10 delicacies to try in Slovakia

You may have seen similar posts highlighting Slovak specialities on other websites, and surely some of them will suggest a slightly different choice, but there are Slovak dishes that will unfalteringly appear in all ‘to try’ lists. You’re very likely to find these frequent flyers at the top of my selection, while there might be some surprise delicacies towards the end, which I have picked exclusively for Cookslovak fans.

1.  Halushki with Bryndza Cheese

Halušky s bryndzou or Halushki with Bryndza Cheese

Yes, I have given the place of honour to our national dish. It is said that you need an acquired taste for bryndza cheese, but all my friends visiting from abroad developed an instant liking for Halushki with Bryndza Cheese. Indeed, who wouldn’t like these gnocchi-style dumplings smothered in fresh sheep’s milk cheese and topped with crispy bits of fried bacon? I’m quite sure that if you order the dish in one of the many salashes around Slovakia, you’re up for a gourmet experience. Especially at the beginning of summer when the cheese is creamier and full of nutrients from newly-grown pastures. Of course, I will encourage you to buy A Taste of Slovakia book, where you can find a step-by-step recipe for the dish.

2.  Sauerkraut Soup or Kapustnica

A wedding sauerkraut soup is what your body craves when you’ve had too much booze. A wonderful comforter and a traditional dish no Slovak wedding can be without.

Next comes our traditional soup made from sauerkraut (fermented white cabbage), which has quite a few variations, yet they all have one thing in common – kapustnica is a wholesome, comforting soup that can’t be missing from our Christmas or New Year’s Eve table. We also like to serve it at open-air festivals, particularly in the winter, at large family gatherings or wedding parties. I posted a recipe for a light, meatless kapustnica here.

3.  Smoked sausages

They are indispensable for the kapustnica soup. The main ingredient for smoked sausages or klobásy is meat from hogs, which is sometimes combined with venison or other game. Smoked sausages are often served on their own, either hot or cold, with slices of bread and a spoonful of mustard on the side. Thinly sliced sausages frequently appear on cold buffet platters together with traditional cheeses and a selection of crude vegetables.

4.  Strudels

Detvian strudel

This wonderful dessert is one of the gems of our Austro-Hungarian culinary heritage. The Slovaks, not having their own state up until 1993, were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1867 and 1918. It seems that numerous ethnic cuisines of the Empire blended well together, no matter how oppressive this period is seen by Slovak historians. I, for my part, am very thankful to my Grandma, who was fluent both in Hungarian and Slovak, for introducing me to the art of strudel-making. Her poppyseed, nut, apple or cheese strudels were simply DIVINE.

5.  Potato bread

If you haven’t tried it yet, don’t miss a chance to taste our potato bread next time you’re in Slovakia. Now, I’m not saying this because I’m Slovak. Bread is part of my everyday diet (however unhealthy it may sound by the latest standards), and I’m a discerning customer, but I do believe the potato bread is something my country can be proud of. Buy good honest bread from small bakers, many of whom use traditional baking techniques and long preserved family recipes to make winning breads. Ask locals if you don’t know where to find them.

6.  Traditional cheeses

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Made from cow’s or sheep’s milk cheese, these artisanal cheeses are best to be sampled at our salashes. Some of these mountain farms (and restaurants in one) offer more than just a tasting experience. You can see the cheeses being made from scratch, learn about the life of batchas, or explore our folk culture.

7.  Honey cookies

You’re most likely to find these beautifully decorated cookies at Easter or Christmas time, but you won’t get them in regular shops. They are made to order by skilled ladies like Alžbeta from Kremnické Bane:

https://sk-sk.facebook.com/Medovn%C3%AD%C4%8Dky-Al%C5%BEbeta-1371288489554516/

I wrote a post about Alžbeta‘s decorative art here.

8.  Skalický trdelník

Photo courtesy of the Tourist Information Office Skalica

I dare not translate the name of this sublime dessert into English, but to keep the original name would render it unpronounceable for foreign visitors. It may make more sense to explain what’s behind the two words. Skalický is an attribute to Skalica – a small town in the southwest of Slovakia where the traditional recipe for this hollow pastry comes from. Trdelník suggests the way it is made by winding the dough onto a trdlo. But pronunciation problems aside, you will easily find trdelník, if not Skalický, at all food festivals around Slovakia, as well as at permanent trdelník‘s street stalls in the capital city of Bratislava.

