Cucumber Patties with Parenitza Cheese

When I was preserving cucumbers a few weeks ago, some of the vegetables were not suitable for pickling, mainly because of their size. So I had to put them away in the fridge, and use them either in salads, or cooking.

Here’s an example of what I did with the last one left in stock. Cucumber patties are at their best right after taking them out of the pan, but they can also be eaten cold as a healthy nibble between meals.

I chose to top my patties with parenica (parenitza) cheese – one of the traditional Slovak cheeses documented in A Taste of Slovakia book. I’m planning to write a separate post about parenitza, as the cheese has a very special place in our diet – and culture.DSC_0038Cucumber Patties with Parenitza Cheese
Serves 2

  • 1 large cucumber (about 350 g)
  • ½ cup oatflakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • a handful of green scallion tops, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red paprika
  • oil for frying
  • 50 g parenitza cheese (or cheese of your choice) to top
  • 2 medium tomatoes to garnish, sliced

Method:

  1. Wash the cucumber and grate it roughly into a large bowl.DSC_0026
  2. Rinse the oatflakes under running water and add to the grated cucumber. Stir in the salt and black pepper. Let stand for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the oatflakes have absorbed all the cucumber juices. In the meantime, wash the scallion tops and chop them. Rinse and slice the tomatoes.
  3. Break the eggs into the cucumber-oatflake mixture, throw in the green scallion tops, and add the paprika. Mix until well combined and put aside.DSC_0030
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Scoop a large tablespoon of the mixture into the hot oil, and pat it with the back of the spoon to form a small pancake (a patty). Depending on the size of your pan, you can do more patties in one go. Adjust the heat to medium-low and fry until the patties edges turn slightly brown.DSC_0033
  5. Be gentle when turning them on the other side. The patties are soft and tender, so you will need two wooden spatulas to do so. Place one spatula under a patty, the other one on its top, and turn carefully. Fry until the patties are cooked through and crispy. Take them out on a plate covered with a kitchen towel, which will absorb the excess oil. Cover and keep warm. Repeat with another batch until you have used all the mixture.
  6. Divide the patties between two serving plates and top with the cheese. Garnish with the sliced tomatoes and the remaining greens.

    DSC_0038
    Cucumber Patties with Parenitza Cheese

Buckwheat Groats with Grilled Vegetables

Have you ever heard of buckwheat?

Did you know this long-forgotten food plant is more than 6000 years old? It was first cultivated in Southeast Asia, from where it slowly spread all over the world. As an inexpensive source of valuable proteins, buckwheat had played an important role in Eastern European cuisines before it was displaced by more productive cereals like wheat, corn, barley or even rice. Today, buckwheat is experiencing a renaissance, thus filling our kitchens with a whole range of classic, as well as brand-new dishes.

Despite its name, buckwheat has nothing in common with wheat. It’s not a grass, nor a grain or a cereal. In fact, it’s the seed of a flowering plant related to rhubarb. Buckwheat seeds have a triangular shape and are often referred to as groats.

DSC_0031
Buckwheat groats

Buckwheat groats are rich in rutin, an antioxidant that prevents blood from clotting; they are high in minerals like magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron or phosphorus. Buckwheat is also known to reduce blood sugars and cholesterol levels. It is gluten-free and a very good source of fiber.

Pohánka, the Slovak name for buckwheat, comes from pohania (pagans) – the word our ancestors used for the Tartar people who brought buckwheat to our lands in the 13th century. The First Cookbook in Slovak (Prvá kuchárska kniha v slovenskej reči) from 1870, which features a number of buckwheat recipes, says that ‘buckwheat can be thought of as Slovak rice, and it is a very beneficial food for both the healthy and the sick.’ 

