Barbara Konobelj is a Slovenia-born expat who has been in Prague for 2 years, her family having relocated for her husband’s job. Formerly an executive at Adria Airways, she now fills her time caring for her two sons (ages 7 and 5), doing charity work, and preparing big meals from the family home in Prague’s leafy Střešovice district.
When she suggests a menu in advance of our visit – beef soup with parsley and carrots and roasted chicken and potatoes – I’m wondering just how different Slovenian cuisine is from typical Czech food. Not much, says Barbara. “Slovenian food is really close to Czech and Austrian cuisine with one notable difference: salad.”
No Slovenian meal is complete without a fresh green salad. Says Barbara, “There is no lunch with no salad. In March and April we start with dandelion salad, but now the markets have so many greens there is no need for dandelion.”
Today Barbara has selected ingredients from her local farmer’s market at Kulaťák. (Her second favorite is Jiřák, next to the Plečnik-designed church, naturally!) She has also done some advance shopping at her favorite Slovenian speciality food shop, Food Adventure, where she regularly buys the pumpkin oil that will dress today’s salad. Pumpkin oil is a certified Slovenian protected agricultural product.
What other delicacies does Barbara miss from home? She mentions Cockta, a Slovenian cola that’s made from rosehip, herbs, lemon, and orange. Quality beef, too. “When we come back we always load up the car with meat, especially beef which is not so good here, sausages, and cheese.” But she does have some Czech favorites like fried cheese and grilled hermelín.
The salad that she prepares for us makes an ideal summer side dish, or even a light lunch when served with dark rye bread with seeds, another staple of Slovenian cuisine that Barbara makes at home. And dessert: I’m anxious to sample the Slovenian pastry Barbara has prepared. But, first, lunch:
Slovenian Chopped Salad with Pumpkin Oil
(Barbara uses Bibb lettuce, radicchio, and spinach)
4-5 small roasted potatoes (optional)
2-3 hard boiled eggs (optional)
Sea salt, prefrably Slovenian
Pumpkin oil, for drizzling
Wash and dry all of the produce. Roughly chop the greens and add to a large bowl (proportions and amount of vegetables, greens, and add-ins depend on how many you plan serving). Shred the carrots, dice the tomatoes, and finely chop the green onion. Add roughly chopped potatoes and eggs, if using. Give the salad a squeeze of lemon, sprinkle with salt, drizzle generously with the pumpkin oil, and lightly toss before serving.
Followed by the traditional Slovenian dessert Prekmurska gibanica, a layered pastry stuffed with poppy seeds, cottage cheese, walnuts, and apples and baked in a clay mould, this is the perfect meal for a summery day.
Another Slovenian dessert that Barbara recommends, especially for those who crave something rich and creamy, is kremsnite, a pudding slice that is particularly renowned in the Alpine-region of Bled and is so beloved that it has its own Facebook page! “I make it here,” says Barbara, “But somehow it never tastes the same.”
It is not unusual for Slovenes to have a glass of a native Slovenian wine with lunch. For this dessert, Barbara recommends a semi-dry wine, especially those coming from the Primorska region near the Slovenian coast (buy Slovenian wine and sea salt at Food Adventure).
While it’s difficult to pinpoint a precise definition of Slovenian cuisine – the country has 23 gastronomic regions and a variety of culinary influences due to its diverse landscape – after spending time in the Konobelj household there is one thing that I’m certain ties it all together: hospitality. This is something Barbara misses, too. “Just stopping for gas when we’ve finally arrived home is exciting,” Barbara says. “Everyone is so friendly and talkative.”
Luckily for Barbara, she’ll pack up the family and head home to Ljubljana soon, escaping to the famed Slovenian lakes for some rest and relaxation before stocking up on that delicious pumpkin oil and other tastes of home for the next season spent in Prague.
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Photos by Daniel Zahradníček.