Food

Opantance: Slovak millet and gnocchi with caramelized onions

Opantance: Slovak millet and gnocchi with caramelized onions and bacon

“I brought something else to cook too,” the small woman said when she came in, “a specialty to this region, opantance.” I peered into the bag she held open and saw millet.

I was at a friend’s house to learn how to make pulled strudel (coming later) from her mother, who also brought ingredients for a lesser known regional dish, opantance, millet and flour gnocchi baked together and topped with caramelized onions or other toppings.

We got to cooking and baking and she got to talking.  Click to continue reading

Mäkké Oškvarkové Pagáče: soft lard crackling biscuits

yeasted biscuits made of lard cracklings

I have an awesome neighbour, Lucia. When I told her that I wanted to go into Slovaks’ homes to learn recipes from them, she called me up. “My grandmother-in-law is making oškvarkové pagáče, want to come?” Yes!

Pagáč are similar to what North Americans would call biscuits and British would call scones, small savoury scones. There are many types – potato, cheese, bryndza (soft sheep cheese), and lard crackling, among others.

Oškvarkové pagáče are the ones made with lard cracklings ground into a paste and spread onto the yeast dough, folded to create layers. There is a variety even within oškvarkové pagáče, however. These ones are soft and a little bread-like; another recipe I have is richer and more flaky. One isn’t better than another, they just have different textures.  Click to continue reading

Vianočné oplátky: making Christmas wafers

A woman holds oplatky, also called oblatky, as she makes them

A necessary part of Christmas for most Slovaks is the thin crisp wafer served at the Christmas Eve meal, oplátky or oblátky, depending on the dialect. Some thin wafers are sold as ‘cakes’ layered together with a sweet filling at spas all year round, but the Christmas wafers are a little different. (More about Slovak Christmas.)

I’ve been trying to get into Slovak kitchens for some time now, to publish their cooking and baking secrets for the world to know. (If you know someone willing for me to come over with a camera, send me an email!) I finally invited myself over to learn how to make oplátky from a lady who makes them in my town.  Click to continue reading

Wild Rice Stuffing with Apricots, Almonds, Sage

Wild Rice Stuffing with apricots, almonds, and sage
Ever since I can remember, my mom has made turkey stuffing with wild rice. In fact, I didn’t even know that most people made stuffing with bread. In grade 8 Home Ec, we made stuffing during class. “Why are we getting out bread?” I wondered.

The quality of bread determines the texture of the stuffing, and I remember being disappointed at this soggy smooshy mass made of wonder bread, because I loved my mom’s stuffing. While I’m sure a sturdy sourdough bread would be delicious, I’m partial to a rice stuffing.

The wild rice (or long grain brown rice) is slightly chewy, the almonds provide a creamy bite. Aromatic sage complements the bursts of sweetness from dried apricot. And it just happens to be gluten free, if that’s an issue.  Click to continue reading

Slovak Stuffed Peppers (with cooking poems)

stuffed peppers blog

Instead of being baked, Slovak stuffed peppers are stewed in a rich tomato sauce for a juicy flavour-packed meal. 

To be honest, getting food on the table day after day can get to be a bit of a drag. And have you seen the amount of food kids can consume? I remember when my brother was a teen, I swear pans of cookies just got inhaled.

It’s certainly a luxury to be able to complain about the burden of cooking though. In the not so distant past, Slovaks had a handful of meals they cooked over again and were glad for it, as most of them knew the gnaw of hunger. And we know that in various parts of the world, people are starving.

But still…what am I going to cook for dinner tonight? I now marvel that my mother laid out a feast for us every evening, although as a child I didn’t think anything of it. I do remember, however, on one occasion my father went back to Japan for a visit and we ate a lot of eggs and toast (my father can’t eat many eggs).

A friend recently wrote a poem on Facebook to share her conundrum of shopping vs. putting crazy ingredients together, and it prompted a number of humorous responses with impressive poetry writing skills.  Click to continue reading

Chickpea and Barley Greek Salad

Chickpea and Barley Greek Salad - a filling meal salad

It was so hot this summer that I didn’t want to cook at all. Our apartment offers no shade from the sun and we don’t have air conditioning. The air was often hot and heavy, without a hint of a breeze. So adding to the heat with cooking – no thanks.

One system I came up with to minimize cooking during the day was to soak and then cook a big batch of legume and grain in the evening. While soaking grains and legumes helps the nutrients be more bio-available, the major advantage of soaking in the summer is that it then takes less cooking time. Kept in the fridge, I could take some out through the week as a base for various dishes, from salads to sautes (and theoretically soup, but that heat thing) and mix with a variety of vegetables.  Click to continue reading

Cream Cucumber Salad

Slovak cream cucumber salad recipe

Of course it’s nearing the end of summer and I’m only getting out summer recipes now. But then any time is a good time for a super simple and refreshing recipe, like this cream cucumber salad.

I’ve seen similar recipes described as a German salad, but the same is made in Slovakia. It’s warm enough to grow cucumbers easily where I live, and this salad is one of my mother-in-law’s summer staples. Click to continue reading

Radler: a refreshing beer cocktail

elderflower lemon radler

Radlers are not originally Slovak, although they are now popular here. Basically, a radler is a beer cocktail, a mix of beer and a sweet drink. Beer connoisseurs may scoff, but I find radlers very enjoyable and perfect on a hot day.

Radler means cyclist in German. In many areas, cycling around the countryside is very popular, and people stop off for a drink at cafes along their journey. A radler can quench thirst without getting one tipsy, and are not as sweet as pop/soda. A radler is the same as a shandy in British English.  Click to continue reading

Elderflower syrup

Elderflower syrup

There are three items that many Slovaks forage for, even if they aren’t the ‘in harmony with nature’ type of person: ramsons/bear garlic, mushrooms, and elderflowers.

Elderberry bushes with their characteristic large head of small white blossoms are a common sight throughout the western part of Slovakia in the spring, their strong scent filling the air. It’s common to see someone walking by with a basket, or even a huge bag.

What do Slovaks make with elderflowers? Elderflower syrup. I made this recipe with 2 litres of water, but most people make huge batches of 10 or more litres.

If you find the idea of fermenting elderflower wine or cordial intimidating, then this simple syrup is the recipe to try. Instead of juice concentrates, in Europe people buy syrups to make ‘juice’.  Click to continue reading

Fermented Ramsons Flower Buds

Fermented Ramson Flower Buds on Almost Bananas

I love spring in the area of Slovakia where I live, in the Malé Karpaty. The forest bursts into life, with bird song and greenery (post coming soon on the amazing flower explosion in spring).

Ramsons, or bear garlic, is a wild garlic related to the North American ramps. I haven’t actually tasted ramps, but I’ve heard that they are stronger than ramsons. They carpet the forest floor (like here), verdant and lush.  Click to continue reading

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