I was inspired to try and recreate Buckwheat Groats with Grilled Vegetables after my last trip to Košice and its whimsical Republic of the East (Republika východu) restaurant.DSC_0060Buchwheat Groats with Grilled Vegetables
Serves 2

  • ½ cup buckwheat groats
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 green Slovak pepper (or any bell pepper of your choice)
  • a handful of green scallion tops, chopped
  • ground caraway and turmeric to taste
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • oil for frying
  • 100 g bryndza cheese (or any cheese of your choice) to top

Method:

  1. Rinse the buckwheat groats on a sieve under running water. Transfer into a small pot or a saucepan and pour in the water. Add a pinch of salt, stir and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low, stir gently, and let simmer for 30 minutes or until the buckwheat has absorbed all the water and doubled in volume.
  2. Wash the vegetables and cut, slice or chop them, as applicable. Put some of the green scallion tops aside.DSC_0057
  3. Pour a little oil in a frying pan and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, throw in the vegetables and stir in the seasoning. Gril for about 10 minutes, turning and stirring the vegetables around the pan as needed.
  4. Divide the cooked buckwheat groats onto two plates and cover with a generous layer of the hot grilled vegetables. Top with the cheese and the remaining green scallions.DSC_0066Buckwheat Groats with Grilled Vegetables

Enjoy a hearty, nutritious meal full of exciting summer smells and flavours.

Butter Rolls with Poppy Seeds

A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a lady who is married to an American with Slovak roots. She asked about a ‘kiflick’ cake she wanted to make, but couldn’t find a recipe for. It sounded like it was an ancient recipe from her husband’s aunt, which she had taken to the grave with her.

So I did what most people do these days, and took to the Internet. There was no ‘kiflick cake’ to be found, but Google suggested a few culinary websites (for the most part Croatian or Macedonian) that gave several recipes for ‘kiflicki’ – small rolls in the shape of crescents that looked like Slovak maslové rožky (butter rolls). In the Croatian and Macedonian recipes they were made with margarine or cheese, and in some cases with a sweet filling.

The recipe below is commonly used for Slovak plain butter rolls, but I’m also planning to make bryndza cheese rolls, and a few sweet filling variations.

DSC_0084

Butter Rolls with Poppy Seeds
Makes 16

  • 500 g bread flour
  • 300 ml milk
  • 21 g fresh yeast*
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 120 g butter
  • 1 egg (yolk and white separated)
  • a pinch of salt and sugar for the dough
  • poppy seeds or sesame seeds to sprinkle 
*If you can’t get fresh yeast, use the dry or instant one (21 g fresh = 7 g instant)

Method:

  1. Take the butter out of the fridge and let it soften.
  2. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt. Make sure you stir it well into the flour, so the salt doesn’t come in direct contact with the yeast at the next stage.
  3. Heat the milk over a low heat until warm. Add a little sugar and stir. Transfer half of the milk into a glass. Crumble the yeast into it and stir until it dissolves. Add a pinch of flour to kick-start fermentation and stir again. Cover the glass and leave in a warm place.
  4. When the yeast has risen up to the brim, pour all the contents of the glass onto the flour. Add the remaining milk, the sugar, the egg yolk, and the softened butter cut into pieces. Knead by hand or in a food processor until you achieve a smooth, elastic dough. Cover with a dishtowel and leave to rest in a warm place for an hour.
  5. When the dough has doubled in volume, transfer it onto a floured rolling board.DSC_0067
  6. Divide the dough into halves and shape into two balls. Roll out each ball into a circle until the dough is about 5 mm thick. With a pastry wheel, cut each circle into quarters, then each quarter into halves, so you’ll end up with eight equal segments. Roll them in starting from the outside, as seen in the photo below. Shape each roll into a crescent. Dust the board, the dough and your fingers each time the dough feels too sticky to work with.DSC_0075
  7. Put the rolls on a baking tray (depending on the size, you’ll probably need two of them) lined with a piece of baking parchment. Glaze with the egg white and sprinkle with the poppy or sesame seeds.DSC_0079
  8. Put in the oven preheated to 180ºC and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the rolls turn golden brown.DSC_0083
  9. Serve warm or cold with home-made strawberry jam, nutella or vanilla cream.DSC_0084We often eat butter rolls for breakfast, but they also make a nice snack or light supper, and they are perfect to start your Sunday with.

