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Words and photos by Ren Behan
Long may this fabulous weather continue! It’s a real treat to be able to organise a barbecue with confidence and for the children to forget the existence of raincoats
It may be a cliché, but hot weather calls for foods that cool. At the top of my food list for this period are watermelon, cucumbers, frozen ice lollies and plenty of chilled summer berries. The saying “cool as a cucumber” dates as far back as a 16th century poem and is borne from science – the inside of a cucumber can be up to twenty degrees cooler than its outside temperature – they really can cool you down!
Surprisingly, two of my favourite summer salads don’t feature any salad leaves at all, but instead make the most of hydrating watermelon and cooling cucumber. The first is a Middle Eastern-inspired salad of watermelon, cherry tomatoes, feta, almonds and za’atar, courtesy of Chef Silvena Rowe. Who knew that watermelon and cold feta cheese would go so well together? To go with this, you could also try Jamie’s Sangria Latina, made with watermelon cubes and rum – adults only!
The second summer side-salad I love is a dish typically served during the summer in Poland called ‘Mizeria’, and is made with cucumbers, salt, sour cream and fresh dill.
These two salads are always the first to feature on my summer menu. They require little preparation and I’m always left with empty serving dishes afterwards!
I’ve always been somewhat intrigued by the name given to the Polish cucumber salad, since ‘Mizeria’ literally translates as “Misery”! There are, in fact, two stories behind the name. The first is that this was a dish enjoyed by peasants, who were often thought of as being miserable owing to their poor status. The second is that this salad was a dish often made for the Italian princess Bona Sforza, who married Polish King Sigismund I. It was said that every time Queen Sforza ate the salad, she cried as she was homesick for her homeland. Either way, please don’t let the slightly bizarre name given to this salad put you off making it! As well as being cooling and refreshing, it’s a very handy recipe to have up your sleeve if you’re faced with a glut of cucumbers, or you are looking for a salad to take along to a barbecue.
You can make this salad with any cucumbers – the two main varieties are slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers. ‘Picklers’ are shorter and sometimes sold as ‘Kirby’ or ‘liberty’ cucumbers. I used fresh Sicilian cucumbers I found at the market, although the English cucumbers I usually use work very well, too. You can remove the seeds if you want to (by chopping the cucumber lengthways and using a teaspoon to scoop them out), or simply finely slice the cucumber whole. You can also choose whether to peel the cucumber or leave the skin on; traditionally it is peeled for this salad, but you may want to simply wash it and retain the nutrients in the skin before slicing.
Cucumber, sour cream and dill salad recipe (Mizeria)
2 large cucumbers, or 3-4 medium or small cucumbers, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sour cream
Small bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped
Start by finely slicing the cucumbers, either by hand with a good knife, or carefully using a mandolin or a food processor with a slicing disc. Put the sliced cucumber into a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave the colander over a bowl. The salt will bring some of the liquid out of the cucumber, which will also turn slightly darker in colour.
Drain well (using your hands to squeeze the cucumbers to release any excess juice) and transfer the cucumber to a fresh bowl. Stir through the sour cream (adding a little more of you prefer a creamier salad) and the fresh dill.
Chill the salad if you can for twenty minutes or so before serving.
For more cooling summer salads and barbecue sides, take a look here.
Polish Cucumber Salad
We went to Warsaw five years ago and didn’t expect to love the food as much as we did. I ate pierogi (dumplings) every day, twice a day. It was glorious.
My husband went another route and ate lots of soups, cabbage rolls and salads. This cucumber salad is one of the dishes that he loved the most.
Polish cucumber salad consists of thinly sliced cucumbers, sour cream, dill, salt, pepper and sometimes onions, radishes, lemon juice or vinegar.
It’s so refreshing and perfect for summer picnics, BBQs or really – whenever! My husband makes this year-round.
We always use English cucumbers as these are the standard cucumbers at stores here in Germany. I’ve read that you can use any type of cucumber for this salad but since I have zero experience with other types, it feels odd to recommend them.
A lot of Polish cucumber salad recipes have you put the cucumber slices, rubbed in salt, in a colander. Then you let them sit 5 minutes.
I’ve tried it that way but the result is a really liquidy salad. I think the best way is to let the slices sit for an hour and then use a tea towel, cheesecloth or something similar to wring out as much liquid as possible.
If you only have 20 minutes, that’s fine, too – but still wring the cucumbers out.
When you don’t wring them out like that, not only do you have a liquidy salad but the taste is also watered down.