9.  Cod in Mayonnaise

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The recipe for this salad-style dish was invented after the World War II by a Slovak cook from Bratislava. Basically, it is cooked shredded cod mixed with grated carrots, onions and gherkins, seasoned with vinegar and herbs, and covered in mayonnaise. If you’re planning a hiking trip in Slovak mountains, this is what will keep you going. Cod in Mayonnaise is usually eaten in the morning, for breakfast or brunch, and is sold in plastic pots of various sizes or jars labelled as Treska, which is a Slovak word for cod. Buy those marked with an Exklusiv logo if you want a high-quality product. Limited editions of the Treska come in elegant clip-top jars before Christmas.

10.  Včelovina mead

The multilayered taste of Včelovina mead is difficult to forget. It captures the sweet flavours of a Slovak summer, and manifold smells of our meadows – all in a bottle of this golden nectar. You won’t buy Včelovina in regular shops, but if you decide to track its origins to Smolenice, you’ll understand why this award-winning mead is so unique. They organize a Medoween festival at Haloween, and a couple of more in the summer, so watch their Facebook page if you want to spend a great day out in the countryside. Smolenice is a little town in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, just a little over an hour bus ride from Bratislava – the capital of Slovakia.

You can read more about Včelovina mead here.

A Taste of Slovakia shortlisted for 2018 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

gourmand awards logoAlthough it wasn’t my top Christmas present this year, the message that landed in my inbox a couple of days ago made my heart sing with joy. Here is what it said:

‘The Gourmand World  Cookbook Awards are delighted to announce that A Taste of Slovakia is the winner selected to represent Slovakia in the Eastern Europe as well as the Self Published Categories. Your book will now compete in its category against other countries for The Best in the World. The results will be announced on May 26, 2018 at the annual Gourmand Awards Ceremony in Yantai, China.’ 

It took years of research, travel and collecting material for this first book on Slovak cuisine in English to start taking shape. When I finally managed to finish the manuscript, I could find no publisher willing to put it out in the world. In order to save money I did most of the food photography myself, and was fortunate enough to find Jana Kollárová and Andrea Leitnerová, both of whom put their artistic touch on the final layout of the book. The Tlačiareň P+M printing house helped me with the self-publishing task, and when A Taste of Slovakia saw the light of day towards the end of 2016, it was a dream come true. But it never occurred to me, not in my wildest dreams, that the book could reach more than a few hundred interested readers outside Slovakia. Now that it has managed to attract recognition from professionals, I feel honoured and extremely grateful to all those who have contributed to the book’s success.

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were founded in 1995 by Edouard Cointreau. Every year, they honour the best food and wine books from around the world. More than 200 countries participate in these prestigious awards, which have been compared to the ‘Oscars’ by journalists.  
With the huge network created around the Gourmand Awards, Edouard Cointreau decided to launch the Paris Cookbook Fair in 2010. After three years at Le Centquatre, the fair moved to the Carrousel du Louvre in 2013, and Beijing in 2014. Since then, the World Cookbook Fair takes place at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The results of 2018 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for all countries will be published on http://www.cookbookfair.com in the coming weeks.

TasteofSlovakia
Photo credits: National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Update: The number of countries and entries for each category was later reduced, so on the final shortlist A Taste of Slovakia appears in the Eastern Europe Category only.

How to make white icing

We in Slovakia use white icing mostly to decorate our honey cookies at Christmas and Easter time, but white icing can be applied to practically all cookies, so if you want to experiment with this versatile material, here is a simple recipe and a few useful tips to help you achieve the best result.

To make white icing the Slovak style, you will only need two ingredients – an egg white and powdered sugar. The exact amount of sugar will depend on the size and weight of the egg, as well as on how thick you want your icing to be: thinner icing is good for coating or filling in patterns, you’ll have to make your icing thicker if you want to ‘draw’, ‘write’ or ’embroider’.

  • 1 egg white
  • 100 – 150 g powdered (confectionery) sugar

Method:

  1. Break the egg and carefully separate the white and the yolk to two different cups or glasses.
  2. Transfer the white to a large bowl and whisk until frothy.
  3. Sift the sugar through a fine-mesh sieve. Add it to the egg white, spoon by spoon, while whisking to either ‘slow running’ or ‘slow dripping’ consistency.

Remember! 
The more sugar, the thicker icing you get. If your icing is too thick, whisk in a few drops of lemon juice.