What’s cooking in Košice

Most tourists and visitors to our country will naturally head to Bratislava – the capital of Slovakia. Not only does the city have its own (albeit small) airport, but it’s only an hour drive from a larger Vienna airport, which is a convenient gateway to other European cities and holiday destinations. There’s a very good shuttle bus service between Vienna and Bratislava, in addition to regular trains joining the two cities.

Košice (pronounced as Koshitze), on the other hand, is a little off the beaten path, but that’s exactly what many tourists are looking for when coming to Slovakia. With the population of almost 250 000, Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia, as well as the industrial, commercial and educational centre of its eastern part. That said, Košice has all the features and amenities of a European city, including an international airport and a modern train station, yet it preserves its unique atmosphere and exudes charm Bratislava doesn’t possess. Mind you, Košice served as the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

St Elisabeth’s Cathedral on the Main Street (Hlavná ulica), Košice

Apart from its rich cultural heritage, the city boasts a well-preserved historical centre with such impressive buildings as Gothic St Elisabeth’s Cathedral – the largest church in Slovakia dating back to the 14th century, St Urban’s Tower, the exquisite State Theatre, and a number of beautifully renovated aristocratic palaces skirting the promenade of the Main Street.

When I went to Košice a few weeks ago, I was recommended to try the regional cuisine in the Republic of the East (Republika východu) restaurant at 31 Main Street (Hlavná ulica), just opposite St Elisabeth’s Cathedral. It was a warm day at the end of June, so some diners were taking advantage of the outdoor seating and enjoying the sunshine.

I liked the coolness and the casual look of the interior, nicely furnished with bookshelves on one side. I chose to sit at a table by the window giving onto the street, which let in plenty of soft afternoon light – perfect for taking pictures.

When the menu arrived, I understood this wasn’t just another main street restaurant, but indeed a place with a very ‘regional’ feel. The menu was written in a very strong East-Slovak dialect that broke all the spelling and grammar rules of the standard Slovak language. It did look peculiar to someone coming from outside the region, but with a little bit of imagination I could guess what was behind the names – and the funny comments accompanying them. I’m not surprised though they haven’t tried to provide the menu in English, as is now the case in all major Slovak towns, not to mention cosmopolitan Košice. Much of the local folklore and genuine East-Slovak humour would be lost in translation. Fortunately for those unfamiliar with the vernacular, all the entries on the menu are illustrated with great photos, so you have a really good idea what to expect.

https://www.republikavychodu.sk/listek/

It seems that the restaurant caters for all tastes and diets, so alongside traditional Slovak dishes like halushki, letcho or pirohy (both sweet and savoury), you’ll find steaks, prosciutto, duck burgers or braised quail. There’s a good choice of salads, speciality cheeses, home-made desserts and ‘healthy foods’ like quinoa, buckwheat or millet. I was taken aback by an impressive selection of pancakes (both classical and gluten-free), and as I leafed through the beverage list, I realized the place also serves as a cafe, a pub and a wine bar.

But I was hungry and wanted to try something I wouldn’t get in a regular restaurant, so after some deliberation I chose Buckwheat Groats with Grilled VegetablesAnd I had no regrets when it came about 15 minutes later.I left nothing on my plate, but was left feeling happier and inspired after the meal. Yes, I’m going to try and recreate it at home. But before I leave Košice, I can’t forget to say hello to the famous singing fountain on the Main Street.

The singing fountain of Košice

Within a short walking distance of the Republika východu restaurant, there’s a nice and cosy Artforum bookshop in Mlynska Street (Mlynská ulica), where they sell A Taste of Slovakia cookbook. So if you wander off to Košice on your travels around Slovakia, do call round and have a look inside. I’m sure you’ll love the bookshop’s ambience, and I’d be more than pleased to have your thoughts on the book.

Raw Poppyseed Avocado Cake

I’m not a big fan of raw cakes. Not only are they more laborious and much more expensive than the regular ones, but I doubt their healthy side as well. I love fresh fruit (or vegetables), and I often indulge in all kinds of seeds and whole nuts, but why mash, squeeze and grind these delicious foods, smother them in chocolate, caramel or dates, only to produce something that bears little resemblance to the soft, airy cakes I grew up on?

