Bryndzove (or Feta) Cauliflower

Bryndza, a soft sheep cheese, is a traditional food in Slovakia. It tastes something like feta but is soft. Bryndzove halusky is the classic Slovak dish, little potato gnocchi smothered in byndza and bacon. This version simulates the taste for those who don’t have access to bryndza or don’t have the time to make potato gnocchi. 

Bryndzove (or Feta) Cauliflower

Ask any Slovak about traditional Slovak foods, and you’ll most likely hear about bryndzove halusky (halushky).

Halusky is usually translated as potato dumplings, but I’ve seen dumpling cover everything from bread-like blobs to Chinese wontons to Slovak potato drops, all exceedingly different.

Bryndza is a soft sheep cheese, tasting something akin to feta, salty and sharp. It’s used to make spreads for bread, fill perogies, or even make soup. It’s most common application is as a sauce over halusky.

Many brands mix sheep and cow milk to make bryndza, but some brands use only sheep milk, and a few even have raw sheep bryndza. To fit in with my probiotic and fermenting theme, bryndza is full of probiotics. There is a study examining which bacteria bryndza contains and their antimicrobial activity.

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Fermented Red Onion

 

Fermented Red Onions

 

As a ‘real foodie’, I have this idea that I should therefore like all real foods. I have a confession to make; I don’t like raw onions. Cooked onions are wonderful. In the winter, I go through kilos of onions in soups and stir fries. Caramelized onions, yummm. But raw? Nope. Only if they’ve been marinated for a very long time.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, loves raw onions. She will voluntarily ask for raw onions on buttered (sourdough) bread, a very Slovak thing to eat. I gladly prepare it for her, because onions are healthy and all that. “Yumm, Mom, this is SO good! Have a bite.” Er…no thanks dear, I’ll let you enjoy it.

But then I came across the idea of Lactofermented Red Onions over at Delicious Obsessions and thought I’d try it.

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Baek (White) Kimchi

Kimchi, a Korean fermented pickle, is well known for it’s red colour and spicey flavour. This version of kimchi, baek means white, is actually probably older than the better known version, but just as delicious.

kimchi text

In my hometown in Canada, there has been a Korean restaurant or two at all times in the last 15 years or so. Buses full of Koreans come on tours through the Rocky Mountains, and they stop at the Korean restaurants, keeping the business running in a small town. These restaurants were my first introduction to metal chopsticks (harder than wood), lettuce rice wraps (so good), and sweet potato noodles (love. miss.).

My parents knew the owner of one of the restaurants, and my father called  her  up when we went there once as a family on one of my visits home. For us, she cooked real Korean food as opposed to the versions made for an American palate. What. A. Feast. Little dishes of various condiments, marinated beef still on the hot plate, dandelion kimchi, and those amazing noodles. The table was covered with various dishes that we shared. I rarely go to restaurants and am even more rarely impressed, but I still have visions about that meal.

Kimchi is a staple in Korea and I think it’s the cat’s meow that a fermented veggie is a national staple. According to a video I watched, 94% of Koreans have it every day, and 96% make it themselves instead of buying it in a store.

(What if 96% of North Americans and Europeans made their own yogurt? Or sauerkraut? Dreaming…but I digress.)

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A Scientific Look at the Benefits of Probiotics

I’m concentrating on probiotics and fermenting for the month, and this is the first installment, here is an index I’ll add posts to as I publish them. I wanted to write an epic thorough post on probiotics, complete with scientific references and explanations. The problem is, that’s called a book. For now, please accept this truncated and incomplete version. I’ve tried to include ample sources to demonstrate that the immense importance of probiotics is not some hippy-feel-good theory, but grounded in science.

A Scientific Look at the Benefits of Probiotics

I’ve long known that ‘probiotics’ were good for you in a general way, hearing advice to take them after antibiotics. We are, however, discovering functions of probiotics that are actually fundamental to our well being, as opposed to being a nice thing to have. Studies and experiments are continually discovering new ways that these little bugs benefit the human host and I think we are just starting to uncover the tip of the iceberg.

Probiotics are mostly bacteria, with a few kinds of yeast, that populate our bodies. We tend to concentrate on the ones that reside in the gut, but beneficial bacteria are also present on all the places of contact with the ‘outside’ world, including skin, eyes, genitals, and breastmilk. For our purposes, we will focus on beneficial flora in the gut.

Technically, probiotics are defined as “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” by the World Health Organization. This definition is mostly in reference to supplements and advertising claims, so that ‘probiotic’ on a label must have scientific evidence of some health benefit from the strain of bacteria or yeast that is being promoted. With an estimated 1000 species of beneficial flora residing in or on the human person and however, there is much more research before all the health benefits that do exist are found out. And of those 1,000 species of beneficial bacteria in the human ‘eco-system’, each of those species has multiple strains, each of which can have a different influence on the human host.

As an example of how much we don’t yet know, the second most common bacterial species listed in the American Gut Project ( a project examining swabs/samples from a variety of people mostly in the United States) doesn’t have a name – in fact, it doesn’t even have a named genus. And the most common bacteria mapped by the American Gut Project is practically non-existent in the Hanza tribe of Tanzania, a group still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This study, as well as other, indicates that the composition of an individual’s microbes is dependent on that individual’s diet.

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31 days of Probiotics and Fermenting

 

31 Days of Probiotics and Fermenting, index

I’m so excited (yes, that’s how geeky I am)!! This month is all about probiotics and fermenting here on Almost Bananas.

