Cabbage Halušky (Strapačky)
Prep Time: At least an hour for the kraut to get soft
Last weekend the EU embassies here in Washington, D.C. held an open house. Each embassy had some free goodies symbolizing that respective country. Germans had bratwurst, Belgians beer and chocolate, Poles kielbasa. The Slovak embassy cooked up strapačky and served them with cold Slovak Golden Pheasant (zlatý bažant) beer. If you attended this even, and want to try making this simple, yet very traditional dish at home, well you are in luck. Here is (my) recipe for strapačky.
About the name. My family has never used the word strapačky. We call all potato dumplings halušky. Even according to the Slovak Wikipedia, these two words are synonyms. My grandma would call this halušky s kapustou or kapustové halušky. But, strapačky seems to be a really common term – that’s what the embassy called this dish. It’s actually a pretty fitting term. It is derived from the word strapatý, which means shaggy, as when your hair is uncombed. Pretty good resemblance, I think.
The first (and very important!) step is to rinse the sauerkraut (kyslá kapusta). Rinse it well, get your hand in there and toss it around. Otherwise, the result will be too sour. Then heat up oil, and fry the kraut for few minutes. Make sure you have a lid for the pan you are using. Also add some caraway seeds (rasca). Then give it little bit water. Not too much, just enough to have a small layer on all the way across the pan.
Reduce the heat, cover, and let steam for at least an hour. Periodically open the lid, stir the cabbage, and also add more water as needed. You want to steam the cabbage, not fry it. Usually, little bit of sugar is added to the cabbage. I like to do this at the end, I figured it’s better to sweeten it only once the taste is close to being done. I also don’t like the cabbage particularly sweet, so I gave it just a small handful. It will take at least an hour for the cabbage to get soft.
Don’t forget to make halušky while you wait for the cabbage!
Since I cooked up halušky, I could not resist making the other variant, the one that is considered the national dish of Slovakia, bryndzové halušky. (I have previously posted this recipe, but the old photos are not of good quality and the high resolution images are missing. But if you are interested in seeing the original recipe and the many comments, click here)
Integral part of this dish are bacon bits called škvarky. To make them right, you need REALLY thick piece of bacon, or even better, a single cut of pork belly. You can then follow Rado’s recipe. The reason it’s so hard to replicate the taste with the American bacon, is that Slovak škvarky start off as cubes, so they end up crunchy only on the outside. But, in keeping up with the traditions as much as possible, cut up the bacon (slanina) into squares about half inch wide. Put them in a frying pan containing just enough water (voda) to cover their bottoms. Bring the water to boil. Then, lower the heat to minimum, and let cook for at least an hour, stirring frequently. Make sure to keep stirring, so that you don’t fry the bacon. Instead, you want to slowly let the fat melt away.
You will also need bryndza, the special Slovak sheep milk cheese. Where can I buy bryndza in the United States, you may ask. Well, I have good news! Some folks from the Washington, D.C. Slovak Meetup group tipped me off to the Israeli-style Feta sold in Trader Joes. This kind, by the Pasture of Eden, is darn close to bryndza! It’s not cheap (7 bucks for this block), but definitely worth the price. Mix it in (make sure the dumplings are still warm so the cheese softens) and top with the bacon bits. Finally, add few spoonfuls of the bacon grease. This is important; don’t skip this last step. You can always go for a jog later to burn off all that fat.
To really experience the traditional Slovak taste, you must have this dish with a glass of žinčica, the whey that drips off during the making of bryndza. Žinčica is similar in taste to kefir, but has a stronger flavor. Very often, Slovak restaurants will instead offer you zákysanka, which I believe is identical to kefir made of regular cow milk.