My first attempt at a raw cake a few months ago ended up in a dense, dry dessert, which was too sweet and too heavy for my liking. I wouldn’t normally eat as much sugar and fat in a piece of cake, as most of these raw recipes suggest. I abandoned the idea of raw desserts until a few days ago, when I decided to replace some of the ingredients in the original recipe with traditional Slovak ones, as well as change their amounts. It was an extremely hot summer day (the mercury soared to 37ºC), so having a ‘cake’ without baking seemed like a good idea.

This Raw Poppyseed Avocado Cake is not vegan, as most other raw cakes are, but it’s gluten-free and low in sugar. To make it, you will need poppy seeds (one of the richest natural sources of calcium), as well as a springform pan of 22 cm/9-inch diameter.DSC_0038Raw Poppyseed Avocado Cake
Makes 12

For the base:

  • 100 g ground poppy seeds
  • 100 g shredded dessicated coconut
  • 5 tablespoons home-made jam or marmalade
  • 150 g creamy yoghurt
  • 5 tablespoons oil

For the filling:

  • flesh from 4 ripe avocados
  • 5 limes
  • 250 g sour cream (14% fat content in Slovakia)
  • 5 tablespoons runny honey
  • 1 sachet gelatine powder (20 g in Slovakia) 

Method:

  1. Line the bottom and the sides of the pan with baking parchment. It will help loosen the cake from the sides before serving, as well as cut it without scratching the bottom of the pan.
  2. Grind the poppy seeds if you haven’t bought ground ones.
  3. To make the base, place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine well until you achieve a paste-like consistency. Transfer into the springform pan. Spread around evenly and level the surface with the back of a large spoon. Set aside.
  4. Finely grate the zest of 2 limes into a large mixing bowl. Squeeze the juice from all the limes.
  5. Cut the avocado in halves lengthways around the tip. Twist the halves to separate them – the pit will remain in one of the halves. Gently run a cutlery knife around the pit to remove it. Place the halves on a plate and scrape the flesh off the skins with a tablespoon. Transfer to the mixing bowl and repeat with the other avocados.
  6. To make the filling, mash the avocado pieces with a fork. Pour in the cream and the honey. Blend until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Prepare the gelatine according to the instructions on the packet. Add it to the avocado mixture and blend again. Pour over the cake base and level the surface with the back of a spoon.
  8. Put the cake in the fridge and leave to set overnight.
  9. Remove the sides of the pan before serving, gently take away the baking parchment, and cut the cake into pieces. Decorate with fresh fruit of your choice.

Although I was quite sceptical at the beginning, this Raw Poppyseed Avocado Cake turned out to be a success. I was really surprised by its moist, velvety texture and, above all, it had a refreshing zest, which was exactly what I needed on this schorching summer afternoon.

Pickled Gherkins

We are in the midst of our ‘uhorková sezóna’ (or cucumber season) right now, both literally and metaphorically. Not much is happening on the political scene at the peak of Slovak summer, no big stories are filling the news columns, and life in general has switched into a leisurely mode.

On the other hand, our gardens and farms have seen an upsurge of activity in the last month. Cucumbers, among other Slovak staples, have given excellent crops this year, so most Slovaks are filling their pantries with bottles of small, crunchy cucumbers preserved in spiced pickle. Of course, no Slovak household can imagine their winter without a good supply of pickled gherkins, as this small variety of cucumbers is called in English. We love them in cold buffets, tartar sauce, our famed potato salad, or as a garnish for all sorts of meat and potato dishes.

Although the most valued cucumbers for pickling are the small ones, we also preserve medium-size cucumbers cut in halves, quarters, or even sliced. Here is a recipe I got from my Mum, who is an expert on preserving all sorts of fruit and vegetables.