You might need to tweak the amount of vinegar, which is why I give a range on the amount of vinegar. It depends on how vinegary you like your salad. I recommend starting off with 1 tablespoon of vinegar, mixing the dressing together, and then adding more if needed.
I just now had the thought that people may want to use dried dill in this recipe. If we didn’t have a constant supply of frozen dill, I’d want to do the same.
While I haven’t tried it, I think it’d work. But fresh or frozen is really better in this recipe! Start off with 1 teaspoon of dried dill in place of the fresh / frozen and add more to taste.
If you don’t want to use sour cream, you can use unsweetened Greek yogurt instead.
We always have a tub of dill in the freezer, just for this salad. It works great in it!
Polish Cucumber Salad
A lot of people think that Polish food is just meat and potatoes, but it is also loaded with tons of fresh veggies. This Polish cucumber salad is the perfect light and refreshing side dish for any meal. It is so simple to make and with only a few ingredients!
One of the steps that I used to skip is letting the cucumber slices sit in some salt, so that they will release some of their water. But I don’t skip it anymore! This helps keeps the salad super creamy instead of watery. Cheesecloth is a great way to let the cucumbers drain. I just lay it over the strainer and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. It is worth the extra step, trust me on this one.
You want to peel the cucumbers and then slice them very thin. I use a sharp knife to do this, but you could also use a mandolin. Same goes for the red onion. For the sour cream, I used my favorite lactose free organic sour cream from Green Valley, because it is easier on my daughter’s tummy. But you can use regular sour cream too.
The fresh dill and lemon juice just really pull the salad all together. It makes it so light and refreshing. It still blows my mind that I used to dislike dill, because now I am completely obsessed. It just has such a lovely flavor that is unlike any other.
Be sure to let the salad sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving. It needs that time to develop flavor and it tastes the best chilled.
Used in This Recipe:
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Mizeria (Polish Cucumber Salad) – Refreshing Summer Side Dish
Well actually I might have gotten carried away a little bit there I wasn’t actually eating cucumbers right after I was born, but I certainly was no later than the age of one. I’m now in my 40s, so you can see how long I’ve been eating this cucumber salad. This is one of the most popular Polish Recipes.
There is one caveat here, in Poland people tend to eat whatever’s in-season. That means that you wouldn’t have the pleasure of eating this cucumber salad during the winter months.
Cucumbers are summer produce and they need to be eaten during hot months…which make perfect sense, as their flavor and consistency are super refreshing. Here in the US, cucumbers are available all year round but they really taste best during the summer.
But I digress… The point I wanted to make here is that this salad is family’s traditional recipe, and as with a lot of ethnic recipes, variations abound (which I’ll talk about below).
Why is the Polish Cucumber Salad called ‘Mizeria’
Mizeria means “misery,” so one would naturally wonder why Poles call their cucumber salad a “misery.”
There are actually two theories about it: (1) that poor peasants that lived in misery, voraciously consumed this salad or (2) that an Italian queen, who married one of the Polish kings, was so homesick that every time she ate this salad she cried. [Side note, it was believed that she brought fresh vegetables to Poland].
I’m not sure which, if any, of these theories, are true. So, I guess that one will remain a mystery.
How do you make Polish Cucumber Salad?
Here I’m going to present you with the version of Mizeria that my family loves. It only requires a few simple ingredients:
- Fresh dill
- Spring, green onions
- Sour cream
- Salt & Pepper.
Even though the ingredients are simple, there are few important STEPS to follow to make it right:
- Your cucumber needs to be peeled and then very thinly sliced. You can either use a knife, a mandolin or the side of a shredder, with the slicing option
- Then you’ll need to salt your cucumbers, mix well, and set aside for at least 15 minutes (but ideally for 30 mins)
- The cucumbers will release a lot of water, that you need to discard. After natural dehydration, then squeeze the cucumbers even more
- Next, you’ll add dill, green onions, and sour cream
- Mix it all together and season to taste. Be careful with the salt, as your cucumbers were salted previously. Also, you may only need to add a little pepper.
What are the different variations of Mizeria?
Like with pierogi, bigos, dill pickle soup, and golabki, there are several variations of this cucumber salad. You’d find almost every household having subtle different preferences. Here’s a list of common add-ons that you’d find in different Polish cucumber recipes:
- White vinegar
- Lemon juice and
- Onions types (or perhaps exclusion of them altogether).
If sugar, vinegar and/or lemons are something that you may like, then by all means..add them to your salad. Or perhaps you want to omit green onions or add yellow onions or even shallots. Check recipe notes for details.
Which cucumbers are best for this Polish Cucumber Salad?
