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Sheep’s Cheese ‘Puliszka,’ the Most Important Dish of Szekler Culture – with Recipe!

Adrienn Vass 2020.06.05.

If we only had to mention one dish from the rich and popular traditional Szekler cuisine, it would certainly be the ‘puliszka,’ or polenta by its more well-known name. Now, with the recipe below, everyone can prepare this beloved dish at home, with sheep’s cheese (bryndza) and smoked bacon cubes.

Puliszka, a dish of boiled cornmeal, is definitely the most important part of Hungarian, Saxon, and Romanian cuisine in Transylvania. Cornmeal became a favorite of the area sometime around the 17th century, roughly when corn began to spread more widely in Europe. The popularity of puliszka lies in the fact that it is a very cheap and easy to prepare dish.

The poor and peasants from Transylvania consumed it almost every day, for literally every meal. It was the main course for breakfast and dinner, and was eaten as a side dish at lunch, but they even served it as a dessert with jam or fruit. If cooked to a hard consistency, it could be sliced, and peasants often took it with them to the field or when they went for forest work.

Puliszka is well-known among many of its names, but the origin of the word ‘puliszka’ can only be guessed at nowadays. It probably comes from the Latin word “puls,” which means porridge. It is also called – in Hungarian – kukoricamálé, görhe, ganca, and kukoricagánica.

More recently, the term polenta has spread around the country and abroad, which comes from Italy. Thanks to the new name and the reform kitchen, it has been brought back into public consciousness. Nowadays, polenta is a popular garnish among gluten-sensitive people, while the term ‘polenta’ seemed more attractive on menus than ‘puliszka,’ which many associate with poverty. Anyway, no matter what we call it, eventually, puliszka came from the cheapest traditional Szekler peasant food to a trendy reform cuisine dish these days.

Puliszka with sheep’s cheese and smoked bacon
– ingredients –

  • 200 grams cornmeal
  • 1 liter water
  • 125 grams of sheep’s cheese (bryndza)
  • 2 dl sour cream/crème fraîche
  • 100 grams of smoked bacon cubes

First, boil the water and add the cornmeal, while stirring it very slowly. Stir the mix continuously for 5 minutes while it becomes smooth, on medium heat. Then fry the bacon cubes in its own fat until it is nicely browned. Remove the bacon and mix the fat with the sour cream and the bryndza. Grease a baking dish, then add half of the prepared puliszka and half of the bryndza, then repeat. Place the baking dish in a preheated oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes and then serve with the bacon.

Translated by Fanni Kaszás

Featured photo and photos: Péter Csákvári