January 5, 2018
An important element of the weekly routine of the Slovenes is Sunday lunch, which while varying in the details of the main dish served, usually consisting of some sort of meat, potato and salad, the mandatory components are the whole family at the table, beef soup as first course, and often oompah music playing on the radio. Some people say that this music got its slang name, goveja glasba (beef music), because of its appearance on Sundays, although perhaps this name is simply due to its countryside association.
It is believed that this clear beef soup originates in Vienna, and that Slovenian peasants learned how to make it from there. But then again, the Austrian nobility were unlikely to ever claim they learned something from the people they ruled over, so we can leave the origins part of the story to historians to argue about, and turn instead to the recipe itself.
Unlike similar recipes, where the resulting soup is often a main dish, and therefore much richer and served with everything that it was made from, the goal we are aiming here at is a clear, collagen-rich soup, with vegetable undertones and thin egg noodles resting visible at the bottom of the dish, with chopped parsley leaves floating on the surface.
In order to obtain this, we have to leave all the vegetables, meat and bones in one piece, uncut, and put them in a pot of water as they are. In about five litres of water, we place:
½ kg of lean beef, preferably shank
4-5 jointy bones (not meat or marrow bones as they are low in collagen)
3-4 chicken wings (optional)
2-3 garlic cloves
1 orange carrot
1 yellow carrot
1 kohlrabi with leaves
1 root parsley with leaves
1 root celery with leaves
1 teaspoon of black pepper seeds (whole)
1 teaspoon of salt (adjust to your taste)
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 green and/or red pepper (optional)
1 tomato (optional)
We will also need:
3 fistfuls of thin egg soup noodles
fresh chopped parsley leaves
If you would like to make the process of vegetable selection even easier, note that pre-packaged soup combinations are available in most Slovenian grocery stores.
Make sure all the ingredients are fully submerged in water, then place on a stove and start heating. Ideally, the soup should never be heated to the point of boiling, and in Slovenian folk wisdom this is when any three cooks watching the pot would start arguing. In practice, and from experience, tiny bubbles that do not break the surface of the soup are allowed to form, while big boiling bubbles are not, as they disturb the slow process of collagen extraction and, more importantly, damage the ingredients and therefore cloud the soup. The soup is preferably cooked in large amounts, as changes in temperature occur slower with a big pot on the stove, and are therefore easier to control over the long period of time.
The soup is done when the beef is perfectly tender and soft, which, according to the slow-cooking method doesn’t happen earlier than 2-3 hours of cooking and ideally after 5-8 hours.
As people rarely have so much time on their hands, the cooking process can be sped up by either boiling the whole thing or, even faster, by the use of a pressure cooker. The resulting soup might lose some of its translucent delicacy this way, but at least it would be done in about an hour, which is what most people expect the lunch preparation time to be.
After the soup is cooked and the meat is tender (the situation can be checked throughout the process), the soup needs to be separated from its ingredients by straining.
The amount of the soup we would like to serve is then boiled, noodles are added and left to cook for a few minutes, depending on the type (check what the package says). An alternative to noodles is to pour a scrambled egg into the boiling soup, or just leave it as it is.
Once the soup has been ladled into dishes, we sprinkle some chopped parsley on top and then enjoy it, with good company, good wine, and good music.
And if you’re wondering what to do with the beef that was used to make the soup, I will write in the next week’s Recipe of the Week. Bon appetite!
As with any traditional recipe, there are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks making it. To give a sense of this variety, here is a video of a slightly different kind of beef soup, with the Slovenian swimmer Anja Klinar.