Beginning this blog…

Laurene and day of the dead altar 2010

Laurene & Mexican day of the dead altar

I’ve long wanted to have a venue where I could share some of my recipes and other ideas online. Now, thanks to the help and encouragement of my nephew, Lorenzo (a web designer), this is happening. It started off with a family group page (Vavrus Family) on Facebook where I hoped to create a forum for our family to check in periodically and keep up with the lives of our (mostly) cousins, and perhaps their children as well. None of us are getting any younger and much of our parents’ Slovak culture may be lost as they age and pass on. We should preserve these precious memories.

A recent trip to Southern California afforded me a glimpse into my Aunt Katy’s 1947 cookbook that included recipes written in her own hand and most certainly dictated to her by her mother (our Grandmother), Babka. I realized what an important historical document this was to our family and wrote down all the recipes I could find in it that came from growing up in Babka’s kitchen. Keep in mind that these recipes came over from the “Old Country” with Babka as a very young woman, early in the 20th Century, and reflect an old way of cooking that may no longer be currently found in modern Slovakian kitchens. I then began researching other Slovak sources of recipes on the Internet to add to this collection. I have added some of those as well and will clearly mark which recipes are Babka’s and which are from other sources.

Ideally, what I would like to see happen is for these recipes to jog our memories so that we might post a comment about a particular food that they remember eating at Babka’s house from their childhood, or perhaps another recipe of Babka’s that someone might have tucked away in their own collection of recipes. We could use this site as a repository of our family’s culinary history and wisdom. We all have wonderful memories of Babka. I think her Fánky recipe is probably the single most mentioned one when we talk about her food. Then come all the rest… Let’s start there.

P.S. – Although I am beginning with Slovak food, I have plans to branch out into other areas of ethnic recipes. I have thousands of recipes that I have collected over the years. I also reserve to the right to blog about other interests of mine that might come up along the way. In short, I’m not limiting myself in anyway here. The sky’s the limit. And if you would like to see something in a particular cuisine, please let me know. I’m currently discovering and exploring Korean foods. And boy, is it good!


Korean Ox Bone Soup (Seolleongtang)


“And now for something completely different,” as the Monty Python skit went. When I was in Santa Clara with Lorenzo, my nephew, we took advantage of an area called “Koreatown”, a stretch of El Camino Real with lots of Korean restaurants, stores and shops. I fell in love with the food. We don’t have Korean restaurants in the south suburbs of Chicago, unfortunately, and I’d have to travel to the north side of Chicago if I wanted some. (Not likely to happen.) So I have set out to learn to cook some Korean dishes to have here at home. I have already made Pajeon (vegetable pancakes) several times for my son and he seemed to like them, as well as my Kalbi and Bulgogi. And last week I made Bibimbap for my daughter and she like that too.

This soup is really soul food for me. I have always loved oxtails and any soup meat with connective tissue, like tendons. The Koreans seem to like those too and include such cuts of meat and bone into their soups. These cuts are no longer easy to find in most grocery stores, and you may have to shop in creative ways to find them. For example, I found that the Mexican butcher shops often have some of these items as there are many soups in their cuisine with beef hooves, tails, and other “nasty bits.” Still looking for some items though. I’m going to have to ask the Mexican butchers if they could get me some Tendón de Res.

I haven’t included many exact measurements. You really can’t put set amounts for this soup as your ingredients list may change from what you can find in the stores. But, no matter. Wing it. You can do it!

The Ingredients:

Beef (Ox if available) Bones
Beef for soup – can also use beef brisket, shank, etc.
Beef Tendon-optional & if available
Beef Hooves – optional
1 large whole Onion
1 head of Garlic
3” piece of fresh Ginger
A fresh Daikon radish – peeled and cut as needed
Whole Black Peppercorns
Water – and lots of it

The Noodles:
Udon, Ramen, or whatever noodles you may have on hand. Boil lightly apart from soup before adding. Having freshly-made noodles will make the soup so much better.

Sea Salt should be served on the table so each person can use the amount they desire.
Chopped Green onions — a lot of these
Kimchee — fresh or bottled
Half-inch slices of Daikon in half-moon sections, pre-boiled for a few minutes.

Cooking Instructions:
Korean recipes stress the repeated washing of all the bones and meat before even beginning the cooking process. Soak and wash the meat to attempt to remove all blood. Once thoroughly washed (and trimmed of any visible fat), cover with water and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes. Discard this water and wash out your pot to remove any greasiness. Add fresh water now to fill the large soup pot and add the onion, garlic, ginger, a large daikon chunk, and peppercorns—no salt. (Better if you wrap these ingredients in cheesecloth. Otherwise, just fish them out later.) Start to heat it up to a slow simmer. Skim off ALL the fat and foam that floats up to the top.

