Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A Few New Twists on Onion Skin Eggs for Easter and Passover






Onion skins at last! 

I couldn't believe my luck. Last year, I had to improvise, since we were having our groceries delivered, and there was no way to get a whole bag of onion skins. 

But these year, now that I was vaccinated, I was starting to venture into local grocery stores. And in one small market, just as I walked in I discovered a man unloading a crate of onions, pulling off the skins, and placing the onions in a bin.

He was happy to oblige me with a small bag of the discards.

What a treasure in pandemic times! 

I did my usual thing. I simmered the eggs for about three hours with a bunch of onion skins in water, salt and pepper, a chopped up clove of garlic (a new touch this time), and a little olive oil on top. 

The project was on a smaller scale this year--and it was simplified. Just a half dozen eggs, and without the added decorative touches provided by those little leaves attached to the eggs with nylon. Call in pandemic burnout, but I just didn't have the time or energy.

That clove of garlic wasn't the only change. At my husband's suggestion, after simmering the eggs for about three hours and letting them cool off, I let them sit in the water overnight in the the fridge.The result was the deepest color yet. 

The other change? I found a new use for hard-cooked eggs that are getting a little bit old. But that will have to wait for my next post!  

                                                                      
                                                       





 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

New Twists on Old Favorites: Jota with Sweet Potatoes and Balkan Cornbread with a Lift!



Where has the time gone? 

My last post was a Christmas greeting back in December: The familiar gnome with a plate of potica and medenjaki. I had made those tasty spice cookies a little differently this year and had planned to follow up with the recipe. And now it is almost April. Funny how the same thing happened last year, right after our first pandemic Christmas, when I seemed to run out of blogging steam for three months. 

No excuses, except to say that living and cooking through a pandemic is a new experience for all of us. 

Now I have some catching up to do!

So here is a tasty dinner I made in early January. Two dependable favorites with a few new twists that worked out well. 

Jota, Slovenia's traditional bean-and-sauerkraut stew, has become one of our favorite comfort foods, especially after I arrived at my new and improved version. We had almost everything on hand--including some garlic sausage (made with chicken, our preference) and homemade sauerkraut, courtesy of my husband. We were missing just one ingredient: Potatoes. Unless you count sweet potatoes. Which I did.

My husband had his doubts, but those sweet potatoes turned out to be more than just a good substitute. They added a touch of sweetness and color that provided a whole new dimension to the dish. 

             


I figured my Never- Fail Balkan Cornbread would make a nice accompaniment. It is normally made without leavening, but I wanted to try an intriguing Christmas gift one of our kids had sent: a can of Magic Baking Powder (yes, that is the name!), made in Canada and aluminum-free. I figured a teaspoon couldn't hurt. And why not add a half teaspoon of sweet paprika? We were a little low on yogurt, so I had to stretch it with some milk, which resulted in a looser batter than usual. 

I'll admit it:  I was a little worried about that cornbread. But it turned out to be the lightest and moistest version yet! 




Monday, December 21, 2020

Pisani Kruh, with a touch of American Anadama Bread




A few weeks ago, I had an urge to make pisani kruh again. It had been a few years since I last baked the spiraled loaf that is supposed look like a potica, even though it tastes exactly like what it is: a savory multigrain yeast bread. 

Slovenian cooking authority Janez Bogataj wrote the point was to "create an air of festive abundance" even during hard times, when the more costly ingredients that go into potica might be in short supply. (I have always suspected the recipe was a little bit of a culinary joke as well!)

I had plenty of white flour and cornmeal on hand. But I had just used up the last of the buckwheat flour. So I needed to find another way to create the dark layer that is supposed to resemble the traditional walnut filling in potica.

In the spirit of making do with whatever is at hand, I turned to the batch of cold-fermented artisan bread dough I had waiting in the fridge. I had already used part of it to make a nice loaf of the New England specialty called Anadama bread. The loaf was tasty and had a satisfying brown color, thanks to the generous use of molasses. 

