Friday, April 27, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 11: Chicken Paprikash with Egg Noodles

Chicken Paprikash (Kokošli Paprikaš)
Homemade Egg Noodles (Rezanci)
Green Salad

After Week 10's struklji, I was ready for something a little less adventurous.

Chicken paprikash is familiar to most Americans.  It is another one of those Slovenian dishes with Hungarian origins.

The Progressive Slovene Women offered a straightforward recipe along with the proper Slovenian name: kokošli paprikaš.

I made just a few adaptations.  Instead of a whole cut up chicken, I used chicken breasts. I browned the onions and paprika before adding the chicken, not after.  I used light sour cream, just because it was on hand.

The other change was unplanned.  I ended up using more flour to coat the chicken than the single tablespoon the recipe suggested.  That is probably why the sauce was a little heavier than we would have liked.

3 lb. chicken breasts (bone in)
salt to season chicken
flour to coat (1-3 T.)
2 T. oil
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 T. paprika
1/8 t. cayenne
1 1/2 c. hot water
1/2 c. sour cream

Cut up chicken pieces, salt them, and coat with flour.  Brown onions and paprika and cook until onions are golden.  Add the chicken and brown on all sides.  Add water and cayenne, cover and simmer 1 hour or until done.  Mix in sour cream five minutes before serving.

Serve with dumplings, mashed potatoes, or broad noodles.

I decided to make homemade egg noodles, a dish I associated with my grandmother.  All three of my vintage cookbooks offered recipes.   In Slovenian, they are called rezanci, I learned.

Those noodles were  the real adventure of this week's dinner.  The ingredients are simple: eggs, flour, a bit of salt, water.   It's all in the technique.  So  I'll devote a separate post (with photos) to the noodles.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Portrait of a Family in Transition: The 1940 Census

I don't have many images of my mother's family from the early days in Cleveland.

There is this one:

It shows my grandparents and their first child, my uncle, in about 1920.  My grandfather, who had left Slovenia as a teenage orphan in 1911, is in his mid-twenties.  My grandmother is still a teenager.  She had a fourth grade education.  He probably had less than that.  At home, they spoke only Slovenian.

There there is this one, from the late 1920s.  The family had grown to include my mother. By now, they spoke English at home.

But now I have a newer picture.  It's the image you can see at the top.

It's only words and numbers, so you have to use your imagination. It's an image from the newly released 1940 United States Census.  Big news, at least for genealogy fanatics.

My mother's family is at the very bottom.  They continue on to the next page.  If you magnify the image, you will find them, in a multi-family building on East 160th Street in Cleveland. My grandparents, Louis and Mary Kozlevcar.  Their four children.  My immigrant great-grandmother, Josephine Strukel Adamic.  She never did learn to speak English.

The family moved around a lot.  But they always stayed in the Collinwood neighborhood.  It was like a Slovenian village.  I know that first hand, after poring over hundreds of names and more than fifty images like the one at the top of the page, before I found my mother and her family.

The 1940 Census hasn't yet been indexed.  So for those who can't wait, the only alternative is to search the images.  It's like finding the needle in the proverbial haystack, even when you have identified the right census enumeration district.  Even doing that is challenging, since often you aren't sure of your ancestors' address in 1940.

I had a couple of possible locations for my family,  from 1938 and 1942.   I confirmed their 1940 address in a surprising way.  It turned up in a Google search, in a Slovenian language newspaper from Cleveland called Ameriška Domovina.  American Home.

It was a short item, dated January 1940,  about my uncle, that little blonde boy in the first photo.  He was one of only three college students from Cleveland to be included in the 1940 edition of Who's Who in American College Students.  The article listed the family at an East 160th Street address. His name was given in two ways: Kozlevcar, and then the new Americanized surname he had adopted.

It was the same thing on the census listing.  The oldest son, away at college with a new name.  The parents and the other kids at home in Cleveland, with the old name. Eventually, my mother and her two younger siblings would all make the same change. College and a new name. Becoming American. Sometimes it comes at a cost.

But the article in that Slovenian language newspaper made no judgement about how "one of their own" might define success.  Their were proud of their "diligent boy."  He had a scholarship to cover tuition, but he worked on campus to pay for room and board.  He enjoyed using his talents and considered perseverence the path to success.  He expected to graduate in June.

I keep trying to understand my family's past.  Yesterday, it was census research.  Today is Tuesday, so it's a different path.  On to Slovenian Dinner #15.  But I'll be remembering them all.


