Welcome to Slovakia
One of the biggest reasons I started this web site was that I felt there’s too much emphasis on only a few cuisines of the world. I turn on the TV and it’s all Italian, French, Asian, and American BBQ. I look at books and see some more variety, but it’s hard to come up with the actual traditional dishes in this crazy world where everything is being put into “fusion”. Nothing wrong with that, but it does become difficult when one wants to learn the traditions and cuisine of certain ethnicities.
When I went to Slovakia last May, I was introduced into a culinary world I never knew existed. Slovakian cuisine isn’t necessarily unique in itself, but it stands on its own. I more like to think of it all as Central European cuisine, seeing how much similarity Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Hungary, and other countries in the region have in their food.
Slovak food is very hearty and very family oriented. While I did enjoy many flavors and tastes, it did add some to my waistline. What I enjoyed the most though was how families would sit and have dinner together. The mothers cooked beautiful dishes from scratch, plated them very nicely, and meals would be longer eating rituals topped with conversation and sips of good beers or even homemade liquors.
You’ll see a lot more of Slovakian cuisine in this site in future articles, but I want to start off your introduction to Slovak cuisine with what has been known as their national dish – Bryndzové Halušky (brind-zo-vee ha-loo-shkee)
Halušky itself is more or less tiny boiled dumplings made from potato. While it’s been designated as the national dish of Slovakia, Halušky was known more as a typical meal for many who lived in small villages in the mountain regions. The “bryndzové” part is brought about by the addition of a topping made from bryndza (brind-za) cheese and sour cream, with a garnish of crispy fried pieces of bacon. The texture is similar to how gnocchi tastes, only smaller. The flavor is a somewhat sour, but savory taste. Not sour like a lemon, but like cheese and sour cream kind of hearty sour.
Unfortunately, bryndza cheese itself isn’t easy to come by in the United States. I managed to spot a Polish bryndza at a few Polish delis and markets. SlovakCooking.com also found a store online that you can order Slovak bryndza from. Not wanting to lead you into a dead end, I did research and found numerous ways to serve Halušky, which I will describe with the recipe.
The other big catch is that when we made this batch (which I am thoroughly enjoying), we had the advantage of the strainer and spatula known to most Slovaks when they make Halušky. Fear not though, there are ways around it. As you can see in the image, it looks like a flat course cheese grater. Search around online if you like, they do exist for around $20. If not, then you can improvise, or simply eyeball things with a spoon. There’s no right or wrong to this.
So here’s how to make Bryndzové Halušky:
- 5 potatoes, peeled
- 1 lb of smoked pressed pork (slab of bacon)
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups of flour
- 2 tbsp of salt
- 1 cup of bryndza cheese
- 1 cup of sour cream
- Shred all the potatoes into small bits. Even better idea is to chop it hard in a food processor until it’s a pulp.
- Let the pulp sit in a bowl and try to drain out as much of the water from it as possible.
- When most of the water is drained, add in the flour and eggs and stir. You want the mixture to be like batter, so if it’s too thick, add some water.
- In a large stock pot, fill it halfway with water and add the salt. Place it on the stove and bring the water to boil.
- When water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium or low. You want the water to be hot, but not bouncing.
- Place strainer over the open pot and spoon some of the batter onto it. Use a spatula to scrape the batter through the holes so it appears to be dripping in pea-sized drops into the water.
- When the top layer of the water has a good amount of drops, let them cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the dumplings from sticking together or sinking.
- When ready, use a straining ladle to scoop the cooked dumplings out of the water. I’ll put them into a colander to let any excess water drain out.
- Continue this process of straining batter into the water, cooking, and scooping out until you’re out of batter.
- When the dumplings are cooked, discard the water and heat up a frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Cut the bacon into small cubes and place them into the hot pan. Cook until crispy.
- In another bowl, mix the bryndza cheese and sour cream together. Pour the mixture onto the dumplings and stir thoroughly.
- Top everything off with the bacon, or stir the bacon into the mixture. Whatever your preference.
When you’re making the potato into pulp, you’ll see it slowly turn reddish or even brown. Don’t worry, it’s just oxidizing.
If you cannot get anything like the strainer, then just try to use a spoon and eyeball it. You want pieces as small a peas or beans to go into the water.
The first few dumplings you put in might break apart. Try a few more and see if they come out more solid. If they’re still breaking up, then add another egg to the mixture to coagulate it.
Do not add too many drops to the water. You just want a layer of dumpings cooking on top of the water, not sinking or forming layers.
If your water looks dirty as you’re working, don’t worry. This is normal.
If dealing with potatoes is a bit much for you, you could try to find the Halušky mix online off the same site suggested to get bryndza, but you could also use potato flour. Just add water and eggs until you get a nice batter-like consistency.
If you cannot get bryndza, then you have options. One recipe I saw used a mixture of feta cheese with cream cheese and milk. Another simply tossed out the idea of bryndza and used cheddar cheese.
Other variations of Halušky use sauerkraut or even cabbage. Zuzana even said you can flavor Basic Halušky (without bryndza and bacon) with sugar and cinnamon or even cocoa powder. Basic Halušky can pretty much go in many directions, as it is much like a basic pasta when you don’t have the cheese and bacon on it. So it’s up to your personal taste.