Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 32: Bograč, Goulash Soup to Revive a Weary Traveller

Bograč (Slovenian Goulash Soup)
Green Salad (dandelion greens with cabbage, tomatoes, and zucchini)

Goulash soup was the very first thing I tasted on my trip to Eastern Europe.

My husband and I, along with my in-laws, had just arrived in Vienna, after seventeen hours of flying. Our guide pointed us in the direction of an airport café, where we had an hour to pass while she waited for a few more members of the tour group to arrive.

We had departed from San Francisco at seven in the morning, changed planes in New York and Paris, and arrived in Vienna at what felt like midnight. It was just past ten in the morning, local time. I was excited, disoriented, exhausted. And hungry. But what to eat?

The waiter was a young guy with a shaved head and a forbidding stare. He took one look at us, slapped an English language menu down on the table, and stalked off.

It turned out we were in a genuine little bistro, a sort of all-hours workingman's haunt that opened onto the street. There were plenty of traditional food choices.  Still, when I spotted the listing for goulash soup, I suspected it might be a tourist special. A sort of watered-down version of the real thing. But it did sound appealing, especially in my weakened state.

That goulash soup was delicious, with plenty of heat. Along with the apple strudel and coffee that followed, it was a perfect meal to revive a weary traveller.

Six years later, as I was planning my Tuesday night Slovenian dinner, I was anticipating the arrival of another traveller: our journalist son, coming home for a visit. He would be arriving at San Francisco's airport on Friday, late in the evening. So I wanted a dish that would do double duty, a meal for us and then, a few days later, a late night snack for him.

Goulash immediately came to mind. Perhaps I was even thinking of my own first meal in Vienna.

I had already made a couple of successful versions of goulash with sauerkraut, but I wanted to try something different. As a starting point, I found a recipe in Woman's Glory, one my vintage cookbooks. It was a simple beef/pork goulash with tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, along with paprika.

I continued to search. That's how I discovered that goulash soup is actually a distinctive dish called bograč. And there is nothing mild about it.

Bograč (“boh-gratch”) is named for the special Hungarian cooking pot in which it is traditionally prepared, a cast iron kettle that is suspended over an outdoor fire. The origins of this dish may be Hungarian, but the Slovenians have raised it to an art form. It is especially popular in Prekmurje, the northeast part of the country that borders Hungary, where there is an annual Bograč Festival, complete with cooking teams who compete.  (Here is a nice report of the festival, by a British traveller.)

Recipes vary. It is common for two or three types of meat to be combined, including game. The distinctive elements seem to be large quantities of onions, potatoes (but no sauerkraut), and the addition of hot chili peppers along with paprika. So bograč is both hotter and more soupy than the typical goulash.

To come up with the recipe below, I drew on a few sources, starting with the simple Slovenian goulash recipe in Woman's Glory.  My mid-1980s find, The Yugoslav Cookbook, also had a recipe for Bograč, or Goulash Soup.

Then I found a quirky but charming blog called Food for Hunters, by a young California couple. They had a long, funny entry about their attempts to make a dish they called Slovenian Stew: Prekmurksi Bograč. I wasn't about to shoot my own game, but I liked their seasoning choices. And it was nice to have someone else do the metric conversions!

Bograč (Slovenian Goulash Soup)

¾ lb. beef stew meat, cubed
¾ lb. pork stew meat, cubed
1 large onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 green pepper, sliced
1 t. caraway seed
1 T. paprika (half hot, half smoked)
½ t. marjoram
salt and pepper to taste
½ c. crushed tomatoes
1 lb. potatoes, cut in chunks
water to cover
olive oil
(other options: rosemary; red or white wine)

Brown onion in olive oil, using a large pot or Dutch oven. Add garlic and continue to brown. Remove to another bowl. Add meats to oil left in pot and brown. Add green pepper and spices and continue to brown. Return onion and garlic to the pot. Add crushed tomatoes and enough water to cover. Simmer until meat is tender and almost done. Add potatoes and simmer another hour. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve garnished with parsley.

