We were supposed to go away in the caravan a few weeks ago, but the weather had other ideas. The
day we had planned to leave was very windy, and the next day, we woke up to steady drizzle. It
IS Springtime here in New Zealand, but that generally means the weather is incredibly fickle. In
the last three weeks, we have had a major wind-storm, incessant rains that flooded Little River, and a hailstorm that left about 2 inches of ice and closed roads. Oh
well, that’s what you get when you live in a small island nation in the middle of the roaring forties!
So, a few days before we planned to go, I cleaned out the fridge and pantry in preparation for our intended trip. Besides finding way too many condiments, I came across some chorizo that was approaching early retirement. I
adore chorizo, but most of the dishes I use it in are cold weather soups and stews.
While having my coffee and being pleased that we had delayed the trip, I contemplated what tasks I should conquer on this chilly, rainy day. It came to me: Zelnacka!!! (It is pronounced zel-netch-ka, and has those
funny hooks and dashes over some of the letters) The Czech chefs we employed for so many years made this on a regular basis, and I really can’t get enough of it. So, today would be the day I would make my first batch of Zelnacka, now being chef-less.
Chorizo, cut into small bits
Bacon (sort of optional)
An onion, chopped
about a dozen mushrooms (also, optional)
2 or 3 potatoes, diced
1 can (7oz) sauerkraut
a few Tablespoons of flour
2 –3 teaspoons of sweet paprika
2 or 3 Tablespoons of Caraway seeds
salt, to taste
You must remember that this is solid, Eastern European peasant food – hearty, cheap and made from ingredients always on hand in that part of the world. It is what I call a ‘Nana’ recipe – there are as many versions as there
My base recipe called for rendering some fat from the bacon, then add the onion, chorizo and mushrooms, and sauté in the fat until the onions are tender. Well, I didn’t want to use the bacon, so I started the onions and such
in some vegetable oil, instead. I cooked the mix until the onions were translucent and the chorizo had given up some of its fat. The Man tells me that our Czech boys would let the onion cook for a very long time, until almost caramelised, and then add the
mushrooms and chorizo. I also believe that they would have added a fair amount of garlic – these boys eat garlic on their cornflakes, along with caraway seeds!!!
Next, I sprinkled a few tablespoons of flour onto the mixture and stirred it in. This
is basically like making a gravy base or a roux, as it thickens the soup.
Once the flour has cooked through for a few minutes, add the potatoes, sauerkraut, paprika and caraway seeds. At this stage, I added a bit of smoked paprika to make up for the lack of bacon-y smokiness.
Then, let it simmer until the potatoes are tender. That’s it!!!! One pot and simple! Did I mention how good it smells when cooking?! Oh, and the flavour – if you like sauerkraut, you will love, love, love this! It tastes
almost like a Reuben Sandwich in soup form!
Now, there is a funny story about this dish. We decided to put it on the menu at the cafe one season, as we did try to always have a few Czech dishes on the menu. It drew in the local Czech population and was interesting to
other visitors. But, since no one has ever heard of Zelnacka, we would have to explain it. It just so happened that The Man had recently had some dental issues and was missing a front tooth. It was going to take a few months to get that fixed. So, for
several months, he was challenged with “Zelnacka? Oh, it ith a thpithy, thaurkraut and thauthage thoop.”