Monday, August 3, 2009

Are We Having Fun Yet? (Or: Mr. Pete's Polish Peasant Food, Adapted)

Everyone who was ever anyone in my hometown's retro-hippie and/or punk scene knew Peter Kudron; the man was a legend. An actual hippie, as opposed to wannabes like yours truly, he had a pyramid in his living room, every conceivable herb stockpiled in ancient Bugler tobacco tins, and a heart of pure gold. (I swear he cured my mononucleosis with Golden Seal powder; let's just say that the taste "builds character.") Sadly, Pete was too good for this world, and left it in 1996, but I can safely assert that anyone who knew him will recall his light, his humor, his energy, and his irrepressible personality with as much affection as I do.

Peter grew up and lived most of his life in the once-largely-Polish Vernon Hill neighborhood of Wormtown, USA., and there is one thing that I distinctly recall him cooking in his (epically untidy) apartment. He referred to it as "Polish peasant food," and it involved egg noodles, onions, and, sometimes, shredded cabbage, sauteed to a fare-thee-well in about a ton of butter. (The kielbasa that would have traditionally been included was omitted in deference to my vegetarianism, about which he was unfailingly kind and respectful, being himself an omnivorous martyr to chronic ulcers.) Anyway, these many long years later, I still think fondly of Pete and all those road trips, parties, random shenanigans, government conspiracy theories, and long, goofy evenings spent deconstructing Zippy the Pinhead.

So. Being all about the cooking these days when I'm not all about early modern proto-nationalist medievalism(s), I'd been contemplating a veganized version of Pete's signature dish for awhile, and this week I did it! Eggless "egg" noodles, while available, can be like hen's teeth to find, but the noodles I subbed were actually perfect. Nowadays, we can also get soy-based kielbasa, which I include here as an optional ingredient. I skipped the cabbage because it doesn't like me, but substituted mushrooms because they harmonize nicely with the whole Eastern European vibe; feel free to add some shredded cabbage if you like, about five minutes after the onions.

In addition to its sentimental qualities, this dish has the virtue of being seriously kid-friendly; each of mine ate a huge plate, and we had hardly any leftovers. While I don't pretend to any sort of culinary "authenticity," eating this made me feel close to an extraordinary person who paid me the compliment of his friendship when I was a mere chit, and to whom I raise a glass as I finish this post. Wherever you are, Mr. Pete, I'm eating noodles and thinking of you. YOW!

Mr. Pete's Polish Peasant Food, Adapted
~ 2 tbsp. each canola oil and Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine), divided
~ 3 cups yellow onions, chopped
~ 2 tsp. each: smoked paprika, dill
~ 1 tsp. kosher salt
~ Lots of fresh black pepper
~ 4 oz. beech mushrooms, separated from their stems and washed (or 8 oz. other 'shrooms, sliced)
~ 1 14 oz. pkg. vegan "kielbasa" (optional; I used Tofurky), sliced
~ 1/4 cup white wine
~ 1 12 oz. pkg. noodles (eggless "egg" noodles if you can find them; I used Francis Coppola ricciolini), cooked according to package directions

~ Cook the pasta, drain, and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok (I used the latter), heat 1 tbsp. each of the EB and canola oil over medium heat.
~ Add the onions, and dried seasonings; stir to combine, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the sliced veggie kielbasa, if using, and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and wine; raise heat to high and cook another 10 minutes, until everything is sort of goulashy.
~ Remove from heat and set aside (or do what I do: transfer to another bowl, and wipe out the wok for its next use).
~ Heat the remaining EB and canola oil over medium-high heat and add the cooked pasta.
~ Cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes, until the pasta starts to brown around the edges.
~ Add the onion/mushroom mixture, combine thoroughly and cook another 5-10 minutes, until everything is all happy with itself.
~ Serve with cheap jug wine and (if you're ambitious) a green salad and maybe some crusty bread; we just heaped it onto plates and dug in.


  1. This sounds like a filling, comforting meal! I like the idea of putting beech mushrooms in this :)

  2. I knew Pete...or Mister Pete, as we referred to him. The man was a born storyteller and an amazing teacher. I miss him still today.

    1. Me, too. He was a great soul and a good friend.