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BULGARIA: Supa Topcheta (Bulgarian meatball soup) Супа топчета

BULGARIA: Supa Topcheta/Супа топчета

2014_11_soop_bulgaria-13Here’s what we learned about Bulgaria in  our research this week:

  •  Yogurt is extremely popular in Bulgaria and eating it is believed to give you a longer life.
  • Bulgarians shake their heads to mean yes and nod for no.
  • Bulgaria is the oldest country in Europe that hasn’t changed its name since it was first established in 681 AD.
  • Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is named after his grandfather (Marko) who emigrated from Bulgaria in 1940.
  • Many believe that wine has been produced in Bulgaria since the stone age!

I had the great fortune to attend a singing workshop with the lovely ladies of Kitka Vocal Ensemble where I learned how to sing in the Eastern European style.  The technique involves a different use of my throat/nose than I had ever been exposed to and the harmonies are haunting.  Here is a gorgeous song by Kitka.  I honestly don’t know if it’s Bulgarian, but it sure is pretty.  And here is a Bulgarian group singing in traditional Bulgarian costumes.


Calvin found this recipe on pinterest and was sold the minute he saw the word “meatballs”.  We love us some meatballs in our house – from Italian wedding soup, to Vietnamese beef balls in our pho, spaghetti and meatballs – we love them all.  And now we have a new favorite meatball that is also GLUTEN FREE!!  Whoo-hoo!  In Bulgaria, they add rice to their meatballs instead of bread and, I’m telling you we will be doing the same henceforth in our house.  I was a little confused by all the recipes I found online because none of them told me whether the rice should be cooked or uncooked when adding them to the meatballs, so I rolled the dice and opted for uncooked which was correct.  Phew!

Supa Topcheta can be made about as many different ways as our own Chicken Noodle soup, so this recipe is an amalgam of various recipes found online with a few of our own ideas tossed in for good measure.  In the end, it was a winner.  All thumbs up!2014_11_soop_bulgaria-11Apparently, it was “everyone wear red” night at our house.  I didn’t even notice until processing the photos.  Funny.  Also, if you don’t like losing, never play Yahtzee with Calvin.  He is a ringer.  You have been warned.

2014_11_soop_bulgaria-1Supa Topcheta (Bulgarian meatball soup) Супа топчета
Serves 4-6


For the Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup white rice, uncooked
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon dried savory
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup gluten free flour (I used Pamela’s)

For the Soup

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small celery root, cubed into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (not fat free)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Prepare the meatballs by combining all the meatball ingredients EXCEPT the flour in a large bowl and mixing well by hand.   Allow to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes (more for better flavor) to allow flavors to meld. Once meat has rested, roll into 1 inch meatballs.  2014_11_soop_bulgaria-2
  2. Roll each meatball in gluten free flour and shake off any excess.  2014_11_soop_bulgaria-6
  3. Bring the water and beef broth to a boil in a large soup pot.  Add salt.  When water is boiling vigorously, add meatballs in batches – maintaining a solid boil.  Once all meatballs have been added, add carrots, celery root and tomatoes.  Reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are tender.2014_11_soop_bulgaria-8
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk egg yolks until smooth.  Add yogurt and lemon juice and whisk well until smooth.2014_11_soop_bulgaria-7
  5. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth from the soup pot in a thin stream – stirring constantly.  If you add the broth too quickly, the egg/yogurt will curdle, so make sure to go slow and steady as  you add the hot broth to the egg/yogurt.  Once you have added 1/2 cup of hot broth, slowly pour the egg/yogurt into the soup pot – again going slowly and stirring constantly
  6. Finally stir in the chopped parsley and serve.



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SWEDEN: Ärtsoppa + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon (Yellow Pea Soup + Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam)

SWEDEN: Ärtsoppa + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon (Yellow Pea Soup + Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam)


Here’s what we learned about Ärtsoppa in  our research this week:

  •  Ärtsoppa (EHRT-soh-puh) is traditionally eaten on Thursdays in Sweden.  It’s said that even the King of Sweden eats this on Thursdays.  This tradition dates back to the middle ages.
  • The Finnish eat this same soup, but with green peas.
  • In Sweden, ärtsoppa is served in schools, the military, hospitals, government offices, and many restaurants on Thursdays.
  • It is traditionally eaten with Swedish pancakes and lingonberry jam.  Also, these pancakes are not eaten for breakfast, but rather as a lunch/dinner item.  That said, we had the leftovers for breakfast the next day.  😉
  • The traditional beverage that accompanies this meal is a liqueur called Punsch.  It is not easy to find, but I HIGHLY recommend you seek out a bottle.  It is low alcohol, sweet, and complex.  It’s fantastic alone, over ice, served hot, with sparkling water, with lemon squeezed in, in your coffee… you get the point.  Here’s more about Punsch.  If you can’t find it in a store near you, there’s always online: K&L Wine Merchants has it available.
  • “When it rains soup, the poor man has no spoon” ~ SWEDISH PROVERB


Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 10.22.24 AMWhat an exciting night in Casa SOOP.  Not only did the SF Giants win the game that will send them to the world series (sorry Cardinals fans), but we got to have pea soup, Swedish pancakes, Swedish punsch, AND we got a visit from the fire department.  As it turns out baseball games, liqueur and making pancakes don’t go so well together.  (Quick shout out to my local fire department:  thank you for responding so quickly!  Next time, I will not walk away from a browning Swedish pancake to watch a home run hit!)soop_sweden_oct14-25

Okay, so deviating a bit from our traditional Sunday SOOP, we ate this soup on a Thursday as it is done in Sweden.  Frankly, I did not give the soup enough time to cook (the recipe has been adjusted to reflect an increased cooking time), but since it was a school night, we forged ahead and just ate it a little crunchy.  Even still, it was a hit.  I have said my whole life that I don’t like split pea soup (sorry mom), but this recipe converted me.  As it was cooking, I was pretty much grumbling under my breath about how it smells like split pea soup, but my boys all kept talking about how great it smelled, so I figured at least 3 people would like the soup.  Turns out I liked it too.

Every thumb up!  Ärtsoppa  + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon + Värmlandskorv (pork/potato sausage)

Every thumb up! Ärtsoppa + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon + Värmlandskorv (pork/potato sausage)

A trip to IKEA will yield you not only Swedish mustard and lingonberry jam, but also all kinds of fun chocolates, cookies, and other Swedish goodies.  Maybe that’s why the kids were so excited about dinner last night!  Do hunt down the Swedish Punsch too.   There is a non-alcoholic version as well where you can add your own gin to make a fab cocktail.  The boys got to have some of the non-alcoholic mixed with elderflower juice from Ikea.  Happy campers.

This is the liqueur you want to try to find.  If you don't like it, don't worry - I'll drink it for you.

This is the liqueur you want to try to find. If you don’t like it, don’t worry – I’ll drink it for you.

Scratching off Sweden!

Scratching off Sweden!

Serves 6


  • 2 cups dried yellow peas*
  • 1  large smoked ham hock**
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 carrot, chopped small (I cheated and used Trader Joes’ shredded carrots)
  • 8  cloves
  • 2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, plus a few stalks  for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon – 2 teaspoons salt depending on how salty your ham hock is
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Whole grain mustard***


  1. Soak yellow peas for about 12-24 hours – discarding any impurities.

    Before soaking overnight on the left; post soaking on the right.  Huge difference!

    Before soaking overnight on the left; post soaking on the right. Huge difference!

  2. Prepare small onion by spiking it with the 8 cloves.
  3. After soaking, rinse the peas and add them to a large soup pot along with 6 cups water, ham hock, chopped onion, carrot, cloved onion, and thyme.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover.
  4. Cook with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until the peas are soft enough approximately 6 hours****.soop_sweden_oct14-14
  5. When it is tender, remove the meat and cut into small pieces and return meat to the soup – discarding bones, fat and gristle.soop_sweden_oct14-29
  6. Remove and discard cloved onion.  If desired, use an immersion blender to puree soup (we did).
  7. Check for seasonings – adding more salt or pepper.soop_sweden_oct14-24
  8. Serve with whole grain mustard – each person adding as much as they like to their tastes.

Cook’s Notes

* Nordic yellow peas are not the easiest thing to come by.  I found them at a Scandinavian grocery store in Berkeley.  They do mail orders.  Nordic House has the whole yellow peas which are more traditional, but split yellow peas can be used if you can’t find the whole yellow peas.  If you use split yellow peas, you do not need to soak the peas over night – just begin soaking them the morning you plan to make this soup.  Bob’s Red Mill carries split yellow peas.

** This can be made vegetarian by omitting the ham hock.  Since a lot of the salt/depth of flavor comes from the ham hock, please replace the ham by adding a vegetarian bouillon cube.