I am very grateful to my online friend DR, a professor in Slovenia, who translated the passage about my uncle from Ameriška Domovina.   For anyone who would like to see the original, here it is:

"Trije študentje so bili imenovani iz Clevelanda v seznam za: 1939-40 leto "Kdo je kdo med študenti na ameriških univerzah" (Who's Who among Students in American Universities and Colleges.) Med temi tremi je tudi Slovenec Mr. Louis J. Carr (Kozlevcar iz 643 E. 160th 'St.) Radi svoje nadarjenosti ima ! prosto šolnino, a za hrano, dela ' po šoli. Pravi, da se z vztrajnostjo vse doseže. Šolo bo končal v1 '.juniju. Pridnemu fantu čestitamo."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 10: Buckwheat Struklji, Dumpling for the Bold

Buckwheat Štruklji with Cheese Filling (Ajdovi Štruklji)
Ajvar and Greek Yogurt
Green Salad

It took time to build up my courage to tackle the most unusual dish so far:  Štruklji.

All three of my vintage cookbooks included recipes for štruklji.  The dish certainly sounded odd.  A giant boiled dumpling? I had never tasted it, or even heard of such a thing.

But a Slovenian government tourist website proudly proclaims struklji as a unique national dish, rivaling potica in importance.  In fact, a common Slovenian surname, Štrukelj, is derived from it.

That gave me pause.  This oddball dish had a connection to my own family's immigration story.  My great-grandmother's maiden name had been Josephine Strukel, at least in America. But my genealogy research had turned up something else.  She was Jožefa Štrukelj when she left her small Slovenian village in 1899 to join her brother Janez in Ely, Minnesota.
Struklji ("shtroo-klee") really is a giant filled dumpling.  It begins with a thin sheet of dough, usually  pasta or noodle dough, although some versions are leavened with yeast.  The dough is rolled around a filling, either savory or sweet. The štruklji is wrapped in cheesecloth and trussed up with twine.  Then the long roll is dropped into a large pot of boiling water.  After cooking, it is sliced and served.

Definitely labor intensive.

I started assembling supplies a few weeks ahead of time.  Cheesecloth and cooking twine turned out not to be so easy to find, at least in my immediate neighborhood.

Since I wanted this to be an entrée, rather than a side dish or a dessert, I settled on a savory cheese filling, one of the most common variants.  The American Slovene Club's cookbook had a recipe that I adopted as a model.

I decided on the unleavened pasta style dough, with a twist.   I’d read about a variant of struklji that uses all buckwheat flour.  I still had plenty of buckwheat flour left over from my adventures with žganci and šmoren.  So I substituted buckwheat for part of the wheat flour in the recipe.  I also made good use of that leftover homemade bread from the previous week's dinner, when I made the filling.

Štruklji  (Rolled Cheese Dumpling)


1 ½ c. white flour
½ c. buckwheat flour
1 t. salt
2 T olive oil
1 egg
½ cup hot water, plus 2 T more if needed


3 slices bread, cubed
2 T. butter
1 lb. farmer cheese or ricotta
3 extra large eggs, beaten
1 t. salt
½ t. pepper
1 T. fresh chives, chopped
1 T. fresh parsley, chopped

Cheesecloth and cooking twine

For the dough:  Sift the flours and the salt into a bowl.  Beat the egg and oil together and stir into the flour.  Add enough hot water to make a stiff dough.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour if necessary.  Form into a ball and let rest, covered, for 30 minutes.

For the filling:  Beat eggs with salt and pepper and set aside.  Brown the bread cubes in butter.  Remove from heat and stir in egg mixture until the eggs are cooked.  Add the cheese, chives, and parsley and stir together.  Adjust seasoning.  (Note: filling can be made in advance and refrigerated.)

To assemble:  Roll and stretch the dough on a floured cloth until you have a rectangle that is about 15” x 20”.  Spread the filling evenly.  Roll up from the long side.  Dampen ends and edges of the roll to seal.

Rinse and then wring out a large piece of cheesecloth.  Roll the long loaf of dough in the cheesecloth, so that it is wrapped in several layers.  Wrap the roll in twine: knot at one end, wrap it around the length of the roll, and knot at the other end.

Boil a large kettle of salted water.  Coil the roll so it will fit and carefully drop into the water.  Let boil for 30 minutes.

Remove the roll, let cool, and unwrap.  To serve, slice into rounds.

I did hold my breath when I sliced into that štruklji.  But it was perfect.  The concentric dark circles of buckwheat dough contrasted so beautifully with the creamy white cheese.  In photos, it looked like a fancy cake.  It tasted just as good as it looked.