When I was growing up the most ubiquitous type of cucumbers were the Kirby ones, which are normally used for pickling. The process would traditionally involve both peeling and deseeding the cucumbers.
Nowadays, the English seedless cucumber is the one I use the most. It’s widely available in the US, and it doesn’t need to be deseeded.
How can I lighten up this Cucumber Salad?
As advised, this traditional Polish cucumber salad calls for sour cream. However, if you’d like to go a little lighter then swap it out for some Greek, or natural, yogurt with your choice of fat content.
What shall I pair this Mizeria with?
For me, cucumber salad is forever married to mashed potatoes. As a matter of fact, sometimes that’s all kids would eat for dinner – just mashed potatoes with mizeria. Or on other nights, sometimes with just the addition of a fried egg. I know that may sound weird, but trust me it’s super delicious.
It will also go great with some grilled dishes like:
Or skillet or oven dishes, like:
Maybe you have some memories of your grandma making this dish, or maybe you ate it on your travels, or maybe a Polish friend served it for you, or perhaps you’ve never had it and are curious.
Whatever your motivation, please share your feedback with me and let me know how much you liked this Polish delight.
Oh, and if anyone knows the real reason why my ancestral Poles actually dubbed this a “misery” salad, then please let me know. Because as far as I can tell, the name definitely does NOT befit the dish!
Mizeria Recipe: Polish Cucumber Salad
Polish people tend to eat seasonal things. It’s always been a tradition to wait a whole year for something seasonal since produce wasn’t imported (avocados, I’m looking at you!).
The beginning of the summer is time for fresh fruits like berries or apricots, summer was perfect was sunflowers (in Poland we never eat sunflower peeled off, you buy the whole head and dig it out yourself), then at the end of summer is time for chanterelle mushrooms.
Cucumber season falls sometime between spring and summer. This is when mizeria and Polish pickled cucumbers are reigning on Polish tables.
Polish cucumber salad is one of the best salads for a traditional dinner. Salad of fresh cucumbers and sour cream with dill has been conquering our palates for decades. It’s simple and quick to do.
The True History of Mizera & Why Most English-Speaking Sources Get It Wrong
Every single English speaking source, blog, or article tells a completely made-up story on how Mizeria came to Poland and became popular. They all claim that Queen Bona Sforza, the Italian wife of King Sigmund III brought it to Poland alone with other vegetables and made them all popular.
I’m not sure where did the gossip start (I think every new article is simply copying another one without any research), but Mizeria and cucumbers have absolutely NOTHING to do with Queen Bona Sforza.
The Queen indeed wanted to bring her Italian influence to the Polish court she introduced some Italian dishes and vegetables that weren’t well known in Poland yet. Cucumbers, however, weren’t on her list at all.
In Poland we even have a pack of vegetables called włoszczyzna (literal translation is “Italian things”) that’s attributed to the Queen. It includes carrots, root and leaf parsley, celery and leek and sometimes also savoy or white cabbage. It’s sold together to just put in your jar and cook a soup bouillon on it.
However, even włoszczyzna is actually a myth. Queen’s experiment of bringing new flavors to the country did not go over very well. Poles hated everything she tried to serve them and she’s been ridiculed many times because of it.
The truth is that no one really knows exactly how Mizeria got introduced to Poland, but many researchers agree that it was the dish created by the poor.
The name of Mizeria is somehow confusing, as it means “misery”, as back in the Early Modern era only poor were eating is. It was somehow a symbol of poverty and misery. These days, however, everyone eats this Polish cucumber salad even at the fanciest restaurants.
Mizeria (Polish Cucumber Salad)
Even though Polish supermarkets carry produce from all over the globe, it seems to me that Poles tend to eat what’s in season locally, at least to a greater extent than we do here in the US.
At a lunch meeting with Polish friends in the fall, one of the ladies remarked, “this will be my last salad until next spring.” The restaurant will likely still be offering a salad on the menu, she just didn’t plan to order it. That line of thinking makes spring and summer the perfect time of year for Mizeria (Polish Cucumber Salad).
Mizeria is the Polish word for misery. The taste is wonderful, but it was said to make Queen Bona Sforza, an Italian princess who married Polish King Sigismund I in the 16th century homesick for Italy.
The queen is credited with bringing a great variety of vegetables to Poland. The popularity of her Italian imports soon spread beyond the confines of the garden at Wawel Castle in Kraków.
I’ve been told that the Polish word for vegetables means “things from Italy” because of the new plants she brought to Poland.
This salad of cucumbers in sour cream is a cool and refreshing side dish. Even in their somewhat wilted state (from the salt and vinegar), they still provide some crunch.