I’m taking part in 31 Days, a writing challenge to write every day for the month of October. Take a look – it looks like there are some amazing month long topics.

I’m not off to a very good start – between puking kids and falling asleep putting toddlers to sleep, I’m already behind. But, something is better than nothing, no?

I’ve long known that probiotics are good for you, in a sort of general that-nice type of way. In a ‘you should take a probiotic supplement when you take antibiotics’ type of way.  Increasingly, however, we (as in science and nutrition) are discovering how important probiotics really are and how fundamental they are to health in ways that we never thought of. Who would have guessed that probiotics could effect behaviour and food allergies?

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Quick and Nourishing Japanese Soup

Quick Japanese Soup, gluten free

 

One of the disadvantages of being an ex-pat is that one’s comfort foods aren’t readily available. Ten years ago when I first came to Slovakia (has it been that long??) there wasn’t much in the way of Asian groceries. Now there are a number of Asian (mostly Korean) food stores in Bratislava.

I rarely get down to Bratislava, but we keep supplied with soy sauce, nori, and a few other tidbits.

Even just some soy sauce or tamari is enough to make this delicious soup. It’s even got bone goodness in it, without simmering bones forever. And the best part of the soup, besides the taste? It’s ready to eat by the time the water boils.

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Simple (and Best) Liver Pâté

This easy liver pâté is delicious, thanks to an unusual spice that does away with the liver taste. Even beef liver can be used for a nutritious spread, perfect for a snack or meal addition. 

Best Liver Pate

Most people love to hate liver. Texture, taste, smell, it is not one of the more appetizing foods. There are some edified people who love liver, but they are a special minority.

Even though I do not belong to the elect liver lovers, the nutritional profile keeps bringing me back to it. Being high in many B vitamins, especially B12, and vitamin A, liver also apparently improves energy levels, or at least improves endurance. In the 50’s an experiment with rats showed that rats who ate liver were able to swim anywhere from one to two hours (when the experiment ended) as opposed to an average of 13 minutes. (Yes, they let the rats sink, yes, it was inhumane but the information is still valid, no, I don’t have a source because it’s late but if you ask me I’ll dig it up). And we could all use a little more energy, no?

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(Cauliflower) Temaki: Fast and Easy Sushi Hand Rolls

 

Sushi, while delicious, can take a long time to make – not so great for a crowd or hungry family. Temaki, sushi hand rolls, is an easy and fast way to serve sushi. Temaki is especially suited to cauliflower sushi because they don’t need to hold themselves together, just roll up and eat!

Temaki: Easy Sushi for a Crowd

Slovak food is delicious but tends toward the heavy side: sausages, potatoes, various breads. It’s comfort food at it’s most cozy. (I recently started a Pinterest board of Slovak Food which is perfect as the weather cools, go join it now, or even better, just follow me on Pinterest!)

When I was pregnant with my first, I remember craving the Japanese comfort foods of my childhood, like miso soup, soba noodles, and sushi. I distinctly remember a night in January when all I wanted was watermelon and soba, but neither were to be found.

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Jarmok, Trnava, Slovakia

Jarmok, Trnava

Jarmok, pronounced yarmok, is a festival of the grape harvest season in Slovakia (at least, I think it is). While a few weeks ago we saw a dozinky, a celebration of the grain harvest, jarmok is a fair put on by the town. In Trnava, there are a number of sections: handmade crafts, everything for sale from clothes to kitchen gadgets, fair rides, food, medieval demonstrations, music.

meant to walk to the various parts of jarmok and take pictures for you all, but after wandering for 2.5 hrs at the handmade arts section, I had to run back home. I just enjoy marveling over objects of beauty, even though I don’t usually have money to buy them.

So, following are some of the pictures from the handmade section. I tried to choose photos of crafts unique to or common in Slovakia, with explanations. There was some lovely pottery, and you can see what I bought on my Instagram account.

Jarmok, Trnava
Trdelnik is a Slovak treat that waft sweet vapours through the fair; the smell alone is enough to ensure long line ups. Long strips of sweet dough are wrapped around a wooden cylinder and rotates as it bakes. It is then rolled in your choice of sugar and cinnamon, walnuts, and other toppings. Pulling on it causes the trdenik to unfurl and pieces are ripped off to eat.

Jarmok, Trnava
Just to make sure you always have a shot glass available, you can hang it around your neck.

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Janosikove Diery and Cicmany, Slovakia

Janosikove Diery

For the last installment of our trip, where we first went to the open air museum in Martin and then hiking in Rohace, we go now to Terchova and Cicmany.

Terchova is a small town in northern Slovakia known for being the hometown of the Robin Hood like legend, Juraj Janosik (pronounced Yuraye Yanoshik). Juraj, the Slavic equivalent of George, lived from 1688 to 1713. When he was 15 he fought with the Kuruc rebels against the Hapsburg reign but, after a battle lost by the Kuruc, he was recruited to join the Hapsburg ranks. As a prison guard, he helped a fellow Slovak escape and became the leader of a highwayman band.

Janosikove Diery

The men robbed rich merchants although apparently they were chivalrous robbers, not murders. Legend has it that they gave to the poor, like Robin Hood. A few years later he was captured and hung from the side on a hook to die.

Janosik became of symbol of fighting for the oppressed, a Slovak champion of freedom. He is celebrated in Slovak folklore, literature, and movies.

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