Traditionally, štruklji is served with a topping of breadcrumbs cooked in butter.  But I opted for a healthier and, to my mind, a more flavorful choice: ajvar and thick, nonfat Greek yogurt.

Three months into my cooking project, I would have to pick štruklji as my most successful dish so far.  I never would have guessed that it would turn out to be so unusual and delicious.  I couldn't wait to tell my mother about it.

"So Mom, I made this giant boiled dumpling, filled with cheese.  It's called struklji.   Grandma never made anything like that,  did she?"

My mother didn't hesitate.

"Oh, sure she did.  But only for special occasions."

Amazing, all the Slovenian kitchen lore she is starting to remember!


Hard to picture this?  I felt the same way, even after I found some photos online to guide me.

So, for anyone who might be tempted to give it a try, here is my step-by-step record. Making štruklji as easy as one, two. . . ten!

1. Assemble the supplies:

2. Prepare the ricotta-egg-bread filling:

3.  Mix the pasta dough:

4. Roll out the dough:

5. Add the filling:

6. Roll it up:

7. Wrap it in cheesecloth and truss with twine:

8. Boil:

9.  Remove, cut the twine, and unwrap:

10. Slice and arrange prettily on a platter.  Voilà!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Grandma's Homemade White Bread: Beli Kruh

My grandmother was famous for her homemade bread.  And not just in her own family, as it turns out.

One of my mother's recent recollections is this one:  My grandmother used to bake bread and distribute the loaves to people in their Slovenian neighborhood in Cleveland.  As a little girl, my mother used to accompany her mother, when she made the rounds.

"She just gave it away?" This puzzled me, because  I knew the family didn't have much money, especially during the Depression.

Yes, my mother assured me.  My grandmother was an open-hearted woman who believed in sharing what she had.  Oh, one more thing.  Somewhere along the line, she got some training as a hairdresser.  So she also used to give free haircuts.

These stories do fit with my own memories of my grandmother's generous spirit.  Still,  I can't help but wonder if there might have been some bartering going on, or if she had a little business on the side.

Grandma's Homemade Bread, as we always called it, was a high point of our regular Sunday afternoon gatherings at the little bungalow she shared with Grandpa.  They co-existed unhappily, my mother eventually revealed.  He was a gruff, unhappy man, who was sometimes violent.  She remained sweet and loving.  Maybe baking was her escape.

My grandmother's bread was made with white flour and baked in standard rectangular bread pans.  She served it still warm from the oven, thickly sliced.  It was brown and crusty on the outside, tender and melting inside.  We slathered it with butter or used it to make ham sandwiches.  Grandma always had multiple loaves ready, enough to feed her four children, their spouses, and the dozen grandchildren who might show up.

It is hard to pinpoint what made Grandma's bread so memorable.  It was moister and sturdier, maybe even coarser, than standard white bread, if my memory is accurate.   She never used recipes.  My mother recently mentioned that she often used potato water.  Perhaps that was the secret.

I wondered if one of my vintage cookbooks might hold the key.  They all had multiple recipes for bread.  "Kruh," in Slovenian.

One recipe in Treasured Slovenian & International Recipes caught my eye.


Beautiful Bread?  That seemed like a good place to start.

Then I remembered.  Beli just means white.  Plain old white bread.

I looked over the recipe.  The ingredients were standard.  White flour and yeast, with a little egg, sugar and shortening.  But the process was complex.  An initial sponge, and then three more risings.  So maybe those Progressive Slovene Women were onto something.  Definitely a recipe to try on a  cooking day when I had plenty of time.

The day came on Week 9, when I decided to make cevapcici.  It was one of those rare Tuesdays when I had nothing scheduled and could devote the whole day to my cooking experiments.

I  did wonder whether a conventional loaf of white bread would be the best choice for this particular dinner.  Cevapcici are traditionally served with flatbread: pita, or a slightly thicker and larger Serbian variant called lepinje.  But I figured the same dough might work for both.

So it was settled.  I would follow the Progressive Slovene Women's recipe for Beli Kruh, which yields 2 loaves.  Or, in this case, one extra-large loaf of the standard variety and one smaller flatbread.

1 package yeast
1 c. lukewarm water
1 c. sifted white flour (I used bread flour)
1 egg, beaten
2 T. sugar

5-6 c. additional white flour, sifted  (I needed just 4 3/4 c.)
1 T. melted butter (original called for lard)
1 c. lukewarm water
2 t. salt

Mix the first five ingredients to make a sponge.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.  Add remaining ingredients, adding up to 6 c. additional flour to make a firm dough. Mix well and knead until smooth.  Put dough in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.  Punch down and let rise for a second time until doubled.  Form into 2 loaves and put in greased bread pans.  Or make one smaller flatbread, about 1/2 inch thick, and place on a baking sheet.  Let loaves rise for the third time.  Bake at 325 degrees for one hour for a standard loaf,  less time for flatbread. Brush with melted butter during baking.  Let cool before eating, if you can resist.