DSC_0222 (2)

Pickled Gherkins

  • 3 kg small cucumbers (gherkins)
  • black peppercorns
  • allspice corns
  • bay leaves
  • mustard seeds
  • fresh dill sprigs

For the pickle:

  • 2 l water
  • ½ l white vinegar
  • 60 g salt
  • 180 g sugar

Method:

  1. Wash the jars and let them dry off. Remove any dirt from the gherkins, check for blemishes and only select firm, good quality ones for the pickling. Cut off the stems and wash the gherkins thoroughly under running water. Rinse the dill sprigs.
  2. Pour the water in a large cooking pot and bring to the boil. Add the salt and the sugar. Stir and let dissolve. Pour in the vinegar and stir again. Set aside.
  3. Stand the jars in a row on the table. At the bottom of each one, put a small sprig of the dill, a bay leaf, 3 black peppercorns, 2 allspice corns, and a few mustard seeds. Cram in the gherkins, laying them lengthways from the bottom of a jar up to its grooves.
  4. Pour in the warm pickling solution. Make sure all the gherkins in the jar are covered in it. Tap each jar lightly with your hand to release air bubbles. Screw on the lids and sterilize the jars in a boiling water canner at 100°C for 5 minutes.*
*If you don’t have a canner, you can sterilize the gherkins in an oven. Place a few jars on a baking tray and put in the oven. Set the temperature to 200°C and when the pickle in the jars starts producing tiny bubbles, turn the temperature down to 100°C. Let simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Let cool down, take out of the canner or the oven, and stand on a wooden         board or a dishtowel. As the jars are cooling, the lids will give a slight                 popping sound, which indicates a good seal.

Pickled Gherkins

As you can see in the photo above, the colour of the gherkins will change after the sterilization. If stored in a cool, dark place, Pickled Gherkins will keep for a few years.

The recipe is also included in A Taste of Slovakia cookbook together with other traditional Slovak preserves.

Where to buy ‘A Taste of Slovakia’

Since it was published several months ago, A Taste of Slovakia has landed in a number of selected bookshops and stores around Slovakia, as well as some other parts of the world. I thought you might want to know where the book can be found, so here is a list of places that sell it:

Slovakia

Kníhkupectvá Artforum (Artforum bookshops):
https://www.artforum.sk/katalog/99614/a-taste-of-slovakia

Oxford Bookshop, Laurinská 9, Bratislava

Bratislava flagship restaurant, Námestie SNP 8, Bratislava

Včelco Smolenice shop, Továrenská 10A, Smolenice:
http://www.vcelco.sk/kontakt.php

Podpolianske múzeum Detva, Námestie SNP 1, Detva

Kníhkupectvo Slobodníková (Slobodníková Bookshop), Tatranská Lomnica

Tatranská informačná kancelária (The High Tatras Information Centre) Starý Smokovec

Knihkupectvo Rajec (Rajec Bookshop), Námestie SNP 2/1, Rajec

Kníhkupectvo Christiania (Christiania Bookshop), Námestie sv. Egídia, Poprad

Leštáchovo kníhkupectvo (Leštách Bookshop), Námestie SNP 4, Zvolen

Turistická informačná kancelária Hriňová (Hriňová Tourist Information Centre)

Turisticko-informačná kancelária Prievidza (Prievidza Tourist Information Centre), Námestie slobody 6, Prievidza

Infocentrum Bojnice (Bojnice Information Centre), Hurbanovo námestie 47, Bojnice

Levická informačná agentúra (Levice Information Agency), Ľ. Štúra 3, Levice

Mestské informačné centrum Prešov (Prešov City Information Centre), Hlavná 67, Prešov

Piešťanské informačné centrum (Piešťany Spa Information Centre), Pribinova 2, Piešťany 

United Kingdom

The Sonam Halusky Shop, 132 Upper Richmond Road West, London:
https://www.halusky.co.uk/czech-slovak-foods/a-taste-of-slovakia.html#.WW-lj4iGPIU

Australia

The Marie Linke Photography Shoppe:
http://phototreks.net.au/product/a-taste-of-slovakia/

Photo courtesy of Marie Linke (www.phototreks.net.au)

United States of America

National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
http://www.ncsml.org/product/taste-slovakia-cookbook/

I’ll be adding to the list as/if it grows in the future. If you know about a bookshop or a store that would like to sell the book, or if you wish to have your copy delivered to your postal address, please leave a message at

cookslovak@gmail.com

or in the contact form below:

 

Home-made Chocolate Ice Lollies

With the arrival of summer, life seems to slow down in Slovakia. It’s not only because our summers can be very hot, which naturally hinders more strenuous activities. It’s also that the two-month’s school holidays put all parents into a relaxed mode, which often makes us think about occupations unlikely to come in mind at other times of year.