The verdict: This was delicious, even though I forgot to add a couple of seasoning options, rosemary and wine, that might have enhanced the dish. As I had hoped, the bograč improved with re-heating. The following night, my husband and I thought the meat was more tender and the flavor was even better.

And by Friday, it was a welcome midnight dinner for our son, who is something of a foodie. In college, he spent a semester studying in Hungary and travelled all over the Balkans. He currently lives and works in Kosovo. Slovenian food, in his view, is a little bland, compared to his usual fare.  So it was most gratifying to see him surprised by the assertive flavor of my bograč!

Update:  A month later, I made bograč again.  This time it was all beef, and I remembered to add the rosemary and a little wine!  There were a few other additions, too.  To take a look at Bograc II,  go here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

End of Summer Marathon: Two Weeks in my New Old-Fashioned Slovenian-American Kitchen

"Girl in Native Costume, Carniola, Austro-Hungary"
B. Lergetporer, Photographer, 1897; Bled, Slovenia
National Archives, USA

I never planned to spend the last two weeks of summer in an ethnic cooking marathon. But that is exactly what happened.

It began on Tuesday, August 21st.  I had reached Week 32 of my year-long Slovenian cooking journey.  But I was already looking ahead to Friday night, when we would pick up our journalist son at the airport. He had visited his brother in New York and then his grandfather in Florida.  Now he would be spending a week in California with us, before he returned to Kosovo.  I was excited.  My husband and I hadn't seen him since Christmas.

Our cat, inspecting Kosovo 2.0 magazine
For that Week 32 dinner,  I needed to find an entree that would leave us with something to offer our son on Friday, when we would be returning from the airport late at night. Bograč, a variant of goulash,  seemed like the perfect choice: one of those spicy dishes that improves with time and takes kindly to reheating.  Or so I hoped.
Bograč, or Slovenian Goulash Soup

After that Tuesday dinner, I kept cooking.  On Friday, I made a new favorite for the early dinner my husband and I shared: kasha mediterranean, the salad created by a Slovenian-American friend.  Our stock of leftovers was growing.

Kasha Mediterranean

Before we left for the airport, I made up a batch of baked flancati, or angel wings, so I would have something sweet to offer later that night, when we all returned from the airport.

Baked Flancati, or Angel Wings

Our travel-weary son liked the goulash soup, but he couldn't resist a playful dig: "This could be the world's spiciest Slovenian dish."  He finds Slovenian food to be a little mild, compared to the Ottoman-influenced cuisine in his part of the Balkans.

Bograč, or  Slovenian Goulash Soup

The following Tuesday, our son joined us for Slovenian Dinner Week 33.  I made a tarragon-flavored version of  buckwheat struklji, one of the recipes I had included in my Slovenian cooking article for Kosovo 2.0.    To round things out, I added another dish I had just discovered: smoked paprika chicken breasts, this time with rosemary.

Buckwheat Struklji
Smoked Paprika Chicken Breasts

The following night, when our son was off with friends, my husband and I shared an unlikely but traditional dessert combination:  vanilla-ginger ice cream, topped with homemade pumpkin seed syrup and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.  It was surprisingly good, even if  I did cook the syrup so long that it turned into nut brittle!

On Saturday, we said good-bye to our son.  I sent him off to Kosovo with homemade chocolate-rosemary biscotti, using a Slovenian-inspired recipe I had concocted. Biscotti always travel well. I hoped our son would, too.  We wouldn't see him again until December.

Chocolate Rosemary Biscotti

The next morning, my husband had to go to work for part of the day, even though it was Sunday. I had a melancholy feeling.  In search of comfort food, I put together a new brunch treat: apple šmoren with brandied cranberries.

Apple Šmoren with Brandied Cranberries

Finally, summer came to an end. It was Monday, September 3. Labor Day. We were hosting the annual neighborhood party.

For the potluck, I made my first-ever Slovenian apple strudel to share with our neighbors. I don't think my mother ever attempted strudel.  But my grandmother made it often. I kept thinking about her, as I walked around my cloth-covered kitchen table, pulling and stretching, until I could almost see through the translucent dough.  She always filled her strudel with apples, so I did the same.  I added just one creative touch: a sprinkle of dried cranberries.  I don't think my grandmother would have objected.

