Sunday, February 5, 2012

Žganci: Mysteries of Buckwheat

Žganci is one of a handful of quintessentially Slovenian dishes.  There is an entire page devoted to it on a government website:  Žganci, Always and Forever. 

But it's hard to classify.

The Progessive Slovene Women of America call it buckwheat mush (ajdovi žganci) and include it in the "Bread-Biscuits-Mush" section of Treasured Slovenian and International Recipes.  The American Slovene Club, in Our Favorite Recipes, classifies it as a potato substitute, and refer to it as buckwheat crumbles.  Woman's Glory puts it in the catch-all "Varieties" category.

The recipes left me feeling even more confused.  The ingredients were simple, just buckwheat flour and salt water, in a 1:2 ratio. My three vintage cookbooks, as well as the many recipes on the web, all offered virtually identical (and peculiar) instructions.

To make žganci, you boil the salted water and then add the buckwheat flour. Some say you add it gradually, while you slowly stir.  Others suggest you just dump it in all it once.  But they all agree on one key point:  Once the flour is added, you stop stirring.  The Progressive Slovene women shout it out: DO NOT MIX.

You let the mix boil while the flour magically turns into a giant lump.  Then you make a hole in the center of the cake of flour with the handle of a wooden spoon so the water can cook it from the inside.  The water should bubble up over the lump.  Then you cover the pan and let it cook for 15 minutes (or maybe 45?)   Finally, you pour off half the water and stir in the rest.   Pour melted butter on top.  Cover and let sit.

Most sources suggest that you pick up spoonfuls of the big buckwheat cake  and use a fork to flake off crumbles, which should be "piled fluffily"  into a bowl.

I made a small recipe: 

2 c. water 
pinch of salt
1 c. buckwheat flour

I brought the salted water to a brisk boil and slowly poured in the flour.  Then I watched and waited.  To my great surprise, the flour did start to cohere into a large brown lump: 

Boiling Buckwheat Flour
After about 5 minutes, I nudged the lump with a spoon.  It seemed fairly solid.  So I poked a hole in the center of the mass with the handle of a wooden spoon.  Now it looked like this: 

Buckwheat Volcano
As I continued to watch, I began to worry.  There wasn't enough water to cover the top of the lump.  So I added more water.  Oh-oh.  Now it stopped boiling.  I started to worry that the lump was beginning to dissolve.  What if I was left with a pot of boiling mush?

The lump still felt firm.  I gently stuck in a knife, to see if the inside was cooked.  To my horror, I discovered that the firm exterior encased a ball of raw, uncooked flour!

At that point, I panicked.  Something had gone terribly wrong.  I figured the only way to salvage this mess was to turn it into a polenta. I took a fork and beat it into submission.

To my amazement, the brown soup and the raw flour mass was easily transformed into a nice, smooth polenta!

I poured it into a dish, which my husband had greased with olive oil.  I stuck it into the oven to firm up.  topped it off with two nice thick slices of bacon, cooked to a crisp in the microwave.  It looked like this:

The Final Version: Žganci with Bacon

The verdict:  Delicious!  A dark, tangy polenta that provided a fine accompaniment to the chicken ajmoht in my third week dinner.   An added plus:  Buckwheat is high protein and gluten-free!

And when I checked back, I discovered that I had done exactly what the Progressive Slovene Women had intended.  None of those little crumbles for them.  The goal was just a nice smooth mush.
Evidently,  I had simply made a regional variation, in what's called the softer Styrian style.

As they say on that government website: "Any day is right for žganci!  You know, to keep you strong." 


  1. Hi, it's Liz again. I don't remember my Mom making zganci but the name looks familiar. I do remember tribe(couldn't eat it) and plum dumplings(which I do wish I could make today). By the way, I lived in LosAngeles and my roommate was in the Santa Monica Folk Club. I just love Cajun music and looking forward to reading your book.
    Best Wishes.

  2. It's Liz from Cleveland. I don't remember my relatives making zganci but it still seems familiar. I do remember ragout. Tribe(and blood sausage)is one Slovene speciality I won't miss but I miss plum dumplings and homemade wine.
    By the way, I lived in Los Angeles and my roommate was in the Santa Monica Folk club.
    Best Wishes

  3. Hi again, Liz! Thanks for reading and commenting. Blood sausage....we will be having it this weekend at the Pust (Mardi Gras) dinner at the Slovenian Hall in SF. Oddball food, to be sure. Never had plum dumplings or homemade wine, though.


  4. Thanks for linking up at our Gluten Free Fridays party! Its awesome bloggers like you that make our party wonderful! I have tweeted and pinned your entry to our Gluten Free Fridays board on Pinterest! :) See you next Friday! Cindy from

    1. Hi Cindy! Thanks again for including me in your gluten free party! Hmm, guess I better figure out something for this week.

  5. If you'd like another recipe, mail me. :) It's just cooking raw flour in a pen - roasting it and then pouring some salter water on it (I use soup). I is cooked faster.

    1. That sounds good, roasting the flour first! But would this come out as a smooth polenta or little dumplings? Yes, I would love the recipe and will e-mail you. Thanks again for commenting!