A Slovak Goulash Cook-off

A Slovak Goulash Cook-off

The air was thick with the smell of cooking stew, the buzz of a crowd’s conversations, and a tinge of wood smoke, as contending teams vied for the coveted ‘best goulash’ award.

The other weekend we attended a goulash cook-off in our village. Lined around the brick laid yard were cauldrons of various sizes and types, all containing variations on goulash. Even though the basic idea of goulash is the same, each competitor had his own style or twist on goulash.

Goulash is of Hungarian origin but, like many dishes of Slovakia’s southern neighbour, is immensely popular in Slovakia. Caramelized onions, meat, paprika, tomatoes, peppers, and marjoram are the crucial ingredients, with anything else being optional.  Read More

Hiking in Slovakia: Cierna Skala

 

Cierna Skala Hike, Slovakia

Before Easter I joined with a friend and the wordsmith Julie for a first hike of the season, from Smolenice to Cierna Skala (chi-air-na), a 20km hike through oak and beech forest just starting to show signs of spring.

I was, to be honest, pretty excited at the prospect of a hike at a pace faster than toddler speed. Slow is wonderful for choosing exactly the right rock and examining each little ladybug, but not conducive to walking long distances.  Read More

Rice and Offal Sausages: Slovak Jaterničky

Slovak Jaternicky rice and offal sausages

Next of the products made from a traditional Slovak pig butchering is jaterničky (ya-ter-nich-ky), sausages stuffed with rice, offal, and various herbs. The idea of eating offal is hard for many to digest but with these sausages, I promise you would never know you were eating any untoward parts of a pig.

Seriously, if you have trouble with the thought of the taste of organs, this is the recipe to try (well, besides my amazing beef liver pate, that doesn’t taste strong at all).

If you’ve butchered an animal but not known what to do with the organs, especially the lungs, honestly try this. I do not like lung, I tried it once and was not impressed; in jaternicky, any offal taste is not even detected.  Read More

Winter Hike up McKirdy Mountain, Valemount, Canada

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

I wasn’t expecting to get to Canada this year, but in February I made a quick unplanned visit to be together with my extended family. Given that it takes two days to travel one way from Slovakia to the middle of nowhere Canada, I didn’t have much time but was still hoping to get above treeline.

My mom and I did make it up, and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion. We frequently paused along the trail as we got into conversation, solving all the problems of the world.

We went up McKirdy Mountain, and while I have showed pictures and shared memories of my favourite place in the the world before, it was in the summer.

We hadn’t planned on stopping at Hermit Thrush Cabin, but when one of the lenses in my glasses fell out, we traipsed over to tape them back together. That red Tuck Tape has some seriously sticky qualities, and is oh-so-sexy for repairing glasses.  Read More

How to Cook Brains: Slovak Mozgy

How to Eat Brains Slovak Mozgy

When at a Slovak zabijačka (za-bee-yach-ka), a family pig slaughtering, the first food to be cooked is lunch. Without fail, my mother in law makes mozgy, a dish containing the brains and spinal cord.

When planning to blog about zabijačka, I wanted to post exact recipes. This, however, was not possible due to a number of factors, like helping out and taking care of children, but most of all because nobody has any idea of how much of an ingredient they use. If I’m lucky, amounts are given in handfuls, sprinkles, and pours.

“Mami, how much onion did you put in?” I ask.

“Oh, I don’t know, until it looks good. However much the butcher says.” my mother in law answers.  Read More

Bone Broth Slovak Sunday Soup

 

Bone Broth Slovak Sunday Soup

This soup makes an appearance every Sunday at my mother in law’s, and now at my house. The clear broth is made with bones, but there is a secret to making sure that the broth stays clear and not cloudy! We call it Sunday soup, although in Slovak it doesn’t really have a name, just ‘soup.’ The broth warms the stomach, aids digestion for the meal to follow, and provides a host of nutrients. It also appears as the first course at weddings and any celebratory occasion when people eat together.   Read More

Explore the Elements

Wherever we travel in the world, the four elements are there in some form. Thomas Cook is having a photo contest with each of the four elements as a topic: earth, fire, air, and water. I couldn’t help but peruse through the files to see if I had something appropriate.

Earth: Rocky Mountains, British Columbia, Canada
Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness , physicality and gravity.

Earth: Rocky Mountains, Canada

Despite mountains being an obvious choice to represent Earth, I still choose this photo of the Monashee Range of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, with Kinbasket Lake below. The mountains never fail to inspire awe in me, at their beauty, size, and majesty. Looking down the range like this, one can see more than just one mountain and get a glimpse at their vastness and permanence.  Read More

Chicken Paprikash

Quick and cozy, chicken paprikash is a dish commonly made in Slovakia, though originally from Hungry, of chicken cooked in a creamy paprika sauce and served over pasta of some sort. This version is dairy free or full of dairy, whichever you prefer!

Chicken Paprikash - Slovak comfort food

I love finding new dishes with old ingredients. Ingredients that are already part of my kitchen, that are easily available in any grocery store, but combined in a way that I haven’t used before.

For example, chicken paprikáš (pronounced paprikash). Like most dishes that feature sweet paprika, this dish originates in Hungry. Hungry had a major influence in Slovakia during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and naturally this carried over in the realm of food as well

I mean, who wants to turn down a dish of delicious?  Read More

Connections, Love, and Death.

Connection, Love, and Death

There is a theme that has been running through my head and my heart recently: connections and community.

It started last year when a particularly grisly case was discovered in Slovakia. The only details necessary here is that a 3 year old girl died of physical abuse but her death wasn’t discovered for three years. Three years.

A bill was proposed to bring back the practice of social workers visiting the homes of all children under the age of three (when most children start going to playschool). These visits were carried out during Communism, and my mother in law said that those visits were nerve-racking.

I’m all for protecting innocent children but I also recoil at the thought of a stranger regularly coming into our home to check up on us.  What particularly bothers me, however, is that the government cannot replace the role of the community.

I think back to that little girl and wonder how it is possible that no one noticed that she was missing for three years. Where were her relatives? Family friends? Neighbours? Where was her community, the people that were connected to her?

In many ways the idea of community gets buried under our celebration of independence and individualism. We’ve all had nosy old grumps or judgmental ‘friends’ who shame us for the decisions we’ve made. We get angry and hurt, and respond “mind your own damn business.” And it’s true – how many children we have, what food philosophy we follow, or what religious beliefs we adhere to (among others) are not up for other people to judge.

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A Slovak Pig Butchering: Part I, The Setup and Process

Slovak Pig Butchering

One of the qualities that I enjoy about Slovakia is how many traditions are still observed in rural areas, whether it be folk singing and dancing, draft horse competitions, or lighting cemeteries up with candles.

Some of these traditions are cultural and remeniscent of the past; others are born from survival. In December, my husband’s parents had zabíjačka (za bee yach ka), killing the family pig.

In the not so distant past, everybody in the village had a pig. It was necessary for survival. Now its less common though still practiced, particuarly by older people.

I grew up on a farm in Canada, but the style of slaughter is very different. In my experience, a number of animals were slaughtered at once but not much was done with it. The meat would be cut up (after hanging if beef) and stored in the freezer. I remember making sausages once at my grandparents and the smoke house in use, but it certainly wasn’t the same day as butchering.

In Slovakia, one, max two, pigs are killed and a variety of goods are made that same day. Many of the recipes use up the organs, so that you can’t even tell when you eat it. Everything is used, besides the toenails, contents of the intestines, and ear drums. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share those recipes here at Almost Bananas. Today, it’s about the set up of how they do it, which I think is fascinating.

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