                                                                        
Anadama Bread

I realized it might be a little redundant to use the Anadama dough in pisani kruh, because it also includes some cornmeal. But my bigger concern was that the artisan bread approach (which involves bulk  cold fermentation) utilizes a wet, unkneaded dough that might be difficult to roll into a layer. 

But it worked out just fine. I used some extra flour to roll out the sticky Anadama dough and then patted it onto the rectangle of white dough, before adding the final yellow corn layer and rolling it all up. 

Pisani kruh, ready to roll up

There are several charming stories about the origins of Academa bread, an old-fashioned regional specialty from New England. Some sources suggest the roots are Native American. Others say it was the creation of a sea captain, who became impatient when his wife Anna served him nothing but cornmeal mush and molasses for breakfast. One day he grew so frustrated that he decided to mix in some yeast and white flour, muttering "Anna, damn her!" as he kneaded away at his new bread creation.  

The recipe below is a very brief introduction to the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" approach of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. I will be writing more about this in a future post.  



                        
Anadama Bread


3/4 cup cornmeal
1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cup white (AP) flour
2 Tablespoons vital wheat gluten (or substitute extra white flour)
1 package instant dry yeast (2-1/2 teaspoons)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-3/4 cups warm water (or less, if not using the "Artisan" approach; see below)
4 tablespoons molasses

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix the warm water and molasses and stir into the flour mixture until well combined, using a spoon, your hands, or a stand mixer. 

If using the artisan bread approach: This is a intended to be a wet dough that is never kneaded or punched down. It is allowed to rise, loosely covered, for 2 hours and then refrigerated (loosely covered) for up to a week. A portion of dough is removed as needed, gently shaped into a round, and baked at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes.  To get a crisp crust, the authors recommend placing the loaf on a hot baking stone and creating steam with a pan of hot water at the bottom of the oven. 

If you want to use more conventional methods: Reduce the water so that the dough will be stiffer and can be lightly kneaded. Then follow the usual approach (let rise, shape,  rise, and bake.)   

This quantity of dough will make two 1 pound loaves. Half this quantity will be sufficient to use as the dark layer in my pisani kruh recipe. 





Thursday, November 12, 2020

Making-Do Mineštra (Minestrone, Pandemic-style)




It was late summer, about a month after I had made that tasty jota, when I rediscovered another Slovenian soup/stew. 

My husband was feeling at a loss about what to make for dinner. He reported we had some spicy chicken garlic sausage on hand, along with a head of cabbage. And some zucchini that needed to be used soon. It would be easy enough to just make the sausage with cabbage and serve some zucchini on the side, but that didn't seem to inspire him.

"I bet I can figure something out," I offered. I had a feeling there was some Slovenian dish I had made once or twice with those ingredients and started browsing the recipe list on this blog.

And there it was, Slovenian minestrone. 

How did I forget how satisfying this simple dish is?


It was one of the dishes I discovered in 2012, my year of Slovenian cooking. I made it again the following year, when I did more research and discovered how many variations there are: With beans and without, with pasta or rice, and a variety of meat choices (including none at all). That second version was even better than the first. But I realized there was nothing fixed about the recipe, especially when it came to the veggie possibilities.

Even working from our more limited pantry, I discovered that we had most of the ingredients I had used that last time. In fact, they had become our pandemic staples: Sausage, usually chicken or turkey versions. Dried beans and canned tomatoes. Pasta. Onions, garlic, cabbage, carrots, and parsley. Luckily, we happened to have a few potatoes this week. But no leeks, peas or celery root, those interesting additions from last time. We did have regular celery--and some zucchini to add. No parsley for a final garnish. But we did have plenty of white wine, for drinking as well as for cooking

I was all set to make the minestrone myself. But then I figured this might be a good time to deputize my husband, since he seemed more in need of a project. So I printed up the recipe from the last time--and was surprised to realize that salt and pepper had been the only seasonings. I suggested he might want to add some marjoram. He agreed, and he also decided to cook the beans with some bay leaves.