My Slovenian Grandparents, Cleveland, about 1920

The strudel was  a success! 

Now, at summer's end, one thing had become clear: Slovenian cooking was no longer just a once-a-week challenge.  It was more than a quirky writing project.  My ethnic kitchen had been a refuge during a summer filled with too many good-byes, too much sadness and loss.

The food of my immigrant ancestors, almost lost and now found,  had helped to sustain me.  It had become a part of my life.

Note: Most of these recipes have already been posted.  For the rest, read on!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cranberry Walnut Potica

Cranberry Walnut Potica, with Scottish Shortbread
(photo by Blair Kilpatrick)

Potica (puh-teet’-za) is Slovenia’s most famous dish. For American families with roots in that small, beautiful Alpine country, the rich yeast pastry is a beloved Christmas tradition. It is also a traditional Easter dish.

In my family, potica served as the bread of memory, because it was the only Slovenian tradition my mother maintained.  So we took it very seriously and didn't allow for much experimentation.  At most, we might substitute pecans for walnuts.  In recent years, we began to grind the nuts in a food processor and melt the butter in the microwave.  But that was the extent of our innovations.  We wanted our potica to taste just like my grandmother's.

Last year, I took a bold step. I added a sprinkle of dried cranberries to the family recipe. It seemed to fit with the Christmas spirit.  Besides, many traditional recipes call for adding raisins.

My family actually liked the cranberry version.  If I try it again this way, I'll use a lighter hand with the honey.

A word about this treasured family recipe:  It came from my mother, who learned to make potica from her mother.  But my grandmother wasn't the source of the written instructions.

My grandmother, like so many traditional ethnic cooks, didn't use recipes herself, and she never offered written directions.  So my mother turned to an old high school friend, who got a recipe from her mother.  Here's an odd twist: her friend's family came from Serbia, another country in the former Yugoslavia.  But my mother insists that this was the method her Slovenian American mother followed.

And we all agree:  It tastes just like our memory of Grandma's potica.

The recipe that follows is copied from the battered notecard my mother wrote out for me, with a few added comments of my own.  Clearly, it is one of those minimalist recipes that is intended for someone who is already familiar with a dish, knows how to prepare it, and just needs guidelines about quantities.

In a future post, I will offer step-by-step instructions, along with photos.  But for now, here is my family's traditional recipe for potica.  Good luck!

About the photo: Are you wondering why that Slovenian potica is sharing space with Scottish shortbread? Take a look at one of my early blog posts, Holiday Baking: A Bittersweet Taste of My Ethnic Roots.

Potica (Slovenian Nut Roll)


2 ¾ sticks butter, melted and cooled
1 c. sugar
6 egg yolks
1 ½ c. sour cream
2 packages yeast
¾ c. warm milk
1 t. sugar
6 c. flour
1 t. salt

Mix first four ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, proof yeast in warm milk and sugar. Add yeast to the first mixture and mix well.

Mix flour and salt. Add to the above and mix to make a soft, sticky dough.

Knead dough. Divide in 4 parts. Wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate overnight.



2 lb. ground walnuts or pecans (6 1/2 c.)
1 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon
dash of salt

Melted butter, about ½ c
Honey to taste
(Optional: dried cranberries)

Roll and stretch each portion of dough into a rectangle, a little thicker than pie crust. (Important note:  This should be: "a little thinner than pie crust," at least in my family.  The dough should be thinner than pie crust, but thicker than strudel or phyllo.)

Spread each portion with about 2 T. melted butter and ¼ of the nut/sugar mixture. Drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with dried cranberries, if desired. Roll up (from the long end) pinch seam and ends closed. Place seam side down on baking sheet, greased or lined with parchment paper. Let rise 1 ¼ hours.  (Note: Loaves don't rise much.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, if necessary for 10 minutes more at 325 degrees.  Let cool before slicing.  Makes 4 loaves.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chocolate-Rosemary Biscotti, With a Few Slovenian Twists: Buckwheat and Pumpkin Seed Oil!

A confession:  I have never used rosemary much in cooking.  The pungent herb just wasn't on my radar screen.  