Transfer the icing to a plastic bag placed in a mug. Shake gently to get rid of air bubbles. Take the bag out and close it by twisting it at the end. Press the icing down towards the tip of the bag, and use sharp scissors to cut a hole in it. A small hole is good for ‘drawing’, writing’ and embroidery’, you’ll want a slightly bigger hole for coating or filling in patterns. DSC_0028

Now, it’s time to get creative and make personalized gift cookies for your family and friends. Surely they will be pleased, don’t you think?

Crispy Ginger Cakes or Zázvorníky

It’s sometimes very difficult to translate the names of our most traditional cakes into English, and the one below is no different. I’ve spent more time trying to find the best possible name for this recipe than actually writing it. Gingerbread didn’t sound right because it’s closer in taste and texture to what we call perník in Slovakia (and the Czech Republic as well). Ginger biscuits or ginger cookies were my next choice, but they evoke round or vaguely round shape and Zázvorníky (pronounced as Zaazvorniki) look so dissimilar that I would most happily call them their original Slovak name. After all, nobody has ever tried to give an English name to the Italian Tiramisu, the French Crème brûlée or the Turkish Baklava.

The main ingredient for Zázvorníky is zázvor (ginger in English); that is why I have finally decided to dub them Crispy Ginger Cakes. It’s very unlikely that you’ll find the traditional zázvorníky cutter anywhere in the world, but if you’d like to try this old Slovak recipe at home, just use any cookie cutter on hand. Or come to our open Christmas markets, where you can definitely buy one. Indeed, Zázvorníky are very popular at Christmas time, as they are easy to make and keep well. Plus they fill your kitchen with most wonderful smell.DSC_0021

Crispy Ginger Cakes or Zázvorníky

Makes about 75

  • 350 g plain flour
  • 200 g castor (powdered) sugar
  • 8 – 10 g ground dried ginger
  • 70 g butter, diced and softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking ammonia (can be replaced by baking soda or baking powder)

Method:

  1. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
  2. Place the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir in the butter. Add the eggs and knead by hand until the mixture comes together and forms a semi-thick dough.
  3. Transfer the dough onto a floured rolling board and roll out to 3mm thickness. Cut out the cakes and place them on the baking trays. Let the cakes dry overnight to better keep the shape.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200ºC, and bake the cakes in batches for about 10 minutes or until they turn golden brown.
  5. Let cool thoroughly before transfering to an airtight container.

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    Crispy Ginger Cakes or Zázvorníky

I love these spicy hard cakes, they are perfect for dunking into a cup of tea or coffee, and I can’t imagine my Christmas without them.

Včelovina – Slovakia’s deluxe mead

My first experience of drinking mead (or medovina in Slovak) was years ago at a small Christmas party organized by the local music school staff. My children were taking piano lessons at the school and I was invited as a member of the teachers-parents board. It was a family-style event; the tables were laid with honey cookies and other home-made Christmas bakes, there was wine and traditional Christmas punch. I rarely drink anything that has alcohol in it, but the atmosphere was so warm and festive that I let myself be talked into tasting mead that one of the teachers had brought. It was home-made by her parents, and it tasted divine.

Since then I have sampled some more meads at various food festivals and Christmas markets around Slovakia, and my first choice has become Včelovina, the trademark of Včelco Smolenice from the south-western Slovakia.

When I was researching the topic of Slovak honey for A Taste of Slovakia book, I knew I’d want to write about our mead. And when I met the people from Včelco Smolenice company, I knew instantly they were the right bunch to work with on the subject. Their expertise and sheer enthusiasm for the job was exactly what I needed, as well as the extraordinary photos they happily provided for the book. This is just another way to thank them for their help.

Včelco Smolenice is a small meadery close to Malé Karpaty Hills, where the honey for their mead comes from. Together with fresh spring water from the hills and a special strain of yeast that kick-starts fermentation at 17ºC, the company makes a selection of top-class meads that reap awards in and outside Slovakia. Here’s a short video showing work of and paying tribute to their bees. To learn more about Včelovina production, have a look in A Taste of Slovakia book mentioned above.