The verdict: Mixed.  Of course, I was measuring my results against a fantasy, so I may not be the best judge.

The yeast was definitely active.  The bread rose, maybe even a little too much.  The texture seemed uneven, with holes here and there.  The flavor was fine.

A confession:   My bread making skills have become a little rusty.  I used to bake bread more often, until I discovered a problem:  If you bake your own,  you eat more than you should.

So I made some mistakes.

The biggest one: we store our flour in the freezer.  It needed more time to reach room temperature.  I compounded the problem by adding too much flour all at once.  I suspected right away that I had overdone it, since I had some difficulty kneading it in.   Even though I ended up using considerably less than the six cups of flour the recipe calls for, it still may have been too much.  Lesson learned.

We had the flatbread with the cevapcici.  It was probably a little too thick, or perhaps the dough rose too much.  No pocket, either.

If you are serious about making flatbread, find a recipe for Bosnian or Serbian lepinje, like this one. The foundation seems to be a plainer yeast dough, without egg or sugar.  A flat round loaf, about 1/2 inch thick, is allowed to rise briefly and then baked at a higher initial temperature, so the bread will form a pocket.

That big, standard loaf of white bread lasted a long time.  I used a few slices the following week, when I made struklji, a boiled rolled dumpling with a bread-and-egg filling.  My husband made bread pudding and croutons. Even though we kept it in the refrigerator, the last bit of the loaf got moldy and had to be discarded.

Maybe my grandmother really had figured out the secret of successful bread making.

Bread is meant to be shared.  You need a big extended family or a whole neighborhood to enjoy the fruits of your labors.

I'll remember that next time.  And maybe I'll add a little potato water.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 9: Memories of Cevapcici

Ajvar and Thick Yogurt or Kajmak
Homemade White Bread (Beli Kruh) or Pita (Lepinje)
Braised Kale with Peas

Cevapcici (chuh-VAP-chee-chee) are a wildly popular street food in the Balkans.

It’s a simple dish, in theory. A mixture of ground meats, seasoned and rolled into little sausage shapes, and then grilled.  The dish probably originated in Turkey. The name, according to some sources, means "little kebabs."

These days, you can find cevapcici in many cities in America, if you look in the right neighborhoods.

I first tasted cevapcici in Bosnia, in the spring of  2006.

I was sitting with my husband and my in-laws at an outdoor cafe on the cobbled streets of the Old City of Mostar.  We had just crossed the famous old bridge, Stari Most, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century.  It had been destroyed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s and then rebuilt, to much international fanfare, in 2004.

We had walked over the graceful arch and stopped to watched the young men dive into the river for tips.  We browsed in the open air market.  I hadn't yet been to the Middle East, but that's what it felt like.

That day, for the first time in my life, I heard a muezzin's call.  In the space of ten minutes, I saw a mosque, a Serbian Orthodox church, a Roman Catholic church, and an old Jewish synagogue.  So close together.  And now so far apart.

Our tour guide was a beautiful, articulate young woman.  Mostar used to be a cosmopolitan city, she told us.  Her family, like so many others, included many mixed marriages.  People got along, most of the time.  She was close to tears, as she told us about her lost city.   Restored but now divided.

We were at the midpoint of our first trip to Eastern Europe.  We had started in Vienna, spent two wonderful days in Slovenia, and then moved on to Croatia.  But now,  here in Mostar, I understood the failed Yugoslav experiment in a deeper way.  I had a fuller vision of the Balkans, with all the richness and the sadness.

The details of that first taste of cevapcici are hard to recall.  I was trying to absorb so much, and food was the least of it.  But I think it was like this: Charred, spicy meat. Fresh pita.  Raw onions and the red pepper relish I would later learn to call by its proper name, ajvar. The sweet, cool relief of thickened yogurt.

Now, six years later, I had this crazy thought:  why not make cevapcici myself, as part of my Slovenian cooking project?  I knew the dish was popular in Slovenia, at least these days.  But then I reminded myself: I had to follow my own rules. I would stick to recipes from my 1950s ethnic cookbooks.