But now I have discovered that rosemary is right up my alley.  You could even say it's in my own backyard.  


My husband laughed at me when I brought back a few sprigs of fresh rosemary from the market.  He led me out the door and pointed to a big thicket of piney-looking shrubs. Rosemary. Enough for a small army.  So now I have set myself a new challenge: How it use this assertive, savory herb in my Slovenian cooking adventures.

In Slovenian cooking, rosemary ("rosmarin")  is most often used to enhance meat dishes, like the tasty bograč, or goulash soup, I made recently. It is also used in a variety of natural herbal preparations. In fact, a Slovenian company is the largest producer of rosemary extract in Europe.

These rosemary biscotti are not a traditional ethnic dish.  But I would call them Slovenian-inspired.  Here is why:

The use of savory herbs in a sweet dish, though unusual to the American palate, is common in Slovenia, especially with tarragon.  Tarragon is often used in sweet cheese fillings and in a popular variety of potica, the sweet yeast bread that is Slovenia's most famous dish.  So the use of rosemary in a cookie is very much in that spirit.

On a whim, I did an Internet search for rosemary biscotti.  To my surprise, there were many examples, including a recipe from the Nestlé kitchens.

I used the Nestlé recipe as a foundation and started tinkering.  I added a couple of extra touches: Buckwheat flour and pumpkin seed oil,  both staples in Slovenian cooking.

The result was a crunchy plate of biscotti with an elusive, earthy flavor.  This treat is definitely meant for the sophisticated adult palate!

 Chocolate-Rosemary Biscotti, with Buckwheat and Pumpkin Seed Oil

1 1/2 c. white flour
1/4 c. buckwheat flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 T. fresh rosemary, minced
2 eggs
1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. mild vegetable oil
1 T. pumpkin seed oil
2/3 c. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Sift flours, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.  Stir in rosemary.  Set aside.

Beat eggs and sugar in larger bowl until thickened.  Add the three oils and beat until smooth.  Stir in flour mixture and combine.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Knead dough lightly.  Form into two long rolls, about an inch in diameter.  Place rolls on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Remove and cool.  Then cut into slices, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Put slices on baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for about 10 more minutes or until brown and firm, turning over halfway through the baking time.  Cool on rack.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Smoked Paprika Chicken Breasts; Dandelion Salad with Marinated Mushrooms

The big discovery of my Week 31 Dinner was an easy but versatile entree, smoked paprika chicken breasts.  It was the perfect complement to the polenta-mushroom side dish that was the centerpiece of the meal.

I discovered the recipe here, thanks to The Shiksa in the Kitchen :-), who is becoming one of my favorite food bloggers.  She adapted it from someone else.  It seems to be in wide circulation on the Internet.

This approach to making chicken is simple, healthy, and elegant.  Although it is not a traditional ethnic dish, the paprika flavor is very much in line with Slovenian sensibilities.  I have made it twice, with slightly different seasonings.  The original recipe calls for broiling.  But we used our trusty Le Creuset stove top grill, which worked beautifully.   It is probably even better grilled outdoors.

I even had an "out of body" experience when I was pounding those boneless chicken breasts with the edge of a thick ceramic saucer.  I was channelling my mom!  I had forgotten about that old-fashioned technique.  It really makes sense for grilling, when it helps to have the chicken in a thin, even piece.

Smoked Paprika Chicken Breasts

2 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 lb)
1 T. smoked paprika
1 ½ T. olive oil
2 t. seasoned salt (I used a Mediterranean mix)

Place chicken breasts between 2 layers of plastic wrap. Pound with the side of a sturdy plate (or, if you have one, a meat mallet) to flatten into a thin, even layer. Mix the paprika, oil, and seasoned salt into a paste. Rub into both sides of chicken. Refrigerate for a half hour.

Grill, turning when browned on one side.  (Or use a broiler.) When done, remove to a platter. Let cool slightly. Slice into strips and serve.

And here is the salad I put together.   It's a rough outline, more than a recipe.  But I suspect it will become another staple in my ethnic dinners, since it uses three Slovenian favorites: dandelion greens, pumpkin seed oil, and mushrooms.

