Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slovenian Breakfast Week 2: Palačinke to Šmoren ("shmoren")

*Palačinke and Šmoren
  Šumska Jagoda (Serbian Strawberry Jam)

When you can't choose between two Slovenian breakfast treats, what do you do?  I decided to try both, especially when some recipe browsing convinced me that the same egg-milk-flour batter could work for  either one.

It's true that the šmoren recipes in my three vintage Slovenian American cookbooks all called for separating the egg whites and yolks, which is not the usual approach for making palačinke or crêpes.  But an Internet search turned up a number of recipes where whole eggs were beaten together.  So I decided to use the  egg-rich šmoren version below.   It turns out to be virtually identical to the crêpe suzette batter in that most  iconic of  American cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking.

2 eggs
2 T plus 2 t. milk
2 T plus 2 t. flour
1 T sugar
dash of salt

Beat all together.

For 1 petite crêpe:  Melt butter in a 7 inch skillet and heat until a drop of water sizzles.  Pour in enough batter to coat the bottom in a thin layer when you tilt the pan.  When firm, flip over and cook till done.  Fill as you wish and roll up.  I used my traditional family favorite of butter and brown sugar, with a side of amazing Serbian strawberry jam that my journalist son brought home from the Balkans at Christmas.

For 1 small serving of šmoren:  Now I was entering terra incognita.  I melted butter in a 7 inch skillet as above and poured the rest of the batter in.  I had read directions and looked at pictures.  Some say you stir, some say you create little tunnels in the batter as it cooks, so it all gets done.  Some suggest you make a sort of omelet, then chop it into bits.  The idea is to have little eggy crumbles.  Or is it cubes? The eggs were cooking so I didn't have much time to decide. I stirred and scraped and flipped and chopped.  I ended up with the eggy crumbles you can see in the photo.  I sprinkled them with brown sugar.  Good, if slightly dense.

My conclusion:  For a party of one, I would be inclined to go with the tried and true palačinke.  That is the sentimental favorite, of course.  The jelly rolls of my childhood.  But for a crowd, I can see the advantage of šmoren.  Quick, easy, and tasty. . . and the cook gets to join the family for breakfast.

Of course, it was possible that I hadn't given the šmoren a fair shot, since I hadn't tried the more typical version, with the beaten egg whites folded in.

But that would be for another day, I figured.

Except that day came sooner than I expected.  It turns out that my husband, far from being relieved, was disappointed that there was no Slovenian dinner that night!  I tried to keep it in the proper spirit, at least:  I made cornmeal polenta to go along with a leftover sausage dish.

So, a few days later, I  made another batch of šmoren,  for our weekend breakfast.   This time, I followed the less eggy and more labor intensive recipe for Pancake Crumbles (Šmoren) in Treasured Slovenian & International Recipes, published by the Progressive Slovene Woman of America.

This one appears to be the standard recipe for šmoren,  since it shows up in many places.

1 C. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 C. milk
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
butter for the pan

Mix the dry ingredients.  Add the egg yolks and milk and mix.  Fold in egg whites.  Melt butter to coat frying pan.  They suggest a heavy skillet (a good idea) and 1/4 C. of butter (not so good!)  I managed with about a tablespoon of butter.

For the šmoren:  Melt butter in a 10 inch skillet. Pour in the batter.  The Progressive Slovene Women suggest waiting until the mixture thickens on the bottom before you turn it over.  Then you "keep turning and chopping until lightly browned and little balls of crumbles are formed."

It worked for us.   Once again, it was a tasty dish,  enhanced with a topping of brown sugar or jam, along with some Greek yogurt.  I found this version, with the greater proportion of flour to egg,  vaguely reminiscent of  Jewish matzo brie, one of our breakfast favorites.   (My husband, who grew up with matzo brie, didn't quite see the connection, though.)

Which version of šmoren is better?  I think I prefer the first one.  This second one is higher carb and requires more effort.  Even with all that leavening, it still comes out a pretty dense dish.

And besides, it doesn't allow for the jelly roll option!

2022 10th Anniversary Update: For a new version that is the closest so far to the šmoren I tasted in Slovenia, go here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Easy-To-Prepare Breakfast for Teenage Girl"

We had just finished the previous week's stuffed cabbage when Tuesday rolled around again.  It was the day I'd designated for my weekly Slovenian cooking adventure.  The one day I work from home and have the kitchen to myself. 

Unfortunately, I had already started to feel overwhelmed at the thought of another meat-heavy meal.  I figured my husband (the main cook in our family) might have passed his limit.  Not a good sign, since this was just the second week in a year-long project.

So I decided to take a break.  Instead of dinner, I would make a Slovenian-style breakfast for a party of one.  I could get my ethnic meal out of the way early (and privately) and make us a normal dinner.

I consulted Women's Glory, my vintage guidebook to Slovenian American cooking.  In the middle of the "candies" section, they had strategically placed a page called "Easy-To-Prepare Breakfast for Teenage Girl."