I didn't expect to find cevapcici recipes in my vintage cookbook collection.  The American Slovenian community in the 1950s would have been too insular, I figured, to know anything about a Serbian-Bosnian dish.  But I checked my cookbooks to be sure.  To my surprise, I found two recipes for cevapcici.  A little digging turned up a history that goes back to the 1930s, when cevapcici appeared on one of Slovenia's first outdoor food trucks.  The vendor hailed from Serbia.

So now I had a plan for my Week Nine dinner: Cevapcici and Homemade Bread.

There are as many approaches to cevapcici as there are cooks. I began with the simple version offered by the Progressive Slovene Women:  a mix of lamb and pork, seasoned with salt and pepper. Contemporary sources suggested livelier seasonings, along with the addition of baking soda or soda water to lighten the meat mix.  So I modified the original Slovenian recipe, while retaining the suggested meat combination.

The meat mixture, just like the seasonings, can vary. That other Slovenian recipe used veal. In Balkan communities with a predominantly Muslim population, like Bosnia and Kosovo, pork would not usually be included, but beef would be a common addition.  Next time, I thought, ground turkey might be worth a try.  (Instead, for my encore version a month later, I used a beef and lamb combination and increased the spices, along with making smaller, thinner shapes.  The result, I think, was closer to the dish's origins.)

The beauty of this dish is that the cook is free to adjust and experiment.

Here is my first version:

1 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound ground pork
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
1/2 t. cayenne
1/2 t. paprika
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T. sparkling water with lime

Mix all the above ingredients lightly. Refrigerate for a half hour to allow flavors to meld. Form into 12 small sausage shapes, about 3/4" by 3".

Grill until nicely charred.  My husband, who did the honors, used his Le Creuset stove top grill pan, which worked beautifully.

Serve with the traditional sides: Raw chopped onion, a red pepper relish called ajvar (AY-var), thickened yogurt, and flat white bread such as pita.  I tried to make homemade bread.  But that's another story!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 8: Mushroom Soup (Gobova Juha)

Mushroom Soup (Gobova Juha)
French Baguette
Cheese and Salami
Cauliflower and Peas

My husband and I had come back from our trip to the east coast two days earlier, both of us sick with the flu. Could I really cook a Slovenian dinner today?  I barely felt like eating.

In the refrigerator,  I found a covered dish with a small portion of stuffed peppers, the entree from the dinner I'd made two weeks earlier.  My husband must have taken it out of the freezer to defrost before he left for work.  How sweet, I thought.  He knew it was Tuesday, our Slovenian dinner day, but he didn't want me to have to cook.

Maybe I would make something easy and light, as a side dish.  I started browsing soup recipes in my vintage cookbooks and found a few for mushroom soup.  Perfect.  And I knew Slovenians were fond of mushrooms.  My immigrant grandfather used to gather them. I headed to the big produce market around the corner.

At the market, I felt a little overwhelmed by all the exotic mushroom choices.

I do like mushrooms, but I tend to be cautious when I'm doing the cooking.  I usually stick to plain old white button mushrooms.  Some of the recipes even suggested adding dried mushrooms, to boost the flavor.  But I wasn't feeling that adventurous.

I decided to try those nice brown Crimini mushrooms.  A step up, but not too daring.

I was in the middle of making the soup, guided by the Progressive Slovene Women of America, when my husband got home from work.

"Hey, thanks for taking the stuffed peppers out to defrost," I said.  "That was a real help."

He gave me a blank look.  "What stuffed peppers?"

Oops.  Evidently they had been languishing at the back of the refrigerator for the past two weeks.

So I quickly adopted Plan B.  I zipped around the corner to pick up a French baguette from the bakery, while my husband cooked the broccoli I'd bought.  We had cheese and salami on hand to round out the meal.

The soup was nice and light.  But very flavorful, even without the broth my husband had hinted I might want to add.

Those crimini mushrooms had definitely provided a flavor boost.

Maybe next time I'll be even more daring.

Mushroom Soup:

2 medium potatoes, cubed
4 c. water
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 T. parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms (I used brown crimini)
2 T. olive oil
2 T. flour
1/2 t. marjoram
1 t. salt
pepper to taste
2 T. white wine (or vinegar)
More water, if needed

Cook potatoes in salted water until tender.  Set aside but do not drain. Clean and chop mushrooms, pour boiling water over them, drain, and set aside.  Heat oil, add flour, and brown to make a medium roux. Add garlic, onion, and parsley and brown.  Add mushrooms, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.  Add potatoes and cooking liquid, bay leaf, and seasonings.  Cook for 10 minutes or until done, adding more liquid if needed.  Serve with sour cream or yogurt.