Everything’s Better with Ketchup: Notes on Slovak Food

 From Saturday's Cabbage Rolls Gone Wild dinner. This one is filled with tamarind-cumin braised cabbage, onions, carrots and bacon; potato dumplings with a mustard dipping sauce (not shown) are served on the side. 

From Saturday’s Cabbage Rolls Gone Wild dinner. This one is filled with tamarind-cumin braised cabbage, onions, carrots and bacon; potato dumplings with a mustard dipping sauce (not shown) are served on the side. 

This week has confirmed what I always suspected about my grandparents’ cuisine – you take a few humble ingredients (often involving potatoes, cabbage, or both) then devote an entire day to transforming them. At the end, ta da! a delicious dinner that you’re too tired to eat. I didn’t put my family’s signature dish, MiMi’s Noodle Soup, on the menu because I would have had to eliminate all other items to free up the time. It’s tangentially related to the New England Boiled Supper, but makes that dinner look like the rank amateur it is. There’s chicken, beef, carrots, celery, potatoes, veal dumplings and lots and lots of angel hair noodles. My main memory is of a kitchen in which every horizontal surface is covered with thin egg noodles in the process of drying. 

This week has also confirmed that when Michael Pollan gave the dietary advice to eat the foods your grandparents would have eaten to stay healthy, he must not have meant my particular grandparents.

And this cuisine definitely developed in an age before Instagram – no chefs are going to be pushed to social media fame via Bryndzové Halušky

Recipe: Bryndzové Halušky

Speaking of Bryndzové Halušky (dumplings with sheep’s milk feta cheese) let’s start with that recipe. This is my version, it’s more flavor than I realized one could get out of a variation on boiled potatoes. Rib sticking would be an accurate description. I’ve never been to Slovakia, so I can’t tell how far I’ve strayed from the original, taste-wise, but I like it (for the starting recipe, see here). Served with a fried egg, it should be a winter breakfast of choice. 

Ingredients: 1 pound boiling potatoes (ie Yukon Gold, red), 2/3 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 egg (lightly beaten), sheep’s milk feta cheese (about 1 cup, crumbled), bacon (to taste). While you assemble ingredients, bring a pot of water to a gentle boil and fry up some bacon. You’ll want the saucepan of bacon fat. 

Shred 1 pound of peeled potatoes. If you have a food processor to do your shredding work, this part will make you feel glad for the investment. Otherwise, box grater on the large grate side. 

Squeeze water out of the potatoes. You don’t have to get all the liquid out, but they shouldn’t be sopping.

In a mixing bowl toss potatoes with 2/3 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda. Stir in 1 lightly beaten egg until everything is coated.

Now, drop the mixture in pinches into the boiling water. They will rise to the top, and let them cook 1-2 minutes after they rise. Then, skim the dumplings out of the water with a spider or slotted spoon. Toss them into the hot bacon fat and coat. Dump that into a serving bowl, mix with the feta, and put bacon on top. 

Recipe: Cabbage Stew & Bread Dumplings

Here is a recipe where I did in fact follow instructions – it needs no adjustment. It is a lovely, simple, cabbage stew from SlovakCooking.com

You know what tastes good with with this stew? Boiled bread dumplings. In which I did again stray from the recipe text. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients: 3 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp salt, about 1 cup bread crumbs made from running stale white bread through a food processor, 2 tsp yeast, 3/4 cup warm (but not hot) milk, 1 egg, warm water as needed.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl (yes, I’m including yeast as a dry ingredient). Make a well in the middle, add the egg and milk and beat with a fork, then work in the dry ingredients. You want a relatively-wet dough. It should be technically kneadable, but in a state where it would need a great deal of flour on the board should you knead it at this juncture. Add warm water if needed. Now, stir in the bread crumbs until the dough is at a good kneading place. Knead lightly until smooth and elastic. Put in an oiled, covered bowl and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Pull off hunks of dough slightly larger than a golf ball (or 2.5 oz. if you have a scale). Roll into tight balls. Let these rise, covered, 15 – 20 minutes. While these rise, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the dough at a low boil, covered, for 15 minutes. Flip them halfway through cooking. Fish them out at the end and you’ve got dumplings to sauce.  

Recipe: Pierogi

This post would not be complete without a recipe for pierogi.  And sometimes our family’s recipes are not the best recipes. It’s a hard truth. I’ve switched to using this King Arthur Flour pierogi recipe. I filled mine with mashed potatoes, cheese, and shallots & poblano peppers that were finely diced and sauteed in butter before being mixed in with the rest. One thing about this recipe – it says 10 minutes for the dumplings to float, but that’s the ones from the freezer. It takes less time for fresh. I either let them rise to the surface then flip them into a saute pan with butter to finish them or (if they aren’t getting that second cooking) wait 2 minutes after they float. 

 The recipe's recommendation to use the pierogi dough scraps as noodles for soup is a good one. This is chicken noodle soup.

The recipe’s recommendation to use the pierogi dough scraps as noodles for soup is a good one. This is chicken noodle soup.

Recipe: Cabbage Cookies

This post might be complete without a recipe for a cabbage dessert, but it would be less fun. Let me make my case for cabbage filled cookies. If you cook anything long enough with sugar, it will taste like sugar was meant to be there. . . and if you cook cabbage long enough with sugar, the cabbage will take the edge off the sugar and give the sense that it is a more complex sweet. Sophisticated, that’s what cabbage filled cookies are. Here is a link to a starting recipe for sweet cabbage dumplings (aka cookies). You can halve the recipe and still have plenty (because the recipe makes a lot, not because just a few cookies are plenty). A suggested modification: I played around with it and decided that I like the filling best when you add in raisins and chopped toasted walnuts in a ratio that the cooked down cabbage is equal in volume to the raisins & walnuts mixed together.

Finally, because my father believes that all Slovak food should be served with ketchup, I leave you with this link to Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on ketchup – a perfect condiment

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