It might be a Slovak habit only (please correct me if I’m wrong) to engage in a sort of house cleaning in the summer that basically involves reaching into the dusty corners of your closets and cupboards to sort out things you don’t use on a regular basis. These household excavations often bring to light items you’ve been missing for months, if not years. Sometimes you come across handy gadgets you forgot you possessed. Like this vintage set of ice lolly moulds my mum gave me as a Christmas present ages ago.

Buying ready-made ice cream seemed more convenient when I was a young mother of three. Now that I have more time on hand, I finally feel like trying out my own. From a dozen or so recipes that came with the Tupperware® set, I have chosen one my kitchen was best stocked for.

Chocolate Ice Lollies are easy and quick to make, although you have to allow extra time for freezing. Don’t despair if you don’t have these old-fashioned Tupperware® moulds, they can be replaced by used ice cream tubs or pots.

DSC_0045Home-made Chocolate Ice Lollies

Makes:  over 6
Preparation time:  20 minutes
Freezing time:  overnight

  • 200 g castor sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 400 ml cooking cream (12% fat content in Slovakia)

Method:

Take the cream out of the fridge and let it warm to room temperature. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and the sugar until smooth and foamy. Stir in the cocoa powder and pour in the cream. Gently whisk to combine.

Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Stir with a wooden spatula until it comes to a simmer and thickens to custard-like consistency. Put aside and let cool.

Fill the clean and dry moulds (ice cream tubs or pots) with the chocolate mixture, leaving about 3 mm space below the rim. Put on the lids and place in the freezer for a few hours (ideally overnight).

Serve with fresh fruit of your choice.

DSC_0058
Home-made Chocolate Ice Lollies

Hmmh … they don’t look as perfect as store-bought ones, but my ice lollies have a nice chocolaty taste and, together with fleshy apricots, a dash of Home-made Strawberry Jam and an addition of vanilla wafer rolls, they make for a cool summer dessert.

I have to tell Mum about my first ice cream making experiment.

Choosing the right flour

Despite the latest trends and fashions, which have put this ingredient on the list of most evil enemies in our diets, the Slovaks are not ready yet to have flour removed from their kitchens. Very few of them would think of replacing traditional wheat flour with gluten-free substitutes unless gluten is a serious health issue.

We tend to think of flour (múka in Slovak) as powder milled from grains, especially wheat and rye, so anything like banana, rice or tapioca flour raises eyebrows and is looked upon with suspicion. There are a few Slovak websites and food speciality shops that sell them, but they come at monstrous prices, because they have to be imported from far-away countries. Moreover, these gluten-free flours don’t produce the fluffy cakes or crusty breads we love so much.

Wheat and rye, on the other hand, have been grown and cultivated in Slovakia for centuries. Wheat and rye flour are therefore widely used in our traditional cuisine. That said, most Slovaks will only need four main types of wheat flour in their cooking or baking:

Pšeničná múka hladká (Fine Wheat Flour 00 – Extra) is made of soft summer wheat and has a protein content of around 10%. It is white in colour and milled to very fine powder. We use it for baking fine cakes and pastries like sponges and strudels, or to thicken soups, sauces and dips. Pšeničná múka hladká 00 Extra has a low gluten content and is similar (though not identical) in texture to cake or pastry flour. The closest German variety would be Flour Type T405, and it would correspond well to French flour T45.

Pšeničná múka hladká T-650 (Fine Wheat Flour T-650) is also milled to fine powder, but it’s stronger, slightly darker, and has a higher gluten content, which makes this flour suitable for bread baking. Gluten is one of wheat’s proteins that gives dough elasticity, helps it rise and keep its shape. We also use this flour for our traditional honey cookies, or to coat food before frying. Pšeničná múka hladká T-650 is similar to the French T65.

