Cook. Eat. Love.
That sums up my hands-on cooking adventure in Ljubljana, but I suspect that you’ll want more details on what makes this 4-hour dinner and wine experience a must-do for foodies in Slovenia’s capital. And how you can extend your food adventure to the mountains and wine regions beyond. And try the recipes at home in your own kitchen. And connect with the food your Slovenian grandma might have made. But, before we meet your teacher, here’s a video:
Špela Vodovc is that rare person who has managed to combine her passions in life: food, people and the outdoors. After getting her degree in economics, a 9 to 5 job was not the right fit. She began organizing team-building experiences for Slovenian companies and eventually formed her own company.
But she also wanted to share the great food she remembered from her childhood in a family of butchers and great cooks. Cook Eat Slovenia was born.
Fun with Food
The program is based in Gostilna Dela, a breakfast and lunch place in Ljubljana’s pedestrian center that provides jobs for young people with disabilities. By night, the industrial kitchen and cozy dining space belong to Špela and her guests.
I first visited in 2016 with a group from the summer school of Slovene language at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Arts. On a hot August evening, the place was packed with foreigners taking part in the language classes and related cultural activities. Under the supervision of Špela and her assistants, we managed to roll out paper-thin dough and assemble traditional Slovene štruklji, a kind of boiled dumpling with sweet or savory fillings. It was so much fun that I vowed to come back.
A Foodie’s Dream Dinner in Slovenia
In May of 2018, my husband and I joined a Canadian couple in Gostilna Dela. Špela was waiting for us at 6 pm with a selection of appetizers and Malvazija, a crisp white wine from Slovenian Istria. It paired perfectly with Tolmin cheese from the Alps, apricot jam, traditional brown bread and Slovene-style creamy cottage cheese with garlic. A pork spread, served in a traditional wooden container dating back to the days before modern refrigeration, brought smiles to the faces of the meat-eaters in our little group.
Our first job was to prepare the štruklji dough, allowing it to rest for 30 minutes while we went on to assemble a few more courses of our meal.
Fritulja or cvrča: a thick omelette with minced wild herbs. This traditional taste of the Goriška Brda wine region on Slovenia’s Italian border was served to hardworking farmers and pregnant women in need of a protein boost. Served on a bed of bitter greens, often foraged from “the nature.”
Toč with pršut (ham in red wine sauce) and polenta. “The pršut and teran are best friends,” Špela explained as she added a generous pour of red wine from the karst region to the saucepan.
Buckwheat kaša with asparagus and flame-seared chicken. Buckwheat is the Slovenian take on risotto, and we mixed in farm-fresh asparagus which was in season at the time of our visit. Chicken breasts were flame-seared with white Malvazija wine, and wine was also added to the buckwheat and asparagus. Without the chicken on top it can also be a satisfying dish for vegetarians. Bon appetit, or as we say in Slovenia, dober tek!
Cooking with Slovenian Ancestry
As a Slovenian-American who first came here in 2009 to connect with my roots, it was my chance to cook the dishes my grandmother might have made. Sadly, Grandma Anžur died before I was born, so I never had the chance to cook with her. For my dad, who was born in America to a Slovene family, it wasn’t Christmas unless we had “potica.” One year, I decided to try making the family potica recipe with my son, who’s an accomplished cook in his own right.
The classic Slovene dessert, usually walnuts rolled in pastry dough, turned out to be really difficult to make. We had the recipe but not the skills. After a full day of dough-making and walnut grinding with Grandma Anžur’s antique grinder, our kitchen looked like a war zone and our potica looked — and tasted — almost authentic. Almost, but not quite.
Another cooking adventure involved beef soup. My son made his version of this classic comfort food for one of our Slovene friends who posted on Facebook, “This is what happens when goveja juha goes to America.” Same, but different.
Spending time in the Cook Eat Slovenia kitchen with Špela helped me learn a few traditional techniques and appreciate more of the flavors my dad was raised with. He was obsessed with quality cold cuts and would have felt right at home in Slovenia where pršut or Kranjska Klobasa sausage is frequently on the table — a meal in itself with cheese and hearty bread. Slovenia’s TV chefs have elevated some of the traditional recipes to the level of fine cuisine. You can also try lots of different tastes at the Open Kitchen in Ljubljana on Fridays. But there’s no substitute for “domača” or making it at home with your own hands. Don’t worry if you forget to take notes; Špela will send the recipes to your email.
Štruklji for Dessert
Our little group rolled and stretched the štruklji dough to the consistency of almost see-through parchment. Špela demonstrated the technique of filling it and then rolling it on a dishtowel. The wrapped tube is then tied with string and boiled in salty water for 20 minutes. The finished product is cut into slices and served. It was the perfect ending to a memorable evening, paired with homemade cherry, blueberry or spruce liqueur. At 90 euros per person, it’s an excellent value for the quality and the new skills you’ll take away.
Foodie Adventures in the Julian Alps
Cook Eat Slovenia also offers tours that combine hiking with food and wine tasting. Best to plan ahead for this adventure, as the mountain huts are only open July through September and the tours fill up fast. Future plans call for biking and kayak trips to food and wine destinations throughout Slovenia.
Terry’s Travel Tips:
Cookbook coming soon: If you can’t make it to the class, you can still get the recipes! Špela is publishing a Cook Eat Slovenia cookbook. Sign up at this link to support her kickstarter campaign and be notified when the book is available for 24.99 euros. As you can see, it will be richly illustrated with mouth-watering photographs and filled with detailed instructions in English.
Food Preferences: I’m not a meat eater and my husband doesn’t eat fish. Špela customized our dinner, so it was slightly different from her other menus which might include sea bass. A vegetarian option was offered to me for every dish. Please let her know your dietary preferences when you make your reservation on the website.
Getting There: Gostilna Dela is located at 7 Poljanska Cesta, near the Dragon Bridge in the pedestrian zone of central Ljubljana. It’s within easy walking distance of most hotels in Ljubljana. Thanks for supporting this blog by clicking on the link to check out the hotels. Airbnb is also an option. Click here for a discount on your first booking.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Cook Eat Slovenia. The post reflects the typical experience that any guest can expect. Research and opinions, as always, are my own.
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