At the top of the page, a smiling pre-teen girl posed behind her healthy breakfast.  I did a double-take.  That 1950s shirtwaist dress could have come out of my own closet. She had her dark hair in a lopsided page boy 'do.  Rounded cheeks, rounded arms, slightly thick waist.  A pretty little girl, but already on her way to plumpness.  It was like looking into a mirror and into the past.  My past. . . and my future, as a perennial dieter.

Weight-conscious girls are prone to skipping breakfast, the authors warn.  But three well-balanced meals, starting with a good breakfast, are an important protection against obesity. So here's what they suggest, for the Basic Breakfast:  Orange juice (4 ounces). Cornflakes (1 ounce) with milk (4 ounces). Buttered toast (2 slices).  Milk to drink (8 ounces.)

A teenage boy, of course, needs more: Twice those quantities of cereal and milk, with some sugar on top, Plus an egg, another piece of toast with jam, for a total of three slices.  Finished off with a cup of  cocoa. Evidently, the Slovenian American boy of that era didn't need to watch his weight.

Hmm.  Corn flakes, white bread with butter, orange juice, whole milk.  Not the kind of diet that has ever worked for me.   But more wholesome than Pop Tarts.  And better than nothing at all.

But if I was going to consider today's breakfast as  part of an ethnic cooking project, I had to do something better than that.

I had one easy solution, and a fitting one:  Jelly Rolls.   

That's how we referred to the special treat my mother made for weekend breakfasts. Paper thin egg-rich pancakes, made one at a time in a frying pan, and then wrapped around assorted fillings.  Jelly was traditional.  My Scottish father, who liked savory foods, took his jelly rolls with  butter only. But the favorite with us kids was butter and brown sugar.  My mother would stand at the stove, frying them up, sometimes trying to store a supply in the oven, so she could sit and eat with us.  But the four of us could eat those jelly rolls as fast as she could cook them.

Filled with cottage cheese, they became blintzes.  My mother had learned about blintzes, she said, from our close family friends who were Jewish.   A little later, we learned that jelly rolls were the same thing as French crêpes.

French crêpes.  Jewish blintzes.  American jelly rolls.  But there is one name we never learned: palačinke. Palachinke.  The Slovenian version of the same treat, and also a traditional food.  But my mother never suggested that our beloved jelly rolls had any connection to her Slovenian roots.

Jelly rolls would be easy.  But almost too familiar, since I already made them myself, though not as often as I did when my own children were small.

Meanwhile, I had come across another dish, with the same ingredients, but in an unfamiliar form.  An odd but intriguing hybrid:  A cross between an eggy pancake and an omelet,  but chopped or torn into bits.

Each of my cookbooks had a version.  Woman's Glory included a recipe for Kaiserschmarrn, or Emperor's Omelet, in the pastry section.  The American Slovene Club's cookbook listed Crumble Pudding, or Shmarm, as a dessert as well as a potato substitute.

The Progessive Slovene Women of America seemed to have the most accurate take on the dish, right down to the proper spelling.  Under Egg Dishes, they offered a recipe for Pancake Crumbles, or Šmoren.  

Palačinke or šmoren?  A beloved old favorite or an oddball dish that I couldn't quite envision?

I had the perfect solution:  I would do both, with the same egg-milk-flour batter.

It would be an adventure.  

Recipes follow

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage, Slovenian-style: Bound for Glory

This was not the first time I made stuffed cabbage.  But it was my first attempt at doing it Slovenian-style, from a vintage ethnic cookbook called Woman's Glory: The Kitchen.

I came up with a combination of three recipes I found in that yellowing book: Sarma, Sarmi, Cabbage Bundles.  Variations on a theme, but my own adaptation, for my first Slovenian Dinner in my back-to-my-roots cooking project. 

My mother really liked it.  Just like her mother's, she said.  And it was amazing, the way my Berkeley kitchen was suddenly transformed into my grandma's.  There it was: the smell of  Cleveland's East Side in the 1950s. The scent of Central Europe.  Such a mysterious alchemy, from a recipe that seemed so familiar, so unremarkable.  Maybe it was the paprika.

I liked those cabbage rolls.  So did my husband.  (It's a good thing, since we were eating them for days!)

But the recipe is not quite there yet.  It needs more onion.  More seasonings.  Next time, I may adopt the suggestion of one of those recipes, to cook the cabbage rolls on a bed of sauerkraut.  

Yes, the recipe needs some tweaking.  But it's on the way.  Bound for Glory.

Stuffed Cabbage, Slovenian Style (Sarma)

1/2 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
3/4  cup rice, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 t. paprika
1 t. fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 T. crushed tomatoes

1/2 lb. each of ground beef, pork and turkey (1 1/2 lb. total)
1 egg, beaten

1 large head green cabbage
Extra green and red cabbage leaves (next time: sauerkraut!)

