Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chicken Stew, Slovenian-Style and Salt-Free

"Obara?"  Mia's eyes twinkled. "That means you can put anything in it!"

I was in my favorite spot at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall: the small upstairs library, hanging out with Mia, who is originally from Slovenia.  She is a warm, charming woman who retired a few years ago from her position as a university librarian.  Mia always seems amused by my ethnic cooking adventures.  She even recalled my disaster with žganci and had brought back some buckwheat flour from her most recent trip to Slovenia, just in case that was the source of my problem.

So now I had it on good authority:  The Slovenian stew known as obrara or ajmoht really is an "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" dish.  That was a good description of my most recent version.  It had to be salt-free, so I tried to boost the flavor with as many additions as possible, without departing too much from tradition.

Obara or ajmoht can vary, depending on the meat used and the assortment of vegetables added.  The distinctive element, at least to the American palate, is a certain Slovenian tang, thanks to a brown roux and sometimes a tart addition like lemon zest, wine, or vinegar.

It all started with my mother's recollection of a childhood dish she called "aye-macht," a sort of roux-thickened veal soup.  For my first attempt at recreating the dish, Chicken Ajmoht I, I used a simple recipe from the Progressive Slovene Women of America.  I also tried to make žganci as an accompaniment, but the little dumplings ended up as buckwheat polenta.

For my next attempt, Chicken Ajmoht II, I consulted a couple of additional sources, The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe and Slovenian Cookery.  That's when I started adding wine.

This time around, I had my newest cookbook to consider, Janez Bogataj's The Food and Cooking of Slovenia.  I also had a sous-chef, since my husband volunteered to do the actual cooking.

For the result, read on.

Chicken Stew, Slovenian-Style and Salt-Free (chicken ajmoht or obara)

2 whole boneless chicken breasts (skin on), cut up
olive oil to brown chicken
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
2 T. flour
1 c. white wine
2  ribs celery, chopped
1 leek, bulb and a bit of green, soaked well and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and  sliced
1/2 c. cauliflower florets
2 potatoes, peeled and cut up
water to  cover
peel of 1 lemon, grated
1 T. fresh marjoram, minced
1 T. fresh thyme, minced
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
4 T. fresh parsley, minced
pepper to taste
optional: no-salt seasoning (or salt) to taste

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large deep skillet. Brown chicken and set aside.  Add onion and garlic and brown.  Now make a roux: Add 1 T. butter, 2 T. olive oil, and 2 T. flour and cook until brown.  Add wine and celery, leek and carrots.  Add water to cover.  Add lemon and seasonings. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add potatoes and simmer until tender.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Sprinkle with additional parsley and serve.

The verdict?  The mixture of flavors was delicious. My husband had a generous hand with the wine, which gave the dish a particular zest.  He did leave the chicken in larger chunks than I might have, and there seemed to be less liquid than in my previous versions.  But you can easily adjust for a saucier dish.  All in all, another LoSoSlo winner!

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