Did you know that

  • mead is one of the oldest fermented beverages in the world – old legends say it was drunk by ancient Gods and Kings
  • the word honeymoon comes from mead or honey wine (as mead is called in some cultures) – it used to be given as a wedding gift to newlyweds, who would drink some of the mead every day for a month (moon) after the wedding to ensure fertility, as well as the strength and courage of their offspring
  • mead is experiencing a rennaissance these days as a drink closest to nature in its essence – all you need to make it is honey, water and yeast
  • mead is a wonderful ingredient in desserts?
Agrokomlex Nitra 2011 010 (2)
Včelovina mead has won a number of national and international awards, and was proclaimed the Best Mead in the World at Apimondia 2013

If you happen to be around Smolenice at any time of year, do have a look in Včelco company shop – they sell all kinds of quality honey products on top of their famed mead, plus a limited edition of their very own honey ale.

At the time I was doing my research on mead, the company was planning to build a live beekeeping gallery on their premises to help people understand how important bees are in our lives.

How traditional oštiepok cheese is made

The best place to see traditional Slovak cheeses being made is definitely Zázrivá Salash. There are quite a few salashes (or kolibas) around Slovakia, but none of those I have been to provided such a complex experience of our folk culture and cuisine as the salash between Zázrivá and Terchová – two villages well-known for their rich folklore.

Oštiepok (pronounced as oshtyiepok) is an egg-shaped, usually smoked cheese with a decorative pattern on its surface. Like other Slovak cheeses, oštiepok is made on a large scale in our dairy factories mostly from cow’s milk. Fortunately, there are quite a few private farms (called salashes) around Slovakia, where oštiepok is still hand-made in the traditional way. Some of these farms use a mix of cow’s and sheep’s milk, and only a few make oštiepok from a 100% sheep’s milk, which is much more nutritious and deliciously creamy. Zázrivá Salash is one of them, and I went there last month to document Zázrivá oštiepok production for you.

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Oštiepok cheese is hand-made by shepherds at Slovak salashes

I was met by bača Laco and his son Maťo at a charming little koliba close to the pastures, where oštiepok cheese is made every day from fresh milk of either their own sheep herd, or the sheep farms in the close vicinity.

Bača (pronounced as batcha) is the highest rank in the Slovak salash hierarchy. It’s a senior, most experienced shepherd, chosen by the village community. Batcha organizes the life at the salash, is responsible for the sheep herd, and makes the cheese. He is aided by two or more valasi (or valachs), young shepherds who help with all sorts of salash jobs, including cheese making, cooking and cleaning.

The charming little kolibas have compelling stories to tell

Inside the neat and spotlessly clean koliba batcha Laco presides over a stainless cauldron filled with curds and whey. I am told the sheep’s milk had been treated with rennet at the temperature of 32ºC to curdle. The curds were then stirred and broken into pieces of about 1cm. Now the actual oštiepok shaping starts:

  1. Batcha Laco gathers up the curds in his hands and squeezes out the whey. He then fills a calibrated mug with the mass, transfers it onto a sieve, which is then passed to his son Maťo, who dips the sieve in another cauldron filled with water heated to 80ºC. At this temperature, the cheese goes through the first sterilization, and also becomes pliable enough to be shaped. That is Maťo’s job, and he moulds the cheese into an egg, while pushing the excess whey out. 

  2. Maťo passes the cheese back to his father, who puts it in a two-part wooden mould with a carved ornament in it (he made the whole thing himself), and fastens the mould with a special binding. Two wooden pieces are pressed into both ends before the cheese is dipped in the hot water again for a few seconds. 

  3. When the mould is taken away, batcha Laco soaks each cheese ‘egg’ in brine, which not only ensures its long shelf life, but also gives the cheese a typical salty tang.
  4. Finally, each cheese ‘egg’ will be placed in a phloem bag, and hung in a smoking hut for 2 – 3 days to get its unmistakable smoky flavour and a nice, golden crust. 

It’s wonderful to watch the harmony between the father and son as they create these unique cheese pieces. They explain the particulars of each stage, they regale you with compelling stories of the salash life, and their family’s long tradition of shepherding. Yes, this is a valued skill passed from generation to generation. Batcha is a respected wise man, who has to display a lot of knowledge and experience, as well as courage in face of danger. He must show good judgement and a cold head when confronted with unexpected, and quite frequent, visitors to the salash, like bears and wolves.

Maťo is training to be a batcha, and he does it with all the pride, conscience and responsibility of his father. When he takes over, he will be the fifth in the family line to pursue the vocation.