*** Ikea sells whole grain mustard that is unlike any mustard we’ve tasted before.  It’s almost like a cross of dijon, honey mustard, and gouldens.  It is quite spicy, but sweet at the same time and was absolutely delicious in this soup.  If you don’t live near an Ikea, I’d recommend dijon with a little bit of honey stirred in as a substitute.  Beckett found it a little too spicy for his liking, but found the lingonberry jam quite delightful.
soop_sweden_oct14-19 soop_sweden_oct14-22

**** Split yellow peas will take at least half the time.  Next time I will use split yellow peas.  😉

Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon  | Gluten-Free Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberries
Makes 12 pancakes depending on the size of your frying pan.

  • 6 eggs
  • 5 cups of milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour*
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to “warm” or lowest setting and place a plate or cookie sheet in the oven.
  2. Whisk the eggs and add in the milk- continuing to whisk until blended. Add flour, salt and melted butter and mix together until thoroughly combined.  Batter should be fairly thin – about half as thick as traditional American pancake batter.
  3. Spoon 1/2 cup of batter into a large buttered frying pan at medium-low heat and spread the mixture around by tilting the pan as you would for a crepe.soop_sweden_oct14-20
  4. Brown the pancake on one side – watching for bubbles to form on the top.  Before flipping, take a peek and make sure bottom side is browned.  Flip your pancake over and brown on the other side.soop_sweden_oct14-17
  5. Once browned on both sides, place in oven to keep warm while you make the rest of the pancakes.
  6. Serve with a generous spoonful of lingonberry preserves (this can be found at IKEA)

* THIS is my go to all-purpose GF flour.  It hasn’t let me down yet.  I make a big batch of it and use it in everything.  It was truly hard to tell that these pancakes were gluten-free.

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HUNGARY: Sertéspörkölt (pork goulash)

HUNGARY: Sertéspörkölt  (pork goulash)


Here’s what we learned  in  our research/kitchen time this week:

  •  There are actually 3 Hungarian stews made from onions, meat and paprika: gulyás, pörkölt and paprikás.
  • The dish called pörkölt (pronounced PURR-colt) is what we Americans call “goulash” (thick meaty stew).  Gulyás is a soup and paprikás is similar to pörkölt, but only made with chicken.
  • When chopping onions, if you chew gum at the same time, you will not cry.
  • Speaking of onions, do not be scared off by the amount of onion in this recipe.  Rather than making the stew bracing, they actually caramelize down to bring a wonderful sweetness to the stew.
  • The Rubik’s cube was invented in Hungary (and none of us can solve it).
  • This dish matches the colors of the Hungarian flag: red, white, & green.

If you’re curious to hear how Hungarian sounds as sertéspörkölt is being made, here you go!  He makes his a little differently from how I make mine, but the recipe is fairly similar.


Calvin researched Hungarian soups for about 4 seconds before pointing at a photo of Pörkölt and saying, “that’s it!  Let’s make that!”  Okay kid.

It took me a few tries to get this recipe right – it was good the first night, but kind of a pain to make, so I retooled the recipe and made it again the next night.  Everyone agreed that not only was the stew better, but it was WAY easier and produced many fewer dishes!

Calvin was eager to help my chop all the onions required for this dish because I’d told him about a theory that chewing gum keeps you from crying while chopping onions.
The verdict: it works!

The big issue with this meal was my attempt to make a gluten-free version of traditional Hungarian nokedli which are basically spaetzle.  My first several attempts were actually laughably bad, but the last version (a modified version of THIS recipe) actually worked okaaaay, but I didn’t think it was good enough yet.  We all liked the pörkölt better with the pasta, but just to prove that I made my own nokedli (no matter how bland they were) here is photo proof!


Okay, so side aside, this is a TOTAL keeper recipe.  Even after eating it for dinner two nights in a row, everyone agreed that this should go into regular rotation.  Even my soup-reluctant husband said I should make it again.  This is the PERFECT fall/winter dish that will simply simmer all afternoon and make you feel all warm and cozy when you eat it.  Next time, completely divergent from traditional pörkölt, we will make a gremolata (chopped parsley, fresh garlic, and lemon zest) to bring a little zing to the finished product.  Oh, and the pepper relish from Comoros (poutou) was pretty stellar with this dish too.  Hungarian/Comoran fusion cooking…. coming soon to a kitchen near you!