Dandelion Salad with Marinated Mushrooms
olive oil, to taste
rice or white wine vinegar, to taste
1 t. pumpkin seed oil
crimini mushrooms, or other flavorful variety, sliced
dandelion greens, rinsed and dried
romaine lettuce, rinsed and dried
cherry tomatoes

Mix ingredients for dressing, using proportions of oil and vinegar you prefer. Add sliced mushrooms and let marinate for at least ½ hour. Just before serving, add dandelion greens and toss.

Slovenian Dinner Week 31: Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms and Smokin' Paprika Chicken Breasts

Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms
Smoked Paprika Chicken Breasts
Dandelion Salad with Marinated Mushrooms

Slovenians are mushroom lovers and this week's dinner featured them two ways: Baked in polenta and marinated in the salad.  It also included a simple chicken entree that turned out to be a real find.              

I built this dinner around a layered polenta-and-mushroom recipe I found in one of my vintage cookbooks, Woman's Glory: The Kitchen. I just needed a simple entree that would complement this rich but slightly heavy side dish.  In one of my favorite blogs, The Shiksa in the Kitchen (!) I discovered the perfect solution: An easy chicken breast dish with a paprika flavor that would fit in well. To round out the meal, I created a green salad in the Slovenian spirit.

So the dinner was a real mixed bag: traditional, contemporary, and Slovenian-inspired. And I also rediscovered an old-fashioned cooking technique I first learned from my mother, pounding meat into thin cutlets.

Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms

1 c. corn grits or polenta, cooked in boiling salted water as directed
1 c. brown crimini mushrooms, sliced
6 T. nonfat Greek yogurt  (or cream)
4 T (or more)  grated smoked gouda, or other sharp cheese, like parmesan
salt and pepper
2-3 T. butter
matzo meal (or bread crumbs)

This looked like an intriguing dish: Three layers of cold, cooked polenta alternating with two layers of a simple mushroom-cheese filling.  I made a few changes, in adapting the original recipe.

First, prepare the polenta, using the method that works best for you, and keeping in mind the package directions.  I added the polenta gradually to 2 cups of boiling water, and then simmered and stirred for 30 minutes.  Many recipes call for more water and longer stirring, which might have been better.  Or use the fast-cooking variety!

The original recipe called for pouring the cooked polenta into a round or rectangular dish, and then slicing the cooled polenta horizontally into three layers. I thought that might be tricky. So I poured the cooked polenta into a single slab on a lined cookie sheet, roughly three times the size of the loaf pan I planned to use, and then cut it into three oblongs to fit.

Butter the pan you wish to use and sprinkle with matzo meal (or bread crumbs.)  Add a layer of polenta and dot with butter.  Layer the filling ingredients in this order: half the sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, half the yogurt, and half the grated cheese. Repeat.
End with a layer of polenta and sprinkle with additional cheese.

The quantities of butter and cheese are approximate, because I added more than the modest quantities suggested in the recipe.  So use your own judgement.

Cover and bake for at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.  Remove from pan, slice, and serve.

The verdict:  Tasty.  Another one of those recipes that seemed too simple to be believed. I was especially worried about the raw sliced mushrooms.  But they were good and surprisingly rich-tasting, maybe because they were those brown criminis.

The dish was a little dry, probably for two reasons:  Not enough water in the polenta, and my substitution of nonfat Greek yogurt for cream.  Next time, I will use regular yogurt or cream.

The rest of the dinner complemented this polenta very well.  I think I may have found an entree and a salad that will become staples in my future Slovenian dinners.  For those recipes, see the next post.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 30: Spareribs and Sauerkraut: This Ain't No Barbeque!

Baby Back Ribs with Sauerkraut and Potatoes ( Rebrca v zelju)
Green Salad

In planning my Week 30 dinner, I had to work around a challenging schedule.  I had a late afternoon eye appointment.  And then from 6-8, my husband and I were hosting an annual neighborhood meeting.  Fortunately, it was out on the street in front of our house, and not inside.  But I still felt a little harried.

I needed to figure out a menu that could be made in advance and re-heated quickly for what would be a late dinner.  And since I might be cooking with dilated eyes, it would help if the dish wasn't too complicated.