Equal parts of beef broth and crushed tomatoes, mixed, to equal about 3 cups of liquid
Salt and pepper to taste

For filling:  Brown onion and garlic in oil.  Add rice and brown, then add seasonings, parsley, tomatoes, and mix.  Let cool.  Mix in meat and egg.

For cabbage: Cut out core of cabbage.  Cover in hot water and boil for about 5 minutes.  Drain and separate leaves.

To make the rolls:  Cut out the tough rib of each cabbage leaf.  Place a portion of meat on the leaf.  Roll up securely, envelope style.  Secure with toothpicks. 

Put extra cabbage leaves in bottom of large greased frying pan or Dutch oven.  Put cabbage rolls on top, packing tightly.  Add liquid, almost to cover.  Cover and simmer until done, about 1 hour.

Dober Tek!

Update:  In December, I made another version of stuffed cabbage. All beef, cauliflower instead of rice in the filling,  and baked on a bed of sauerkraut.  Go here for the recipe!

2022 10th Anniversary Update: I decided to try a different recipe from one of my newer community cookbooks: Kuharice iz Willarda, published in 1974 by a Slovenian language class in Willard, Wisconsin. This recipe was much like the one above, but the filling was more highly seasoned (a tablespoon each of salt and paprika, a whole onion), it called for a whole cup of rice, and it included an egg.  I tried a few other suggestions I'd heard about: using a savoy cabbage, freezing the whole cabbage first instead of boiling it, and using tomato juice as the liquid. And I continued with what has became my regular practice, adding a bed of sauerkraut. The result? This dish had a great flavor, but the meat filling seemed dense and dry. My conclusion:  I would follow the original recipe for the filling, although I would continue to increase the onion and spices. I liked the plain tomato juice, as well as the  savoy cabbage, which seemed softer and easier to work with. Freezing the cabbage instead of boiling it does work, but it seemed to require more care in peeling off the leaves. Happy experimenting!  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 1

*Cucumber Salad
 Serbian Corn Bread
 Christmas Potica (aka Slovenian Nut Roll)

Here it is!  This was my inaugural menu for the Josephine and Jožefa project.  The first week of January, I set out to begin my year of cooking ethnically.  Or, to be more exact, Slovenian-ly.

What to say about this first menu?  I decided to make a main dish and a side dish from Woman's Glory. Those are the starred dishes.  For the stuffed cabbage, an old favorite, I tried to combine the best of the three or four versions offered.  Naturally, I made a few changes.  I couldn't bring myself to use 2/3 cup of fat to saute the onion!  As for the filling . . . well, we are not big meat eaters, but I  figured I could go along with the pork and beef. But we draw the line at veal in our house, so I substituted ground turkey for that part of the mix.

I figured I would "cheat" with dessert, since I still had leftover Christmas potica. The Serbian cornbread and coleslaw, also leftover, were extra.  I figured they fit pretty well, ethnically speaking.  Besides, the spirit of these vintage American ethnic cookbooks was practical and eclectic. You used what was at hand.

I will be posting the recipes soon.  My Slovenian-style stuffed cabbage is still a work in progress. (This version came out tasty but under spiced.) The cucumber salad was quick and easy: sliced cucumbers, sour cream mixed with yogurt and garlic, along with a little paprika, probably the one Slovenian touch.

As for the potica?  That's the one and only Slovenian food I grew up eating and preparing. You can find my potica recipe included in a long essay I wrote over on my  more "literary" blog.  It's called Potica, Bread of Memory.

This year's Christmas potica included one new touch: I added dried cranberries.  This might not seem like much of a stretch, since many versions do include raisins.  But my family doesn't do that.   So it was a bold move on my part.  Pretty well received, too.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Woman's Glory: The Kitchen (New Year's Resolution)

I bought this classic mid-century Slovenian American cookbook last year, as a Christmas gift for myself. But I've just realized what a gem it is. In fact, it has given me a whole new direction in my Slovenian roots quest.

Woman's Glory was first published in the early 1950's in Chicago, by the Slovenian Women's Union of America. This well-used 1958 edition, which I discovered for sale online, was edited by Albina Novak. It's a charming mix of traditional Slovenian recipes and classic 50's American cuisine like jello molds and casseroles made with canned soup. 

I have in mind a sort of ethnic version of "Julie and Julia." I doubt
that I'll cook every recipe in Woman's Glory. In fact, I won't even limit myself to this book, because I've just added two more vintage cookbooks to my collection.

Here's my resolution for the New Year: Once a week, I'll make an all-Slovenian dinner. I'll try to stick to recipes from my trio of Slovenian American cookbooks from the 1940's and 1950's. Maybe I'll call it "Josephine and Jožefa: My Year of Cooking Ethnically."  That was the first name, in English and Slovenian, of my immigrant great-grandmother.  In fact, I've already started. I made my very first dinner last week!