I ended up making two batches of Mizeria before this post. The first vinegar I grabbed from my pantry was a fig balsamic vinegar. The color of the balsamic vinegar was so dark that it turned the sour cream brown, not exactly what I was hoping to photograph.
So I whipped up a second batch with an apple cider vinegar. Fortunately, we really like this salad, so having two bowls of it is not a problem.
I have to say that for flavor, I preferred the fig balsamic vinegar. It went so nicely with the other tastes and the hint of fig added an interesting note.
It sounds a little too Mediterranean for a Polish dish, but it does seem to be in keeping with the trend set by Queen Bona Sforza. Whatever vinegar you chose, I think you’ll enjoy Mizeria (Polish Cucumber Salad).
What Is Polish Cucumber Salad?
Creamy Cucumber Salad is served cold in Poland and is known to locals as Mizeria. The name translates to “misery’ in Polish. There are two theories behind the name:
- Poor Polish peasants that lived in misery, enthusiastically consumed this cold salad each summer.
- Queen Bona Sforza, an Italian princess who married Polish King Sigismund I in the 16th century was homesick for Italy and cried whenever she was served a Polish cucumber salad.
The Italian queen is also credited for bringing a greater variety of vegetables and fruit to Poland. The popularity of her Italian imports soon spread beyond the secret garden at Wawel Castle in Krakow. Apparently the Polish word for vegetables means “things from Italy” because of the new plants the Queen brought with her to Poland.
The popular Polish salad consists of thinly sliced or grated cucumbers, sour cream, fresh dill, onion and an acid like lemon juice or vinegar. Polish cooks balance the final dish with salt and cracked pepper.
The national Polish side dish is usually served alongside a meaty main course. It is one of the most recognizable salads in Poland, often served alongside other regional and seasonal vegetarian dishes such as potato, beet and carrot.
Our Polish Cucumber Salad recipe is gluten free, vegetarian and keto friendly.
Slice cucumber in a food processor. Combine salad ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Best Way To Cut Cumbers For A Cold Salad
The goal of making this easy and creamy cold salad is to cut the cucumber as thinly as possible. Some cooks working under time constraints might even shred the cucumber with a cheese grater, which is perfectly fine as well!
Our favourite method for preparing Polish Cucumber Salad is to use a food processor. Use a thin blade attachment and within seconds an entire cucumber will be transformed into paper-thin slices you can almost see through.
You can also use a mandolin or French knife if you enjoy slicing manually. If slicing cucumbers in your kitchen just remember to use a sturdy cutting board so you don’t slice yourself.
Once the cucumber is sliced you’ll see our recipe below indicates you need to add salt. The addition of salt to sliced fruit or vegetables forces water to retreat from the damaged cell membranes. After letting the cucumber sit in salt for a few minutes you can easily drain it in a colander or with a cheese cloth.
It is said that over 95% of a cucumber is made up of water so letting the fresh slices rest in salt allows a lot of the moisture to leach out. This will ensure the cold cucumber salad is creamy rather than watery.
How To Make Homemade Sour Cream
We’ve used store bought full fat sour cream in this recipe but if you’re keen to get creative in the kitchen you might want to make your own from scratch.
Homemade sour cream is simple to make with an ingredients list that typically includes heavy cream, an acid like lemon juice or vinegar and milk. If you’ve got a carton of cream in your fridge that you’re looking to use up, preparing sour cream is a great way to use it up and incorporate into our Polish cucumber salad.
Use a wooden spoon to mix cold Polish cucumber salad.
Polish Cucumber Salad
- 1 English cucumber (or 6-8 small pickling cucumbers)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 1 tbs of fresh dill
- Squeeze of a lemon
- Pinch of pepper
Wash and peel the cucumber. Slice thin. Add salt and let sit for 10 minutes. After 10 min drain any water that may have accumulated.
Add sour cream and dill, squeeze of lemon and a pinch of pepper. Mix and chill until ready to serve.
Do you know this salad? What’s your favorite summer salad? Leave me a comment below.
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Thanks to all my friends for generously sharing their recipes. I love reading their blogs and I know you will too!
- German – With chopped or sliced cucumbers add onion, tomatoes, sour cream, mustard, vinegar, herbs and sugar.
- Japanese – A simple salad with cucumber, rice vinegar, sugar and sesame seeds.
- Thai – A popular cooling salad using cucumbers mixed with rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, green onions and sprinkled with chopped peanuts.
- Mediterranean – Cucumber, feta cheese, kalamata olives, tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Hungarian – Also known as Uborkasaláta, very similar to Polish cucumber salad except they add paprika, of course!
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