I finished a draft of my memoir! I cried through writing the last chapter and the epilogue; it was like losing Slovakia all over again. Not to mention the very late realization of how elatedly happy I had been to be working on this book, and now it's done (well, except for editing). So like any rational person, I decided to drown my sorrows in food.
Even this is to a good purpose, though: I intend to include recipes in the book, fourteen in all, one for each of the twelve chapters and one each for the prologue and epilogue. Encountering, coping with, and falling in love with new and strange foods is a central aspect of any cross-cultural experience, after all! So this gave me a good excuse to try out Slovak classics in my U.S. kitchen.
Some came out exactly right on the first try: a garlicky cheese spread, for example, and "Montenegrin cutlet," a.k.a. Černohorský rezeň, a pork steak deep-fried in a thick potato batter, my absolute favorite. Some have proven more fiddly, like a cold, tart fish salad and the nut and poppy seed rolls, pictured above—which have tasted delicious every time but, as you can see, I haven't quite gotten the consistency quite right for the poppy seed version yet. Not like it's punishment, exactly, to keep trying...
I've also been in close consultation with my mom, Ellen I. Hinlicky, because she is in fact the real genius behind the Slovak kitchen in America. While there are lots of Slovak church-basement cookbooks of questionable authenticity in circulation in this country, nobody has given Slovak cuisine sustained and careful attention for the American kitchen comparable to, say, Anya von Bremzen's Please to the Table and its coverage of all the cuisines of the former Soviet Union. Polish and Ukrainian have been had their sexy moment in the sun, but not yet Slovak cooking. Mom will change all that! She's been collecting recipes for twenty-five years now and has learned firsthand from working mothers and professional kitchen ladies. The results are scrumptious.
It will be awhile before either of our books are available to the public so, in the meanwhile, here's one I tested that didn't make the cut for the book, chiefly because I had never heard of it until this year, so it didn't really make sense to include in a memoir about twenty-five years ago. I was intrigued because it was a "goulash" (guláš) that didn't have any paprika. I suppose that is why it's called "Bratislava goulash," as opposed to a "Hungarian"-style goulash, in Veľká farebná obrazová kuchárka, the Slovak equivalent to The Joy of Cooking, from which I adapted this recipe. Despite the absence of paprika, it is insanely delicious.
1 ½ lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1” cubes
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. oil
¼ c. rendered lard, divided
1 onion, diced
¼ lb. root vegetables (your choice: carrots, turnips, celeriac, parsley root)
3 whole allspice
6 whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. thyme
juice of ½ lemon
1 ¼ c. dry white wine
1 ½ c. chicken or beef stock
2 Tbsp. flour
¼ c. sour cream
Stir the salt, pepper, and oil into the beef cubes and let sit, covered, in the fridge for 2–3 hours. Heat 2 Tbsp. lard in a large Dutch oven or stewpot. Add the onion and half the root vegetables and fry until they begin to soften. Add the spices and herbs and the beef, and fry, stirring occasionally, until the beef has taken color all over. Add the lemon juice, wine, and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 1 ½ hours. Stir the flour into the remaining 2 Tbsp. lard, then add to the pot and stir well into the stew. Allow to return to a simmer, cover, and cook another 45 minutes. Check to make sure the beef is falling-apart tender. Shortly before serving, stir in ¼ c. sour cream.
Normally this would be served over slices of steamed bread dumpling (parená knedľa), but it will be equally good over buttered egg noodles, boiled new potatoes, or rice.