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.