I had been thinking about ribs for awhile.  Slovenians like them.  I had eaten them at Slovenian Hall events and seen recipes in my vintage cookbooks.

But we are not big fans of ribs.  My husband doesn't care for them. I think of ribs as an occasional guilty pleasure.  Too fatty and mostly just a vehicle for barbeque sauce.

I had made ribs myself perhaps once, years ago.  All I recalled was that they need to be parboiled before they are grilled or baked in the oven.

I found a straightforward recipe for Spareribs and Sauerkraut (Rebrca v zelju) in Treasured Slovenian & International Recipes, the 1950s cookbook issued by the Progressive Slovene Women of America. It was definitely no-frills: Cut up ribs, boil for 2 hours, add some sauerkraut and caraway seeds.  Serve with boiled potatoes.

I planned to doctor up  the sauerkraut, along the lines of my roast sauerkraut recipe. For convenience, I could do the initial cooking earlier in the day and refrigerate.  Another plus: by pre-cooking, I could skim off some of the extra fat.  And why not just add the potatoes along with the sauerkraut, toward the end?  It would be a perfect one-dish meal, along with a salad.

So that's what I did.  After simmering the ribs for an hour, I refrigerated the meat and broth separately and went off for my eye exam.  When I got back home, I made the mistake of doing a little research on the Internet.

I hoped to figure out how much longer the parboiled ribs needed to cook.  But I discovered that I might have committed a major faux pas.

I had pre-cooked the ribs.  Worse yet, I had boiled them.

NEVER boil ribs, many voices proclaimed.  “It's like making pork soup,” suggested one devotee of ribs.  It's an old-fashioned approach that's passé, many agreed.

One fellow put rib-boiling in the same category as “accordion, reality TV, and karaoke.”

Ouch.  Pretty offensive, especially to an accordion-playing Slovenian cook!

So I continued with a certain loss of confidence.

Read on:

Baby Back Ribs with Sauerkraut and Potatoes

1 slab baby back ribs (1.3 lbs)
water to cover
3 c. sauerkraut, drained
1 large onion, diced and browned in oil
1 t. caraway seed
8 juniper berries
salt and pepper to taste
8 small red potatoes
a little white wine, if desired

Cut meat into 2-rib sections. (This will probably create 4 portions). Place ribs in Dutch oven with water to cover.  Simmer for 1 hour, then remove meat from broth and refrigerate both separately for several hours.  Skim fat from surface of broth.  (I also used a paper towel to strain further.)  Bring broth to a boil.

While the broth is heating,  dice the onion and brown in oil in a skillet.  Add the sauerkraut and seasonings and continue to brown. Taste and adjust seasonings.

When broth has come to a boil, add the onion and seasoned sauerkraut mix.  Add the ribs.  Let simmer for 1 hour, then add small whole potatoes and simmer for another hour. Toward the end of the cooking period, add wine if desired and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with parsley to serve.

The verdict: Surprise! It was pretty good. My husband-the-rib-hater enjoyed it even more than I did. The ribs were very tender and had little fat. The flavor was good.

Yes, this was a stew-like dish. A far cry from good old American barbequed ribs. But that's not really the point, is it?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Apple Šmoren with Brandied Cranberries: A Central European Breakfast Treat

Apple Šmoren with Brandied Cranberries

Imagine a cross between an omelet and a pancake, cooked and chopped into a mound of egg-rich crumbles, and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar.

To an American, this might sound odd. But in Central Europe, it is a classic comfort food that Slovenians call šmoren. They probably borrowed it from their Austrian neighbors, who make a somewhat more elaborate dish called kaiserschmarrn or schmarren.

Whatever you call it, this dish is a sweet, simple treat that works equally well for breakfast or brunch.  Dressed up, it makes a fine dessert.

I have been experimenting with Slovenian šmoren ("shmoren") for the past six months.  I discovered that the simplest version can easily double as a crèpe or palačinke batter.  A more complicated approach is to separate the eggs.  I even invented a healthy variation called buckwheat breakfast crumbles.  But I always used a plain batter, even though some traditional recipes do add apples and raisins.

