Marcia Wolf knows you can’t make Slovenian food without love.
Married for nearly 40 years to Mark, a man of Slovenian descent, Marcia learned to prepare dishes emulating Mark’s heritage from his mother, Mary Viscek Wolf and his grandmother, Mary Fugina Viscek.
Although Marcia has never traveled to the Republic of Slovenia in south-central Europe, she says it’s a dream of hers to visit this tiny country that borders Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, with a landscape that includes the Alps and coastlines along the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.
From her Kansas City kitchen, Marcia passes on old Slovenian recipes to new generations, which includes the couple’s family of six children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She also shares recipes with Mark’s sisters, Patty Horton and Margaret Watson.
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“Making strujkla with Marcia brought back memories of my grandmother,” Horton says. “While it takes quite a bit of work, the outcome is very enjoyable and I’m anxious to share this with my own family.”
Q: Are you Slovenian by nature or nurture?
A: I am from Wichita and my heritage is a true American melting pot. While I learned how to cook from my own mother, Joy McNeely, I began to identify with Slovenian customs and food after I married Mark. He was raised in Wyandotte County among the Polish, Croatians and Slovenians in the tight-knit Strawberry Hill neighborhood.
I was fortunate enough to learn how to prepare the Slovenian dishes Mark loves from his grandmother, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Even though I am an in-law, Mark’s sisters will ask me questions about traditional recipes, because I was the one fortunate enough to cook with two generations of Mary Visceks and learned their Slovenian secrets.
Q: The ingredients in Slovenian cooking are very simple, but it seems to be a process to make the dishes.
A: Simple, wholesome ingredients, such as flour, butter, eggs, onions, cabbage and potatoes come together to create dishes that really stick with you. For example, we go to Krizman’s House of Sausage in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood at 6th and Elizabeth Streets to buy “sauerheads” — which are fermented heads of cabbage — to make cabbage rolls or sarma.
I am a retired medical technologist by trade, so I enjoy the process of combining ingredients in my kitchen “laboratory.” Slovenians use fermented cabbage and vinegar in their dishes and these are the tastes that have been passed onto our children.
Q: You’ve not only passed along these traditions to your family, you’re also part of passing a taste of Slovenian culture to the community, aren’t you?
A: This Saturday, we are celebrating our 9th annual Slovenefest at Holy Family Church in Kansas City, Kan. As part of the celebration, we want people to come and eat from a menu that includes Slovenian smoked sausage, potato salad dressed with oil and vinegar, sauerkraut, polnjene paprika, (stuffed pepper) and sarma (stuffed cabbage roll.) I am proof that you don’t have to be Slovenian to enjoy this evening of food and fun.
Q: What exactly is Strujkla?
A: Strujkla — and this is the spelling that Mark’s grandmother gave me — is a traditional Slovenian dish, made of a simple flour dough and filled with egg. This dish can have many variations in the way it is prepared and a wide range of fillings, but this is the way I was taught to make it.
Strujkla was especially made during the Lenten season, when one could not eat meat. These are especially satisfying and inexpensive to make, but strujkla takes time to prepare correctly.
It is very special to have a connection through food to Slovenia, a country — that for some — is an unknown little corner of the world. At its most basic level, this food not only feeds the tummy, it also feeds the heart and our family tradition.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column.
The 9th Annual Slovenefest is Saturday, Sept. 23, beginning at 4 p.m., at Holy Family Catholic Church, in Kansas City, Kan. Dinner, auction and entertainment will be held at the Holy Family Club, at 513 Ohio, from 5 to 10 p.m. For more information, visit www.HolyFamilyChurchKCK.com.
Mary Viscek’s Strujkla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon solid vegetable shortening
1 cup lukewarm water
1 cup unsalted butter, melted, divided usage
4 eggs, softly scrambled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Into a large mixing bowl, whisk flour and salt together. Cut vegetable shortening into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add water and knead until a soft, non-sticky dough forms. If dough is too sticky, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time until a smooth dough comes together.
Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and allow dough to rest for 2 hours on countertop.
Place a 4-by-5-foot piece of clean muslin or cotton over a tabletop and sprinkle lightly with all-purpose flour. Roll out and ease dough until it is paper-thin and makes a rectangle about the size of the cloth underneath.
Evenly brush ½ cup melted butter over all. Spread runny scrambled eggs over surface of dough, leaving a 2-inch margin on all sides. Sprinkle salt, pepper and caraway seeds evenly over eggs.
Carefully fold 2-inch border of dough over eggs along the 5-foot bottom edge. Then, working carefully, lift the cloth and continue to roll dough over eggs, in a jelly-roll fashion.
Crimp to seal all edges of dough and allow to set for about 10 minutes.
Using the edge of heavy plate, cut the roll into 30, 2-inch pieces. The blunt edge of the plate will help seal each of the dough pieces.
Fill a Dutch oven pot with water. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Gently drop uncooked strujkla into water and boil for 40 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place individually on wire racks, to allow the boiled strujkla to cool and dry completely.
Before serving, melt ½ cup butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cooked strujkla, 6 at a time, and sauté until golden, or about 3 minutes on each side.
Serve with a green salad on the side.
Per piece: 110 calories (48 percent from fat), 5.3 grams total fat (2.9 grams saturated), 33 milligrams cholesterol, 13 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 121 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.