Wild Mushroom & Tomato Risotto

We have an abundance of forests, woods and meadows in Slovakia that are not only a home to flowers, berries, bears, wolves and other wildlife, but they also fill with a great variety of mushrooms every year. It’s fair to say that Slovakia is a mushroom paradise. Mushroom picking has become a national sport, so there’s only few people (like me) who don’t practise.

Although wild mushrooms grow in our countryside all year round, the picking season almost invariably peaks around June/July, and then again in October. True, some years are better than others, but you will always find fleshy chanterelles, slippery jacks, or gourmet porcini around this time of year.

Our cuisine is full of recipes using wild mushrooms. If you want to try the one below, you can, of course, replace wild mushrooms with the common supermarket type, but the rich earthy flavours and a specific aroma will be missing from the dish.DSC_0095

Wild Mushroom & Tomato Risotto
Serves 2

  • 200 g rice
  • 200 g wild mushrooms
  • 1 medium size onion
  • 4 small tomatoes
  • 100 g Encián or Camembert style cheese
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons oil or butter
  • chives to top

Method:

  1. Clean the mushrooms with a soft brush or your finger. If this doesn’t remove all the forest debris, rinse the mushrooms quickly under running water. Don’t soak them, as the caps absorb the water readily, which dulls their flavour and characteristic aroma.
  2. Trim off the stem bottoms and slice the mushrooms. Place the rice on a fine-mesh sieve and wash under running water. Let drain. Peel and chop the onion. Wash and slice the tomatoes. Rinse the chives.
  3. Put a wide heavy-bottom pan over a low heat and throw in the sliced muhrooms. Add a pinch of salt and stir. Dry-roast the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, or until they release the remaining moisture. Add the oil or butter, increase the heat to medium, and sauté the mushrooms until slightly brown. Stir now and then to prevent burning.
  4. Throw in the chopped onion and the rice. Season with ground black pepper and roast for a few minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the sliced tomatoes and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
  5. Pour in as much water as to cover the rice. Stir and cover with a lid. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the water.
  6. Meanwhile, slice or dice the cheese. Add it to the rice when it is cooked to the right tenderness. Stir to spread the cheese all around the rice.
  7. Serve hot with the chopped chives sprinkled over the top.

At Zázrivá Salash

This year’s shepherd’s season is drawing to a close with days getting shorter and nights palpably colder. Summer greens are still a prominent colour in our countryside, but they are slowly giving in to a rich array of autumnal hues. It’s a wonderful time to be out and about, especially when the weather is as agreeable as on this crisp, sunny day, which I decided to spend at my favourite salash in northern Slovakia.

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Goats grazing the luscious pastures at Zázrivá Salash

For those unfamiliar with the term, salaš (pronounced as salash) is the Slovak word for a wooden cottage close to sheep pastures, where shepherds live and work. Most of these pastures are in the mountains, and some of the farms have adjacent restaurants (often referred to as kolibas), which serve traditional Slovak specialities made from locally sourced ingredients.

Zázrivá Salash is seated on a hillside above the road between two distinctive Slovak villages of Terchová and Zázrivá. Apart from the salash and the restaurant, there’s only a couple of chalets below the forestline skirting the vast, green spaces dotted with trees.

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Photo credits: Jana Kollárová, http://www.janakollarova.sk

Delicious, homey food is far from the only attraction that pulls me back to this place. I love to walk around the farm, watch the sheep, goats and horses grazing the luscious pastures, see the shepherds at work and listen to their stories. A shepherd’s life is not as bucolically carefree as it seems at first sight. Shepherds face everyday challenges, too, yet theirs are completely different from what most of us experience in between office walls.

Today I’ve come to learn more about oštiepok (pronounced as oshtyiepok), an artisanal cheese hand-made by the shepherds. I’m not surprised to hear they’ve been up and working since 4:30. Apart from the flocks of sheep, goats, ducks and geese, the farm also houses rabbits, cows, hens, pigs and even ostriches. All the animals have to be fed and taken care of the first thing in the morning.

They provide high quality meat for the restaurant, as well as fresh eggs and milk, which is locally made into dairy products like butter, yoghurt and cheese.

The reputed Zázrivá oštiepok is not only a delicious experience for your taste buds, but also a feast for the eye. Each piece bears the farm’s logo and a specific design carved onto the surface. You can see the cheese being made on the spot if you arrive at the right time, or arrange your visit in advance.