With fall approaching, I felt like creating a fancier version with two seasonal favorites, apples and cranberries.  For a sophisticated note, I added a splash of brandy.

Enjoy!  Or, as Slovenians say, Dober Tek!

Apple Šmoren with Brandied Cranberries 

1/4 c. flour
dash of salt
 2 t. sugar
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
1 apple, peeled and thinly sliced

2 T. dried cranberries
1 T. brandy

2 T. butter

2 T. confectioner's sugar
2 t. cinnamon
Greek yogurt

Before beginning, macerate the dried cranberries with the brandy in a small dish.  In another small dish, mix sugar and cinnamon.

To prepare šmoren batter:  Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl.  Add milk and eggs.  Blend well, until no lumps remain.  Stir in apples and cranberries along with brandy.

Heat butter in a 10 inch skillet, preferably non-stick.  When butter begins to bubble, pour in the šmoren batter.  Let it cook until the bottom begins to brown.  Now you need to scrape, turn, and chop!  The goal is to have a dish of eggy brown crumbles or chunks, and not a pancake or an omelet.

When done, remove from heat and put the šmoren in a nice serving bowl.

To serve, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.  Serve with Greek yogurt, garnished with a few cranberries.

Makes 1 or 2 servings.

batter, brandied cranberries, and apple

šmoren, cooking

why you should use a nonstick skillet!

ready to serve

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 29: Ričet, A Tasty Barley-Bean Soup

Ričet (Slovenian Barley Soup)
Red Cabbage and Beet Slaw
Green Salad with Feta and Croutons

By Week 29 of my ethnic cooking project,  I had made and enjoyed most of the classic Slovenian soups.  All except for one.  Ričet. (Reach-ett.) Slovenian barley-bean soup.

From what I read, ričet is considered a humble dish, but it is still a favorite in Slovenia today.  It is something like minestrone, with a fair amount of latitude with the ingredients.

But I balked.  It was all because of the barley.  I had never cooked with it.  I had unfortunate memories of a canned barley soup from my childhood, called (I think) Campbell's Scotch Broth.  Those pale, soft, slimy globules of barley made me feel squeamish. And I hadn't actually seen a soup called ričet in my trio of Slovenian American cookbooks.  So maybe I was off the hook.

But then I spotted a  recipe for "Barley Soup Dinner" in The American Slovene Club's Our Favorite Recipes.  No doubt about it.  It was ričet.  So I gave in.

I used that recipe as a foundation.   I did add a few additional touches, like parsley root (another new ingredient for me) from the ričet recipe in the 1988 Yugoslav Cookbook.  

I was not optimistic.

1/2 c. pearled barley
1 c. Roman (borlotti) beans
water to cover barley and beans
1 lb. smoked pork chop, cut in pieces (or use another smoked meat or sausage)
2 c. carrots, sliced
1 c. celery, sliced
1 onion, chopped
4 small parsley roots, with leaves, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. fresh tomatoes, chopped
fresh parsley, minced, to taste
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

First, prepare the barley and beans together.  If you plan ahead, you can soak them overnight.  I used the quick soak method:  Rinse and drain the uncooked barley and beans.   Place them in a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add water to cover, bring to a boil, then cover and let sit for 1 hour.  Then drain again, cover in fresh water, and simmer for 1 hour.  This time, do not drain.

Next, add the remaining ingredients to the pot of barley and beans. Simmer for 1 more hour or so.  Adjust the seasonings.  Garnish with parsley and serve.

The verdict:  Mild but flavorful. Easy to prepare.  And the barley wasn't slimy at all.   It tasted very much like a white bean with bacon soup I had enjoyed in the past.  Nothing like the Campbell's variety.

So I mentioned it to my mother, figuring she would be surprised.

"So Mom, I made this Slovenian barley soup.  I thought it would be slimy.  But it was pretty good. Grandma never cooked with barley, did she?"

"Sure."  Then a pause.

"But her barley was NEVER slimy."

Here is an amazing 1950s commercial for Campbell's Scotch Broth, my barley turn-off from childhood!

Slovenian Dinner Week 28: Buckwheat Ravioli with Cheese-Millet Filling, Vegetarian and Gluten-Free!