As I suspected, this improvised version was delicious. I was reminded once again that beans you cook yourself taste better, although the canned variety is a perfectly acceptable option. Like most soups and stews, the minestrone tasted better on the second and third days.  It was a hearty and sustaining choice as  we headed into our sixth month of sheltering in place.





Mineštra, pandemic style

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2  large onion, chopped
1 large leek, sliced But it works fine to omit!
1-2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 head cabbage (green this time), sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
1 medium potato, unpeeled, cubed
1 celery root, peeled and cubed--or 2-3 stalks of celery, sliced
1 large zucchini, cubed (A nice addition this time!) 
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced (if you have it!) 
1 cup chopped tomatoes with juice
10 oz (4 or 5) smoked chicken garlic sausages, sliced 
2 quarts water
1 c. peas, frozen or fresh But it works fine to omit! 
1/2 cup small dried pasta
1 can borlotti beans 1-1/2 cup cooked red beans, prepared with bay leaves
1-2 teaspoons salt 
freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon marjoram 
white wine to taste

shaved parmesan for garnish
parsley for garnish (if you have it!)


If you are using dried beans, prepare them in advance and set aside. Prepare the other vegetables. If you use a leek, be careful to cut and soak the bulb to remove any grit before slicing.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion and garlic and brown. Add leek, cabbage and sausage and brown. Add the remaining vegetables (except for the beans), seasonings, and water. Cover and simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning. Toward the end, add pasta and prepared beans and continue simmering for a half hour. If desired, add some white wine. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and parsley for garnish. 





Monday, August 17, 2020

The New improved Jota (Bean and Sauerkraut Stew), with vegan option



I first tried to make jota in early 2012. That was the year I took my deep dive into Slovenian cooking. I had never heard of this iconic bean and sauerkraut stew and I was eager to experiment. The version I made was pleasant but mild. And very white: sauerkraut, small white beans, white potatoes, and  a dollop of yogurt. The monochromatic color scheme was broken only by the sprinkle of parsley on top. I never got around to trying it again.

Jota, with white beans, 2012

Now, eight years later, I have made jota for the second time. And I am a believer! It was wonderful. Comforting and zesty. It was a success mostly due to the limitations created by cooking in confinement.

The first big difference: Apache beans, which I had recently discovered work well as a substitute for borlotti or Roman beans in pašta fižol. In fact, if it weren't for that big bag of dried beans sitting in the pantry, I probably wouldn't have given jota another chance. I don't know what made the difference, the switch from white to red beans, or the fact that the beans were cooked from scratch this time. Probably both!

Apache Beans

Another challenge: Jota is traditionally cooked with bits of bacon (my choice last time) or smoked meat. Although we did have some smoked sausage on hand, it was a Louisiana-style andouille. I was concerned that the assertive Cajun spices would overwhelm the more subtle Slovenian-ness of this traditional dish, so I decided to make the sausage separately and serve it on the side.

Oh-oh! Without really planning to, I had backed into making vegan jota! Now I was really facing a challenge. But a little online research revealed that my first recipe (from a non-Slovenian source) had been a particularly mild version, compared to the other approaches I was discovering. So I upped the garlic and added three new ingredients: tomato paste, paprika, and a touch of liquid smoke, the suggestion of a Slovenian vegetarian blogger.

These changes, growing out of a time of adversity, made all the difference. Even without the sausage, this version of jota was a winner. I can't wait to make it again!

Update: A month later (just after writing this post!) I was inspired to do it again, with one small change: Instead of sweet paprika, I used the hot smoked paprika I had recently bought. That created some added zest and it also eliminated the need for liquid smoke.




