Learning To Cook Like A Slovenian

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It seems like hundreds of times on this blog, we've extolled the virtues of food tours and reveling in the fact that you can learn more about a culture by exploring their cuisine and traditions than by simply seeing things that have existed in the same place for hundreds of years. In fact, we've extolled it so many times, I'm not even peppering this paragraph with links to food pieces. Most likely there's a link to a bunch of them at the bottom of the page, or at the bottom of every piece on this site. I swear this is not a food blog, it just seems that way because we love food so much. When we were offered the opportunity to join a Slovenian Cooking Class in Ljubljana with CookEatSlovenia, we jumped at it Drake and Future-style. While they offer wine tasting tours and day trips to hike the Julian Alps, we relished the idea of a Slovenian cooking class. We love to cook at home (even if home is just an AirBnB, cooking in instead of eating out is a great way to stick to your budget), and being able to cook a Slovenian meal with a real Slovenian? Oh, and there's Slovenian wine served? WE ARE IN! 

The first thing we noticed when we arrived was the small size of the class, as we had taken some cooking classes in Denver or New York that were stuffed fuller than an underfunded elementary school (Topical?) and didn't really enjoy them. They were fine, mind you, they just seemed like we could have gotten the same experiences with Blue Apron or even a oft-paused Giada episode. This was not the case with CookEatSlovenia, as they limit their classes to less than a dozen amateur Bobby Flays, and our course only consisted of the two of us and a family of four! MORE WINE FOR US I SAY. One of the things that we loved about this class was that when we arrived, we were introduced to our leader Špela (more on her in a moment), given a short intro to the history of Slovenian Culinary History (we've covered the basic tenets here, but if you remember these two main facts; A) Slovenia is shaped like a chicken and 2) there are almost two dozen culinary regions in the nation, each with their own specialties and techniques, you'll be fine), and immediately given wine and appetizers which Špela had ready. Basically, about three minutes into our cooking class, it was this:

And this:

Cottage Cheese w/ Pumpkin Seed Oil

Cottage Cheese w/ Pumpkin Seed Oil

And this:

Olive Tapenade

Olive Tapenade

AND THIS:

Cottage Cheese w/ Wild Garlic (I think these are European ramps?)

Cottage Cheese w/ Wild Garlic (I think these are European ramps?)

So, within three minutes of arriving at your (and I say 'your', because we are operating under the assumption that minutes after reading this post, you will be booking your cooking class ASAFP) you are wrist deep in delicious Slovenian appetizers and wine. But then, you'll get to the main event. 

LET'S COOK, BABY!

All of the classes prepare three dishes, a starter, main, and a dessert, but the actual recipes change based on what is most deliciously in season. We were at the beginning of asparagus season, so we used some delicious stalks in our main dish, but Špela told us that sometimes the menu is completely different from what we made, if there is something in the market that she just can't resist. 

Our first task was to make the dough for our Cottage Cheese Štruklji, as it would need to rest for 30 minutes while we were preparing our starters and main. This was where we really discovered how much fun it would be to cook with a real Slovenian such as Špela, who was not a trained chef, just a woman who had learned how to cook by preparing delicious dishes for her entire life. Her recipes were passed from her grandmother and her friends, to Špela's mother and her friends, and finally to Špela and her friends and siblings. She was an absolute delight to be around in the kitchen, from not being scared to tell us when we were doing something wrong with a light pat with a wooden spoon to simply swishing us out of the kitchen when the cooking was done and the eating was to begin. If you think a lot of our ingredients were measured in handfuls and pinches, you are correct, she joked that the hand is the Slovenian measuring cup. She seemed like she would not be scared to give a reproachful look when she felt you weren't finishing your food or wine fast enough, but that wasn't an issue for our class. She was fun, you guys. And when I say fun, I mean like this kind of fun:

Image Credit: Emma

Image Credit: Emma

Once our dough was resting, we began cooking Toč with Prosciutto, which is a regional dish from the Back Chicken Leg Region (AKA Karst Coastal) involving Slovenian Prosciutto cooked in a Dry Slovenian Red Wine served with Polenta. I'd love to say it was complicated and we learned a lot, but it was a terrific example of a simple, delicious dish, which was both easy to make and easy to eat. 

Not so easy to drink, though.

Then we prepared a delicious Buckwheat Kasha with Asparagus and Leeks topped with Pan-Fried Chicken. Again, it was everything we wanted in Slovenian cuisine: Simple, Delicious, and Healthy. We were finding that the Slovenians cooked with some lesser-known grains (Millet & Buckwheat instead of Rice & Cous Cous), and it made Renee very happy, as those supergrains are her jam. 

Image Credit: Emma

Image Credit: Emma

And then it was time for the main event. The Cottage Cheese Štruklji was the best thing we learned to prepare at our cooking class, and was certainly the most fun. We stretched the štruklji dough until it was thin enough to see the wood-grain table through, filled it with a delicious sugary cottage cheese filling, and carefully rolled it until it was ready to be wrapped in a tea towel and dropped into a boiling vat of water. Maybe you've cooked an Eastern European Delicacy that can be served as either an appetizer, main dish, or dessert before, but we certainly hadn't. And Sweet Lord, was it fun. Without the štruklji, the class would have been good, but the experience of making a traditional, delicious, and complicated dish from such simple ingredients was a true delight.

Not to sound too much like an infomercial, BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Once dessert was done, Špela busted out her HOMEMADE FLAVORED SCHNAPPS! Yes, that's right, it's a tradition in Slovenia to make your own schnapps from any type of fruit or flower you can find. I'm sure you're familiar with Limoncello, but until you've had Dandelion Schnapps, you haven't lived. After drinking our fill (Seriously, I was hammered when we left) and packing us a togo box of any leftovers, Špela sent us out into the night. We were full, we were drunk, and we were happy. The way of Slovenia.

Špela was kind enough to allow us to post her recipe for štruklji, and I encourage you to try it for yourself, but if you find yourself in Ljubljana and want a true Slovenian experience, you absolutely must try CookEatSlovenia. Tell Špela that Josh & Renee sent you!