbourne as an Australian Jew with pure Polish ancestry. My father was born in Poland, and came to Melbourne with his family in 1938 when he was only 7.  My mother was born in Melbourne, her parents arriving in 1927 from Bialystok, also in Poland. She married my father in 1954, the same year that her mother, so sadly, passed away.

 

A passport photo of Mum with Bubba Esther in 1936.

My mother did cook at home but my inspiration for cooking came from within, or perhaps from my genes.  I sometimes imagine that perhaps I am living in the wrong century and in the wrong place. I dream of stories of my late grandmother on my Father’s side, Bubba Sheindel. My father describes her cellar, a treasure trove of culinary delights and tantalizing aromas, bursting with barrels of her freshly pickled cucumbers, vats of pickled cabbage, apples and tomatoes, of schmaltz and pickled herrings, and preserved fruits and jams.  Strands of dried mushrooms and garlic, and hessian bags of potatoes and onions waiting to be made into the lightest latkes.

She rolled the thinnest pastry for the most perfect apple strudel (or, as my mother says, shhtroodel) without a cook book in sight. Many years later when she was living in Melbourne, my mother asked her new mother-in-law for the recipe, which of course had never been written down. So my mother stood in the kitchen with a measuring cup and scales and proceeded to measure and weigh every pinch, spoon and glass of sugar, flour and butter before it went in to the mix.

This was the only time Bubba’s strudel didn’t work out! The recipe is now long gone. How sad it is never to be able to retrieve it.

I never met my mother’s mother Esther, but every single year at Passover my mum makes an ulnyik, a spectacular crisp, crunchy, oily and generally FANTASTIC potato cake that she learnt from her mother when she was a teenager.

No recipe was written down.

Once I left home, and wanted to make my own ulnyik, I would call Mum on the phone so she could remind me how many potatoes, how many onions and how long to cook it for. Every year I asked the same questions!

So you can imagine my joy when the MMCC book provided me with an opportunity to actually write it down. And write it down properly…so that it would always work out perfectly. Well, most of the time anyway! Just like Mum’s it is sometimes a little overcooked, sometimes a little under – but we do love it all the same! It’s a way to have Bubba Esther sit at the table with us every single time we make it.

Below is a video of how to make the unyik (along with my mum’s brisket). The ulnyik starts at around 2.25 if you want to skip the brisket. Enjoy!

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Polish Potato Cake
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A crisp, golden potato cake
Servings Prep Time Cook Time
12 20minutes 75minutes
Servings Prep Time
12 20minutes
Cook Time
75minutes
Ingredients
Servings:
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Ingredients
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). You will need a large deep baking dish/oven tray, about 40 cm x 30 cm (16 x 12").
  2. Put the oil into the baking dish and place in the oven to heat.
  3. Squeeze the grated potatoes with your hands until dry.
  4. Place in a bowl with the eggs, onions and matzo meal and mix together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Carefully remove the hot baking dish from the oven and spoon the mixture into the oil, spreading it out to cover the base without pressing down to firmly.
  6. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes until golden. You can eat immediately, but it is easier to cut if you allow it to cool, and then cut into large squares. Reheat in a very hot oven until piping hot, brown and sizzling.
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Let’s Lunch (#LetsLunch) is a twitter-based virtual lunch club where anyone interested can join this monthly ‘lunch date’. The group was started by NewYorker Cheryl Tan, author of ‘A Tiger in the Kitchen’ , a food memoir of her Singaporean heritage. A topic is posted at the beginning of the month, often by consensus, and all posts are made on the same day by this random but lovely group of food bloggers, writers and people who just love cooking from all around the world.

Anyone can join at any time – just join us on twitter by searching and adding the hashtag #LetsLunch. Check back in a couple of days for a list of everyone’s #letslunch post.

And maybe join in next month?

Here are the other posts…so far…

Charissa‘s Apple, Pecan & Raisin Gluten-Free Depression Cake at Zest Bakery

Emma‘s Irish, Polish & Korean Grandmothers’ Recipes at Dreaming of Pots & Pans

Jill‘s Stuffed Cabbage at Eating My Words

Karen‘s Semifreddo at GeoFooding

Linda‘s Taiwanese Oyster Omelet at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Polish Potato Cake at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Patricia‘s “Many Grandmas” Asian Pickles at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

Renee‘s Chinese Grandmother’s Tofu at My Kitchen And I

Cheryl’s Gambling Rice at A Tiger in the Kitchen

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6 Comments

  1. Lucy

    Oh my goodness, Lisa, I love this recipe! + story! + pictures! I’m also listening to you cook right now. How nice to put a voice with a blog!

  2. Annabelle

    I’ve never encountered this dish, but given that potatoes are practically my favorite food, I’m intrigued! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Pat

    Yay to preserving recipes! Thank you for sharing your story, I really enjoy learning more about my #LetsLunch pals with every monthly post.

  4. Rich

    Very similar to my parents recipe. Add a sliced polish sausage, leave a few slices to place on top, with slices of bacon on top.

  5. Victor

    Do you have a receipe for zebrok not sure if spelling is right

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