Everything I know about my family history is a bit fuzzy. Whenever I ask my father questions about how his parents ended up in the Midwest, he only knows so much. "We didn't talk about things like that," he explains to me. "Those conversations would make us feel less 'American,' so we didn't really have them." He tells me that his parents were originally from Kraków and Wilno (which is no longer part of Poland), but he doesn't remember which parent grew up where.
What he does know is that the story goes something like this: They were both being transferred from one camp in German-occupied Poland to another when technical issues blessed them with an opportunity to escape. After fleeing, they immigrated to America, eventually landing in Chicago where a friend was able to host them. From there my father's family raised him and his brother, fully rooting themselves in the American Midwest.
To this day, Chicago has a large Polish population, and growing up there meant that my childhood diet was a delicious mix of Midwest classics combined with my father's Polish influence. It was just as common for me to eat naleśniki as it was deep dish pizza, and the duality of my diet was something I was lucky to experience.
My uncle owned a Chicago-style hot dog restaurant, so I was just as familiar with the neon green relishes that adorn the tops of Chicago-style hotdogs as I was the crimson red relishes served alongside kiełbasa. The boundaries between the two cuisines became harder and harder to identify, and the melding of flavors was the direct result of my family history.
The aforementioned red relish, called ćwikła, is a zesty Polish condiment made from grated beets and horseradish typically served at Easter. It has a bright, bold flavor that is acidic and — unlike the neon green relishes of Chicago — is unapologetically hot. The horseradish lends the relish a bold heat that tickles your nose while the sweetness of beets provides a soothing contrast. In the same way the green Chicago-style relishes are used to brighten up rich meats and sausages, so is ćwikła. It's hot and tangy, perfect for serving with ham, kiełbasa, and even a Chicago-style dog.
This recipe takes cues from ćwikła and folds grated horseradish and beets into creamy Greek yogurt. The resulting dish is a colorful celebration of the flavors of ćwikła presented in a classic Midwest form: a party dip. It's rich, a tad hot, and the perfect thing to snack on while watching TV. It's not a Polish recipe, nor is it one from the Midwest, but rather is a result of the influences I grew up with. If you're looking for a true ćwikła recipe, this is one of my favorites, but if a non-traditional but nostalgia-inducing dip is what you're after, this recipe is for you.
This story was originally published on Food52.com: The Zingy Yogurt Sauce That Connects Me With My Polish-Midwestern Roots