mé-šta (e as the a in able, š = sh)
For the premiere of this year’s Vegan Month of Food, I have decided to present two delicious, but simple dishes. The recipes I based them upon come from an old book of Slovene national cuisine, and I was really surprised to compare the cooking styles of then and now. Large supermarkets were nonexistent, so people ate what they grew in their garden and the animals they raised. This meant their everyday meals were bland compared to what we eat today, because they saved the fatty, “better” foods (meaning meat and such) for holidays and festivities.
So here’s an example of an everyday meal, something that people in this area might have eaten 200 years ago, prepared with the ethics and knowledge of today. The soft, delicate mešta is perfectly complemented by the tanginess of the sauerkraut and the smoky tofu. Traditionally, both of these would be doused in lard, pork cracklings, ham and other meat products, but the taste of either does not suffer in the least – personally, I think the lack of animal fat allows the natural aromas of the ingredients to shine through.
- 200 g of potato, peeled and cut into 2 cm chunks (one medium-sized potato)
- 3 dl of water
- pinch of salt
- 150 g of buckwheat flour
- olive oil
- powdered garlic
- nooch (nutritional yeast)
- 250 g of sauerkraut
- one small onion, chopped
- 5 mm of fresh ginger, peeled and crushed to yield 1 tbsp*
- 3 tbsp of olive oil
- one package of smoked tofu (I used 150 g)
- 0,6 dl of white wine
- green peppercorn (not dried)
- caraway seeds
Start by prepping the potato for the mešta, since it takes longer to cook. Combine with water in a pot and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the potato is about halfway cooked. In the meantime, sift the buckwheat flour and have it ready in a measuring cup. After said ten minutes, add the flour to the potato in one heap, and don’t mix. Cover and set heat to high, so the water simmers over the flour, sealing it into a ball. Uncover, flip the ball and use the handle of a wooden spoon to make a hole through the buckwheat ball, allowing the water to come through and cook the flour from the inside. Replace the cover, lower heat to medium and let simmer for another 20 minutes.
In another pot, simmer the sauerkraut in water for a few minutes, then drain. In a small skillet (but not too small), heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and ginger. Once the onion has browned a bit, stir in the sauerkraut and really blend it well with the fat. Set aside.
Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the tofu into thin slices, as thin as you can get it. Grease a ceramic baking pan and layer the tofu to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with about ½ of the sauerkraut mixture, sprinkle with caraway and a heaping teaspoon of peppercorn, then place another layer of tofu. Finally, use the rest of the kraut to cover and create an “even” surface. Again, season with caraway and peppercorn, and finish by lightly dousing everything with the wine. Place into oven, preheated at 180 °C and roast until the top is browned, no longer than 30 minutes.
The potato and buckwheat are now ready to proceed. In a small, small pot, heat about 3 tbsp of olive oil and add a sprinkling of garlic and a spoonful of nooch, then set aside. Uncover the potato-buckwheat and mix it thoroughly with the wooden spoon. It will appear uncooked but trust me, it is 🙂 Mix until there are no more spots of dry flour, then add the olive oil mixture. After mixing again, it is ready to be served. It should have the texture somewhere between dry mashed potatoes and bread dough; if it is too crumbly, try adding a tiny amount of water before mixing.
A few notes: from the instructions, it may seem that the mešta has a shorter cooking time, but when preparing the two simultaneously, you will see that the sauerkraut will be in the oven before you add the flour to the potatoes. The ginger I added isn’t traditional, but I feel it lends a wonderfully spicy twist. Let me know if you try it! 🙂