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Zázrivá oštiepok cheese is hand-made by the shepherds at Zázrivá Salash

Despite their daily work commitments, I’ve always found the shepherds welcoming and more than happy to talk to visitors. It seems that this kind of socializing is a perfect counterbalance to the otherwise solitary life on the farm. They will show you how to make oštiepok cheese or žinčica drink, they’ll walk with you around the farm and let you feed or cuddle the animals. They will teach you things about their flocks that you won’t find in biology books. Theirs is the practical knowledge that comes from first-hand experience, years of observation, and from deep understanding of the workings of Mother Nature.

If your luck is in, you’ll be taken for a horse-and-carriage ride, and if you’re brave enough, the shepherds will let you try milking the sheep. At the end of the excursion, you’re most likely to head to the restaurant, a cosy place with a beautifully carved wooden decor that perfectly matches the traditional Slovak menu.

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After a meal, I always end up in the shop next to the restaurant, where they sell all their artisanal cheeses together with other products from the farm. In the showroom adjacent to the shop you can see how parenica (parenitza), korbáčiky (korbaatchiki), and other traditional Slovak cheeses are made.

I never leave the shop empty-handed. On my last visit I succumbed to buying a chunk of traditional bacon, a lump of house-made butter, and a loaf of wonderful potato bread baked on the premises. I resisted the temptation to buy their kremeš (a kind of cream cake) simply because I was too full after the meal of Šúľance s makom I’d had before.

The great thing about Zázrivá Salash is that it’s isolated enough not to attract big crowds. Regulars and hungry (or curious) drivers will stop for a meal or look-around, but the place is not served by public transport, and so it retains its tranquil atmosphere and rustic charm. It was a perfect setting for the cover photo of A Taste of Slovakia book, wasn’t it?

For more details on the services and accommodation they provide at the salash, the events they organize throughout the year, or products they make, see the link below:

http://salas.syrex.sk/#video

Unfortunately, there’s no English version of their website at the moment. If you’d like to have your queries answered, drop me a line below and I’ll contact the managers on your behalf:

Piquant Bryndza Cheese Spread

When I was a child, I never questioned the origins of a strange, non-Slovak sounding name my Mum used for the delicious spread she often made for our snacks or evening meals. All I knew about šmirkas at that age was that it was made with bryndza.

A selection of bryndza cheese labels

We would spread šmirkas on slices of fresh rye bread, crowned it with radishes, and there you had a nice, satisfying meal that would feed all the family. Yes, even our Dad – a diehard carnivore – was happy to change his daily routine once in a while.

It’s no wonder I chose to include šmirkas in A Taste of Slovakia book. Bryndza is a sheep’s milk cheese closely associated with Slovakia because of the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) label it received from the EU in 2008.

Šmirkas (pronounced as shmirkas) is an old name for bryndzová nátierka, a piquant bryndza cheese spread that has been part of the Slovak diet for centuries. Some people still use the traditional name these days, including myself and my family, but few of them know it was derived from the German Schmierkäse (meaning cream cheese). This, however, is not surprising, as Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1867 – 1918. Šmirkas is just one of the German-sounding names that have survived in our language until today.

There are quite a few recipes for Bryndza Cheese Spread circulating around Slovakia. The one below is from a tiny recipe book I got from shepherds in LiptovDSC_0201

Piquant Bryndza Cheese Spread
Serves 6 – 8

  • 150 g bryndza cheese (or other quality soft cheese)
  • 60 g butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • chives to garnish, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • radishes to top
  • salt to taste*
* there’s no need to add more salt if you are using bryndza, as the cheese has already salt in it

Method:

  1. Put the bryndza cheese and the butter in a mixing bowl and let soften at room temperature. Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Wash and chop the chives.
  2. Cream the bryndza cheese with the butter, add the onion, the paprika and the mustard. Work all the ingredients into a smooth paste.
  3. Wash the radishes and slice them. Spoon dollops of the bryndza paste onto slices of fresh bread and spread around. Top with the radishes and sprinkle with the chives.

    Šmirkas is an old name for the traditional bryndza cheese spread from Slovakia

I understand bryndza cheese is difficult to buy outside Slovakia, but can sometimes be replaced by cheeses like Greek Feta, French Roquefort, Italian Ricotta or some soft varieties of Pecorino.

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.

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    Cucumber Patties with Parenitza Cheese