A Wintry Day, Charles, and a Recipe for Tasty Soup

A Wintry Day, Charles, and a Recipe for Tasty Soup

photo courtesy www.slovakcooking.com
photo courtesy www.slovakcooking.com

My husband Charles liked to cook and do the grocery shopping. He took pride in selecting the freshest produce and meat at the lowest possible cost. He learned to cook as a child from both his Hungarian/Slovak mother and Czech father.

Charles’ specialties were traditional Slovak, Czech, Austrian, and Hungarian dishes – his mother’s recipes: cabbage soup, goulash, palacinka, dumplings, wiener schnitzel, etc.

Slovak cuisine has its origin in the landscapes from flat Danube valley lowlands, through the eastern wine-producing Tokaj region, to the snow-capped peaks of the Tatra Mountains in the north. Slovakia was a land of simple peasants, who spent their days working in the fields or watching after sheep in the mountains. The cuisine evolved from the ingredients people grew in their gardens, or from the products of the animals they raised. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and onions are the basis of many dishes, supplemented by chicken and pork and sometimes beef.

On these cold, wintry days I crave a bowl of Charles’ Slovak-inspired  Poor Soup. He called it “Poor” because it was so cheap and simple to make.

soup \ süp \ n –s

1. a liquid food having as a base, meat, fish, or vegetable stock,  being clear or thickened to the consistency of a thin puree or having milk or cream added, and often having pieces of solid food (as meat, shellfish, pasta, or vegetables)

The process of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and travelling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids. Soup (and stews, pottages, porridges, gruels, etc.) evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. Most soups are variations on the same theme.

When Charles was alive we ate soup almost every day. Homemade soup. Made at home by Charles. It was romantic. I miss the soup and Charles. I was a very lucky woman.

Recipe for Charles’ Poor Soup

Charles didn’t have his recipe written down. I put this together based on Slovak recipe research and from what I remember from watching Charles prepare the soup. 


½ fresh, green cabbage (1.7 lb.)

1 small chopped onion

½ c. olive oil

1 t. ground caraway

1 t. ground nutmeg

2/3 cup flour

10  cups water

6 oz. can, tomato paste

3 T. sea salt or to taste

3 T. sugar or to taste

3T. vinegar

Preparation Time: One hour

Remove the hard, inner core from the cabbage and the outer green leaves (the leaves can be used for stuffed cabbage (holubky) .

Cut the cabbage into thin strips.

Put the cabbage strips into a pot with the oil. Fry the cabbage for 5 minutes while stirring continuously.

Add ground caraway and ground nutmeg. Top this with flour and put it in a cup of water.

Chop and saute onion in olive oil. Add to cabbage.

Stir and cover with a lid. Steam covered on low heat for about 30 minutes until the cabbage is almost fully cooked/soft.  Stir every few minutes so it doesn’t burn. Add water as needed.

Pour in the remaining water and all of the tomato paste. Finish seasoning with salt, sugar, and vinegar.

Serve hot with homemade garlic toast.

Read more about Charles Novacek and his life in Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, 1021 Press, Detroit.

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