Once the meat is done, take it out and remove it from the bones. Do the same for the tendons. Then put the bones back into the broth and continue to simmer. This soup takes a looong time to cook (hours and hours) and if all goes well, you may even see it change to a “milky” color. Once the broth is complete and the bones just can’t give anymore of themselves, remove them and add back the meat to the broth. (You could also refrigerate this overnight and remove any fat that forms on the top before returning to the stove to finish the soup.)

Boil your noodles slightly in plain water and then add to your broth. To serve, fill large bowls with the steaming broth, meat, and noodles. Place bowls of kimchee, chopped green onions, and sea salt on the table and serve.

Optional: if you have enough daikon and you may want to slice it into half-inch half-moons and boil it slightly. Mix it with the cabbage-based kimchee and add it to your hot, steaming bowl of soup. This was a big hit with me. Love that semi-crunchiness of it!


Babka’s Green Bean Soup (Polievka zo Zelenej Fazule)

Slovak Green Bean SoupI made this soup the other day for the first time in a long while. It was another of Babka’s classic soups. It is based upon a format that many Eastern European soups follow: dairy (sour cream) with vinegar, and seasoned with dill. Couple that base with almost any vegetable that you have on hand and you have a satisfying, filling soup. They usually begin with a roux, made usually from bacon fat and flour, to create a thickening agent. I used less bacon and added a tablespoon of butter instead. You can play around with the proportions, according to your tastes.

Wash about a pound of fresh young Green Beans and cut them into bite-sized pieces
Peel about 4 medium Potatoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces
One large sprig of fresh Dill from the garden, or about ¼ t. dry
8 oz. Sour Cream (I used the Lite version successfully)
2-3 strips of Bacon – cut up in about 1” pieces
2 cloves Garlic – minced
3 T. Vinegar
2-3 T Flour
1 T Butter
4 Qts. Water (could use vegetable broth, if desired)
Salt & Pepper – to taste

Slightly render the bacon pieces in a small sauce pan and add the garlic as you do so. Remove them from the heat before the bacon gets crisp and set aside. Add the butter to the bacon fat in the pan and let it melt. Then add the flour and continue to mix it together with a spoon to make a roux. Once the flour is starting to become toasted in the oil and almost turning golden, remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large soup pot, place the green beans and potato pieces and cover with about 4 quarts of water. Add about 1 T. of salt to flavor water & bring almost to a boil over a medium high heat. Then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the bacon pieces and garlic to the water, and also the vinegar and dill. Let this cook until the green beans and potatoes are just beginning to become tender.

Place the sour cream in a bowl and slowly pour a ladleful of soup liquid into it while stirring with a spoon to temper the sour cream. Repeat this a few times, and then add the mixture into the soup. At this point, add some of the roux to the water and allow it to thicken as it simmers. Keep adding a little of the roux at a time until it comes to the thickness you desire. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste, and remove the sprig of dill at this time. Serve with rye bread. Makes about 8 servings

Babka’s Beef Barley Soup (Hovädzia Polievka Jačmeň)

Babka’s beef barley soup holds a special memory for me. I have made it countless times for my own children and they loved it while growing up. It reminds me of coming into her kitchen on a cold winter day and seeing the windows all steamed up and a wonderful smell wafting throughout the house. Their big white metal table would have a basket of some fruit or vegetable that she was sitting and peeling, and Dedko would be seated next to her by the window, reading the newspaper. No talking was going on between them and only the sound of a passing train would break the silence. I would sit across from Babka on the bench and begin helping her with her task. I passed many an afternoon like this, content just to be in her presence.

A few pounds of beef short ribs, beef shanks, or some inexpensive cut that has bones
1 large yellow onion, quartered
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 pieces celery, left whole
2 cups pearl barley
8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
salt and pepper to taste
6 qt. cold water

 Roast meat and bones in 400 degree oven until well browned in a low pan. Place meat and juices in large 8 qt. soup pot. Add onion, salt, pepper and water. Simmer on low heat for several hours, stirring occasionally.

 Next, add the carrots and mushrooms, then the pearl barley. Stir well every 15 minutes or so. Simmer for another hour, until barley is cooked.

 When the soup is ready, remove meat and bones. Discard bones, dice soup meat into small pieces and add back to soup. Remove celery and discard. If soup seems too thick, add more water as the barley will continue to thicken the soup.


(Babka’s recipe)

Ingredients:Slovak Fanky

  • 4 C. Sifted Flour
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • ¾ C. Sour Cream
  • Salt


  1. Mix. Knead. Roll out thin.
  2. Cut into diamonds with center slit.
  3. Fry in deep oil. [Drain on paper. Add powdered sugar when cool.]

(Remarks within the [ ] are mine to aid the reader)