There is a host of traditions and beliefs linked to Slovak Easter. Some are Christian with traces of Jewish mythology, others have pagan roots. It seems to me though that they all celebrate Easter as a spring festival that brings new life.
The Slovak name for the Thursday before Easter is Zelený štvrtok, which literally translates as Green Thursday. It marks the end of Lent – the fasting period that starts 40 days before Easter. Traditionally, our ancestors’ dishes on this day would include something green, like spinach, dandelion, nettle or sorrel leaves.
When I got a message from an American lady recently asking for a recipe for something that sounded like ‘googil’, I didn’t have the faintest idea what it could be. The name was a very simple transcription of what this lady’s Slovak grandmother used to make when she was still alive. Fortunately, the lady in question also provided a short description of the dish, so I took to the Internet, employed my imagination and discovered kugel.
Although it is of Jewish origin, kugel has penetrated into other cuisines over the centuries, taking many different forms on the way. In the recipe below I have tried to recreate a dish that would be closest to the lady’s description of ‘googil’, but have added a green Easter twist to my Potato Kugel. If you don’t like spinach, you can replace it with your favourite leafy greens.
Serves 4 – 6
- 800 g potatoes (all-purpose)
- 350 – 400 g broccoli
- 3 eggs
- 100 g leftover bread
- 3 spring onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons oil or pork lard for sautéing
- 80 g fresh spinach leaves
- 50 ml sunflower oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- oil or pork lard to grease the dish
- flour or breadcrumbs for dusting
- Grease a 30x40cm baking sheet. Dust it with breadcrumbs or flour.
- Cut the broccoli into florets and wash them thoroughly under running water. Transfer into a cooking pot and pour in as much water as to cover all the broccoli. Bring to the boil, adjust the heat and let simmer for 5 – 7 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Drain on a large sieve or a colander, but don’t discard the water; it can serve as a vegetable stock for a soup, stew or a sauce. Mash the broccoli with a fork and break the eggs into it. Mix well and put aside.
- Dice the bread. Rinse and chop the onions. Heat the oil or pork lard in a large frying pan and throw in the onions. Sauté over a medium heat for about 3 minutes, then add the spinach leaves and continue cooking for another 5 minutes until the volume of vegetables reduces by two thirds. Put aside.
- Peel the garlic. Peel and rinse the potatoes. Grate them into a large mixing bowl. Don’t squeeze the excess liquid out, as some recipes suggest. You would lose a lot of goodness in the final product. Add the bread cubes, the broccoli mixture and the sautéed onions with spinach leaves. Crush the garlic into the mixture and pour in the sunflower oil. Add the salt, black pepper and marjoram. Combine all the ingredients well. Spoon the mixture onto the baking sheet and pat it down with a wooden spoon.
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Put the baking sheet in and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the edges of the kugel start browning and coming off the sides. Take out of the oven and let cool down. Cut the kugel into squares and serve immediately.I hope this green Lenten dish will be a worthy Slovak addition to the large family of kugels, and it won’t disappoint the lady who inspired its creation.
Happy Easter to everyone!