Pšeničná múka polohrubá (Semi-coarse Wheat Flour) is made of soft summer wheat, it is white in colour and milled to a slightly coarser consistency. It has an overall protein content of around 9.3%. We often use it in fruit and chocolate cakes.

Pšeničná múka hrubá (Coarse Wheat Flour) has an overall protein content of around 9.8%. It is popular for noodles and other Slovak home-made pasta. It makes a wonderful Wheat Kasha, traditionally eaten for breakfast. We also use it to dust baking bowls and dishes after greasing them, which helps prevent the baked food from sticking to the dish.

Unlike in other western countries, wheat flour in Slovakia is never sold with a leavening agent. We add baking powder to the flour at the final stage of dough mixing to ensure the best rise.

No baking powder is used in our breads. They are either made with yeast or sourdough. One of the most desired Slovak breads is a potato one, which has mashed potato added to the flour.

Rye bread or wheat-rye bread, which is made of wheat and rye flour mixed at various ratios, has been part of our diet from times immemorial.

In the last couple of decades many Slovaks have developed a strong liking for whole wheat or wholemeal food products. Whole wheat and Graham flour, which are both made by grinding the whole wheat without the bran being removed, have become very popular as healthier alternatives of wheat flour. Together with a recently added spelt flour made from a grain related to wheat, as well as various flour mixes for home baking, they are easily available in most shops and supermarkets in Slovakia. Not only do these flours have a higher protein content (above 11%), but they are also richer in vitamins and minerals. I often add them to the white wheat flours when I’m making pizza or other yeast-based doughs.

I have also started using wholemeal flour in halušky (halushki) – traditional Slovak pasta – to increase its nutritional value.

Home-made Strawberry Jam

The strawberry season is in full spate, and this year’s crop looks very promising indeed. After abundant rainfall in the early spring and the recent string of warm, sunny days, our strawberry fields and gardens have filled with sweet, fragrant berries all ripening at the same time.

To collect the large crop while it’s in the best shape, the fruit farms in Slovakia invite the public to come and pick the strawberries themselves. In practice it means you’re allowed to enter the fields, eat as much as you wish, and you only pay for what you take away. You’re supposed to bring your own buckets or bowls, and pick all the strawberries in your assigned row.

Strawberries perish quickly, so you have to consume or preserve them really fast. They’re great in yoghurt, whipped cream, and all sorts of cakes. You can freeze them or make them into delicious jam. And that was what I had in mind when buying a basketful of the cheeky-red fruit from a local farmer. Besides, my supplies of home-made jam are dwindling.

Home-made Strawberry Jam

Home-made Strawberry Jam

  • 1 kg fresh, ripe strawberries
  • 400 g granulated sugar

Method:

  1. Wash the jars and lids separately and let them dry off on a dishtowel.
  2. Remove the leafy tops from the strawberries. Check for any bruises or blemishes and either cut them out or discard the berry. Rinse the strawberries under running water and transfer into a bowl. Add the sugar and stir well into the berries. Cover with a lid or a dishtowel and let stand overnight in a cool place.

 

7. Fill each jar just below the rim, and screw on the lid while the jam is still hot. Let it cool at room temperature. A slight popping sound you hear in the cooling stage indicates that the lid has sealed well.

8. Put the cooled jars in the fridge if you prefer, but I usually keep mine in the pantry. Sugar is an excellent preservative, and if you use fresh, well-cleaned fruit and cook it to the right thickness, your jam will keep for quite a while. I recently finished a jar of Blacberry Jam made two years ago, and it was still in perfect condition.

As you can see in the photos above, we in Slovakia reuse jars from jam, honey or other preserves, like lemon curd etc. Instead of sterilizing them, we thoroughly wash the jars and lids after use, and leave them dry off. Then we will keep them with their lids on in a cool, dark place. They usually sit on a specially assigned top shelf in our pantries.