Savoury 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

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

Kapustnica: Slovak Sauerkraut Soup

Kapustnica Slovak Sauerkraut Soup - Almost Bananas
A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews Book

I’m sharing another part of  chapter from my book, A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews.

With 26 recipes, cultural stories, and in-depth health info on traditional cooking practices, there is so much more than I’ve shared here!

Here I’m sharing about the batch style cooking of the old world, food that took minimum active time, as well as the recipe for kapustnica, Slovak sauerkraut soup. A hearty soup, it is often served when needed to fit a crowd.

 

Have you heard of batch cooking? With batch cooking, you prepare all your meals for, say, a month at a time on one day, then freeze the meals. Then for dinners every day, you only have to pull a bag out of the freezer to prepare. It saves a lot of time and decision-making, as well as the what-are-we-going-to-have-for-supper stress.

Slovaks once had that method down pat. Before the advent of fridges and freezers, food had to be preserved, which made cooking with it that much faster the day it was eaten.  Click to continue reading

Bone broth: health benefits?

Does bone broth actually have any health benefits?

 

A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews Book

I’m sharing another part of  chapter from my book, A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews. This chapter is where I get geeky.

In the book is info on the difference between broth, stock, and bone broth, and between white and brown stocks (for now we’re just calling it bone broth). Included are instructions for making bone broth with a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or stock pot with poultry, fish, or ungulate (animals with hooves) bones. And, I have six ideas of where to find bones, if you don’t know where to get them.

 

 
Bone broth is a bit of a buzzword. Trendy cafés serve flavoured bone broth to go and it is celebrated as a magic heal-all. Others scoff at broth as a fad of plaid-wearing hipsters or dismiss that any health benefits can result from drinking it.

Is the bone broth worth the fuss, not to mention the extra time and energy that goes into making it (or buying it)?  Click to continue reading

The Best Ever Goulash (and the ebook is here!!)

Best Ever Goulash - Almost Bananas blog

A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews BookFor the past while, I’ve been working on an ebook, A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve been frustrated, and now I’m so excited to share it with you! It’s part cookbook, part travelogue, with cultural stories, delicious recipes, and info about traditional cooking methods – like why bone broth is so amazing.
You can check out the book here – A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews
Here’s a teaser – one recipe and part of the story for making goulash.

 

Strictly speaking, goulash is not Slovak but Hungarian. Slovaks know a good dish when they taste it, however, and this stew is a staple here in Slovakia.

When hosting a large gathering, goulash and kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) are the go-to Slovak meals, much like chili or beef stew in North America.

This recipe is from my husband, goulash cook extraordinaire. Since I was accustomed to his goulash genius, I was under the impression that making goulash was fairly fool-proof; I thought that all goulash was good goulash. This is not the case. No. After sampling several underwhelming versions, I realized just how amazing his goulash recipe really is, and my opinion is shared by many.

Slovak friends who recently visited said it was the best goulash they had ever tasted, and Slovaks are not prone to exaggeration. In fact, his recipe is so popular that friends and family have called him to come make goulash for their celebrations, sometimes for 100+ people. His amazing recipe is a great way to get an invitation to a party.  Click to continue reading

Bryndzové Halušky: Slovak potato dumplings with sheep cheese

Bryndzové Halušky, Slovak sheep cheese dumplings, gluten free variation - Almost Bananas

Ask any Slovak and they will tell you that bryndzové halušky is the national dish. Potato ‘dumplings’ are smothered in a sheep cheese, rather like soft feta, and topped with a good dose of bacon (don’t forget the drippings!).

The word ‘dumpling’ covers a multitude of meanings. As a child, a dumpling meant a puffy floury ball in soup or stew from my mom or a smooth more condensed drop from my dad.

I knew that dumplings covered everything from won tons to pierogies, but I thought that dumplings had to be boiled. According to Wikipedia, dumplings consist of some sort of dough, often wrapped around a filling, and can be boiled, steamed, or even baked. Well, that’s broad.  Click to continue reading

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