Finally, though this would have been stellar with a red wine, the only Hungarian wine we could find this Irsai Oliverweekend was a fantastic white from the foot of the Mátra mountains.  This description from the importer nails it:

Originally crossed in 1930, the parents of this native grape are Gewürztraminer and Muscat Ottonel. Not surprisingly, it’s incredibly perfumed and floral. That said, its not fat and weighty on the palette like Gewürztraminer can often be and has there’s no detectable residual sugar either. The finish has a mineral, almost saline quality that balances out the Muscat heavy aromatics. And while the style is decidedly reductive, it opens up right away and jumps out of the glass even when chilled. While it can easily stand alone as an aperitif, it pairs beautifully when fruit and salt play off of each other. Prosciutto and melon is a classic, but we’ve also found that Indian food (especially chutneys) pairs extremely well.

You can get  wines from along the Danube from these guys including the Irsai Oliver we loved this weekend.


Sertéspörkölt (Hungarian Pork Stew)
Serves 8


  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 pounds pork butt shoulder, trimmed of bones and fat and cut into 1 cubes
  • 2 medium banana peppers*, cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1 large tomato*, chopped or one 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons sweet Hungarian* paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped parsley for garnish (optional)


  1. Heat large dutch oven or soup pot over medium low heat.  Add bacon fat or lard to pot and render.  Add onions and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until onions are beginning to caramelize and have changed from white, past opaque, to deep tan.  Go slowly so onions don’t burn – this is the most important part of the whole meal.  This step should take at least 30 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and pork, increase heat to medium and stir constantly until pork is cooked on all sides and beginning to release its juices.soop_hungary_oct14-7
  3. Add chopped pepper and tomato.  Combine well.  Add 6 cups water paprika, caraway and marjoram, stirring gently to combine.  Simmer, uncovered,  until most of the liquid has boiled down and sauce is a thick gravy (approximately 1.5 hours though you could go all day so long as you make sure there is enough water in the pot).soop_hungary_oct14-8
  4. Check pork for tenderness.  If it is not quite tender, add another cup of water and simmer longer until sauce is desired consistency.  Once pork is tender enough to be cut easily with a fork, add salt and season with pepper to taste and serve over a bed of pasta.soop_hungary_oct14-9

Cook’s Notes

* If you can’t find a banana pepper, yellow gypsy peppers or yellow, green or red bell peppers would work.  We used red pepper and chopped it small to hide it from our boys who think they don’t like peppers.

* Unless you are in the middle of tomato season, use canned tomatoes as they will have much more flavor that the flavorless winter tomatoes.  We used dry farmed tomatoes which are possibly the most delicious thing on the face of the planet.

* Hungarian paprika is very different from the standard paprika you can find at the grocery store.  It is not expensive and totally worth seeking out.  It comes in “sweet” and “hot”.  Here’s more about paprika.

Traditionally, this would be served with a spaetzle-like pasta called nokedli.  I tried 4 different times to perfect a gluten-free version of nokedli and finally gave up and served it over Jovial’s gluten free egg tagliatelle.


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UKRAINE: Red Borscht


My borscht came out a little more red than I had planned, so I increased the amount of beet in the recipe below.

UKRAINE: Red Borscht

With nearly as many variations on the recipe as good old chicken noodle soup, it’s tricky to nail down an “official” borscht (also called borsch) recipe.  Only a few things are certain: borscht contains beets and Ukrainians claim that this popular Eastern European soup comes from Ukraine.  This version is an amalgam of recipes found all over the interwebs and in various cookbooks.

For a fun history of Borscht and its effect on Ukrainians, take a gander at THIS blog posting.  And to keep it traditional, consider sipping on ice-cold vodka while cooking and eating.

Let’s get started shall we?  My afternoon sous chef,  Beckett, and I gathered all the ingredients we needed to get ourselves started, turned up the radio and got to it.


Ukrainian Borscht
Serving: 8-10

  • 1.5 pounds pork butt shoulder or boneless beef chuck (I used 2 cuts of osso buco – totally not traditional, I know, but the cuts were reasonably priced and it worked wonderfully)
  • 1 Tbsp salt + more to taste
  • 4 medium beet roots, washed, peeled and grated
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 2 parsnips, grated
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar
  • 1Tbsp sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp minced parsley stems
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 5-6 black peppercorns
  • 4 small russet potatoes, washed, peeled, quartered and sliced into 1/4” pieces
  • ½ head of green cabbage, sliced very thin
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 2 large clove garlic, minced, divided
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt + sugar to taste
  • 0.15 – 0.25 lb salted salo*
  • 4 sprigs fresh dill
  • Garnish: sour cream and lemon wedges



  1. Cut the meat into 1” pieces and place them in a pot filled with 12 cups cold water and1TBSP of salt. Bring to a boil and skim off any fat/crud on the surface. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer 45 minutes – 1 hr, periodically skimming off any crud that rises to the top.

    mmmm... yummy... scum!

    mmmm… yummy… scum!