Buckwheat Ravioli with Cheese-Millet Filling (Ajdovi Krapi)
Ajvar and Greek Yogurt
Parsley Chicken ā la Jacques Pépin
Green Salad

I first discovered buckwheat pockets, or buckwheat ravioli, in the bilingual vegetarian cooking blog of a young Slovenian woman. The ingredients seemed so simple and wholesome: buckwheat flour, farmer cheese, millet.

The Slovenian name she gave for the dish was ajdovi krapi.  (I-dough-vee krah-pee). There was nothing like it in my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks.  So I figured this must be her original creation.  A vegetarian twist that was far removed from traditional, meat-heavy Slovenian cooking.

But I was wrong.

A few months later, I discovered a half dozen references to this wholesome traditional dumpling,  sometimes with recipes included.  Ajdovi krapi turned up on Slovenian government websites, on blogs, and in an except from a recent book by a Slovenian cooking expert.  But that original blog had disappeared.

To figure out a recipe, I had to do my own metric conversions, and sometimes my own translations.  As usual, Google Translate was an awkard tool.  The low point was one surreal suggestion about how to serve these intriguing dumplings:

". . . top with sour cream and cold sores."

Umm, no thanks!  Sour cream and cracklings, the correct translaton, did sound a little more appetizing, but I liked the idea of a meat-free entree.  If nothing else, it would be a change of pace.

This project turned out to be more challenging than I expected.

It started with the Russian-style farmer cheese I bought for the filling.  When I opened the container,  I discovered a strange fuzzy film of mold on top.  Luckily, the cheese shop was just around the corner, so I was able to exchange it without too much trouble.

Then, perhaps because of the metric conversions, I ended up pouring too much water into the buckwheat flour.  And I forgot that I had never made an all-buckwheat dough before. So I was a little thrown by the sticky mass and had to knead in more more flour.

Ultimately, it all worked out.  Read on!

Buckwheat Ravioli/Ajdovi Krapi

1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
1/4 c. boiling salted water  (more if needed)
1 egg, beaten

1/2 c. millet, cooked in boiling salted water and drained
1 1/2 cups farmer cheese or ricotta
1 egg, beaten
salt to taste
fresh parsley to taste, minced

First,  make the filling: Cook millet in boiling salted water for 20 minutes.  Drain and cool. Mix in cheese, egg, salt, and parsley.  Refrigerate.

For dough: Pour about 1/4 c. boiling salted water into buckwheat flour and stir with a spoon to make a stiff dough.  Let cool slightly, then add egg and knead until smooth. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

Roll out the buckwheat dough on a floured board, thinly, as for noodles.

For shaping the ravioli, there are a few choices.   Typically, squares or rounds of dough are folded over a spoonful of filling.  But the all-buckwheat dough didn't seem pliable enough for that.  So I decided to sandwich together pairs of  3-inch rounds. (See the photo below.)  Don't forget to seal the edges with a fork!

Cook the ravioli, a few at a time, in boiling salted water for 20 minutes.  Drain.

For serving, there are two traditional accompaniments: Buttered bread crumbs, or sour cream and cracklings :-)

For that first night,  I kept it simple and light: Plain boiled ravioli with ajvar and yogurt.  My husband decided to contribute one of his favorite quick entrees, from a Jacques Pépin recipe: boneless chicken sauteed with garlic and parsley.  (I suspect he had some doubts about how my buckwheat dumplings would turn out!)

The next night, we went completely vegetarian.  My husband sauteed the leftover ravioli with  mushrooms and red peppers.  With a green salad alongside, it was a fine dinner.

The verdict:  Delicious and versatile!  We kept on eating these wholesome buckwheat dumplings all week long.   I froze some for my Slovenian American mom to try.  She was the lone dissenting voice.  She didn't recall anything like this from her childhood in Cleveland.  "Too dry," she thought.

Buckwheat does have a hearty, assertive flavor.  For the faint of heart, the dough can be made with a blend of buckwheat and white wheat flour, as I did with my struklji recipe.  But we liked it this way!

Here are is how it looked, step-by-step: