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Celebrating tradition with a special take on Haluski

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I’ve had this famous quote, from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, rattling around my head for a while now.

I’m not much into the way of life of a philosopher, and I certainly won’t pretend to be some sort of deep thinker. Despite that, to me, what Kierkegaard was getting at was that the past is important because looking back at your experiences and mistakes is the best way to learn and improve your future. There is value in what has happened, not just to you but to everyone and everything. Understanding and appreciating the past can help us find our way through the future.

The caveat that he provides in the second half of this quote reminds us that while the past is important as a teacher and tool, it can’t be the only thing that we think about. Living in the past will certainly doom anyone just as much as ignoring the past will.

When I saw this quote, it really struck a chord with me, both personally and professionally. Unlike most people these days I like to keep my personal thoughts, well, personal, so I will touch on how this quote speaks to me in a professional sense.

As a chef, especially a chef responsible for overseeing the operation of a learning establishment for student chefs like Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, a lot of what we do is rooted in the past. Chefs will continue to create crazy new dishes, new combinations of flavors, and new, modern techniques for enhancing the flavor, texture or appearance of food. That won’t stop, hopefully ever. But no matter what new things chefs create, the foundation of what we do on a daily basis is built upon ideas and techniques developed long before the invention of electricity or before

Kierkegaard was even born.

In the Penn College hospitality department, the first things we teach our freshman students are the basics: the techniques and cooking methods developed by Escoffier and other pioneers of his time. They cannot begin to create new dishes or play around with modern techniques without first having a firm grasp on the fundamentals of cooking, for it is with a combination of lessons from the past and innovation from the future that chefs truly can become creators and masters of their domain.

It is in this spirit of celebrating the past that I am sharing a recipe that was shared with me years ago: the classic Eastern European dish of cabbage and noodles, Haluski.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to help a friend with catering a church carnival. There I was, a young chef, thinking I knew everything there was to know. I came into the small-town carnival with an unwarranted air of superiority, as I was a chef, and these people were just home-cook volunteers.

As the patrons came rolling in by the hundreds, it didn’t take long for me to get served a big slice of humble pie. After getting yelled at by one grandmother for over cooking the chicken nuggets, the sweetest little old lady came up to me and made it very clear that I knew nothing, and it was time for school to begin.

While she was quite adept at running the kitchen without me, she made sure to take the time to show me her signature dish, Haluski. I had never heard of the dish before, but after she showed me her secrets and tricks, I was hooked. It couldn’t be a simpler dish, but it was amazing comfort food. I have taken her recipe and added a few secrets of my own, including bacon and pierogis.

So try this recipe at home, and maybe it will remind you of something poignant from your own past that can help you make the most of your future. Cheers!

Pierogi Haluski

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 2 to 4

1 pound of bacon, chopped

1 stick of salted butter

1 medium-sized head of green cabbage, cored and large diced

2 sweet onions, diced

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 box mini cheese pierogis

Kosher salt to taste

Ground black pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pierogis according to the package directions.

Heat a large, straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the diced bacon and render until crisp; remove from the pan and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Allow the butter to melt, then add the onions and cabbage. Season right away with salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables, but don’t allow them to burn to caramelize.

After the onions and cabbage are softened and translucent, add the cider vinegar and stir to combine. Add the drained, cooked pierogis to the pan and continue to cook for about 5 minutes to allow the flavors to marry and the pierogis to be coated in the butter and bacon fat.

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Stir in the bacon pieces and enjoy!

Culinary Creations is a partnership with Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Business & Hospitality and its Le Jeune Chef restaurant, a column by Christopher R. Grove, executive chef at Le Jeune Chef. Watch for Grove’s culinary tips and advice the last Wednesday of each month in The Taste.

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