  2. While the meat is cooking, grate beets, carrots and parsnips (keep the beets separate from the carrots and parsnips) on the large grater holes (you can use a food processor if you have one). Prepare all other ingredients – cut potatoes, slice cabbage, dice onions, etc.soop_ukraine_sept14-4soop_ukraine_sept14-6
    While it's not Ukrainian vodka, it is vodka, was straight out of the freezer, and was delicious.

    While it’s not Ukrainian vodka, it is vodka, was straight out of the freezer, and was delicious.


    You may notice the tomatoes in the background. They have been omitted from the recipe because they didn’t add anything to the dish, in my humble opinion.

    Caught red-handed!!

    Caught red-handed!!

  3. Place the beets in a large heavy-bottom skillet with 4 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp vinegar and sauté for 3 minutes, then reduce heat to med/low and add 1 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp tomato paste. Mix thoroughly and sauté until starting to soften, stirring occasionally (about 10 min). Remove from pan and set aside.soop_ukraine_sept14-14
  4. In the same skillet (do not wash after the beets), sauté onion in 1 Tbsp butter for 2 min. Add grated carrot, parsnip + tomato and sauté another 5 min or until softened, adding more oil if it seems too dry.soop_ukraine_sept14-15
  5. Once the meat has been cooking at least 45 min, skim any crud off the top, scrape marrow out of osso bucco bones, and remove bones and tendon.  (Give bones to dogs, if you have them once they’ve cooled to make sure your dog will love you forever and ever.)  Place bay leaves, peppercorns and sliced potatoes into the soup pot.  Add beef broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 min.
  6. Add cabbage, sautéed beets, onion, carrots, parsnips and parsley stems. Cook another 10 minutes or until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.soop_ukraine_sept14-21
  7. Add chopped parsley and 1 clove of minced garlic then stir them into the soup pot. Immediately cover and remove from heat. (Over-boiling borscht will affect the soup’s color; bringing it from bright magenta to dark brick-red).soop_ukraine_sept14-22
  8. Check for salt and sugar flavors and add more of either if desired.
  9. Cut the salted salo into small pieces**. Add the remaining minced clove of garlic. Grind them together in a deep bowl with a wooden spoon (or blend in a mini food processor) until it forms a rough paste.  Stir into the cooked borscht. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld.soop_ukraine_sept14-18
    My pal, vodka, lending a hand here.

    My pal, vodka, lending a hand here.

    This is how it looked post food-processing.  It melted into the soup like a champ and gave a wonderful depth of flavor.

    This is how it looked post food-processing. It melted into the soup like a champ and gave a wonderful depth of flavor.

  10. To serve, top with a tablespoon of sour cream and a small sprig of fresh dill.  Serve lemon on the side for those who desire more acidity in their soup.soop_ukraine_sept14-24

* Salted Salo is a traditional Eastern European food consisting of cured slabs of fatback. It has little to no meat and is quite similar to Italian lardo. If you cannot find salo or lardo, Trader Joes’ bacon ends and pieces can be used in a pinch by cutting off the meat and using just the fat.

** If possible, ask your butcher to slice the salo, lardo, or bacon into thick bacon slices and store it in the freezer until you are ready to chop it.  Chopping frozen fat is easy-peasy.

Once our borscht was simmering away, we were lucky to lure our BFFs (and luckily, neighbors) to join us for our feast which we completed with (a not insignificant amount of) vodka and a salad of quartered tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, fresh dill, and cannolini beans all tossed in sour cream.  Oh, and for my oenophile friends, a crisp rosé paired quite nicely with the borscht once we moved away from the vodka.soop_ukraine_sept14-23


The people have spoken: 2 thumbs up, 1 middle thumb, and 1 thumbs down (but with a smile).


Thanks for sharing our first adventure in SOOP you brave, brave souls.

Enjoy and as they say in Ukraine, Budmo! This means approximately ‘shall we live forever!’ Usually, one person says ‘Budmo!’ and everybody at the table/party answers ‘Hey!’ (the meaning is straightforward). This repeats for up to 3 times depending on the mood of the crowd. Only then, everybody empties their glasses.