Jota, or Slovenian Bean and Sauerkraut Stew

1 cup dried borlotti, Roman, or Apache beans
2-3 medium potatoes (about 10 ounces cooked)
16 ounces sauerkraut
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, cubed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste (or catsup, in a pinch)
2-3 teaspoons paprika (sweet or smoked *)
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups potato water or other liquid
(Optional: 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke, unless you use smoked paprika!)
Parsley to garnish

* To compensate for the absence of meat, consider using smoked paprika (preferred) or liquid smoke (which also works)

If desired: Smoked meat or sausage can be served on the side
If desired: Yogurt or sour cream (or a dairy-free alternative) to garnish



Prepare beans in the usual way:  Soak overnight, simmer until tender, and drain. You should have about 2-1/2 cups of cooked beans. (Yes, you can substitute 2 cans of beans, although I don't recommend it!)

Cube the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender. Save the water. Drain sauerkraut if you want a milder dish. (I didn't!)

Heat olive oil in a large pot and cook onions until softened. Add garlic, sprinkle with flour, and cook for several more minutes, stirring constantly until mixture turns golden. (Yes, you are making a roux, just like the Cajuns!) Add a little water to this mixture and stir to make a sauce. Add the tomato paste, the remaining seasonings, the sauerkraut, and additional liquid as needed. Simmer the mixture for 10-15 minutes. Add the cooked potatoes and beans and simmer for 20 more minutes. At the end, taste the seasonings and adjust.

To serve, garnish with parsley,  plus yogurt or sour cream if desired. Sausage or other meat can be served alongside.



Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Pašta Fižol with Apache Beans




I was starting to stock our pandemic pantry with hefty bags of dried beans. Garbanzos and black beans were easy to find online. My husband hinted that I might want to find some of the beans I had used in my Slovenian recipes. White beans, perhaps?

But my thoughts immediately went to another variety, the speckled red-and-white beans known as Roman or borlotti beans.

These unusual beans were the foundation for a special soup my late mother recalled fondly from her Cleveland childhood but had trouble describing. My mother's mystery bean soup turned out to be a delicious variation of pašta fižol, in which the beans are pureed before adding the pasta--in this case, homemade square egg noodles Slovenians call bleki.

Borlotti beans are considered heirloom beans and can be hard to locate even in normal times. I did find some online--for a price. But my search pulled up another bean variety that was described as a good alternative--in the same bean family, and with a similar red-and-white pattern.They even cost less than the borlotti beans and would arrive faster.

So I decided to take a chance.  When the beans arrived, I was struck by the vivid and distinct pattern.

I also learned they had a fascinating international pedigree: Sold by a Canadian company, imported by a company in New Jersey and grown in Kyrgyzstan--from a strain of pinto beans first developed in the United States in the 1980s!

A few days later, I decided to make traditional pašta fižol, using the un-pureed recipe I had made originally. It just happened to be Trubar Day, a fitting time to celebrate my Slovenian heritage.

Naturally, I had to make a few more pandemic-required adjustments. Instead of bacon or pancetta, I used the only smoked meat we had available: Italian chicken sausage. Catsup instead of tomato paste. And store-bought Italian dried pasta, since I didn't have the time or energy for handmade bleki.

Despite the substitutions and the pasta shortcut, the dish was a success. Those Apache beans (seen in the before-and-after photos below) seemed to be a more than adequate substitute for borlotti beans. Their pretty colors were still faintly visible after cooking and the flavor was rich and slightly sweet.

I couldn't wait to use them again!



After: Apache beans, cooked


Before: Apache beans, dried






















Pašta Fižol (with pandemic substitutions) 


1 lb. dried Roman beans (borlotti or cranberry beans) Apache beans, cooked
5 oz. turkey bacon or pancetta  Italian chicken sausages, 5-10 oz.
2-3 T. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 T. flour
2 t. paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T. tomato paste catsup
1 c. hot water
2 t. marjoram
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. pepper
salt to taste
2 t. vinegar
homemade bleki/square noodles  4 ounces dried Italian pasta elbows
parsley to garnish


For detailed cooking instructions, see the original post:  https://slovenianroots.blogspot.com/2012/05/slovenian-dinner-week-week-12-pasta.html