Slovenian Coleslaw

Were you born in a barn?

No, seriously… were you?  If so, I’d love to talk with you and learn more about the lives of people who were born in barns.  In my very suburban upbringing, I did not have much of a frame of reference for barns, and I was raised with a very one-dimensional view of people who were born in them. According to my Grandma, they all adhere to the same three stereotypes.

People who were born in barns:

  1. Don’t pull sliding glass doors closed all the way when entering or exiting the house.
  2. Don’t care about or understand the cost of air conditioning.
  3. Don’t mind insects flying around their homes.

Imagine being an eight year-old girl, struggling to wrangle two Cabbage Patch kids and your sweaty can of off-brand diet cream soda, sliding open the glass door to Grandma’s kitchen on a steamy July day, only to be greeted by a cacophony of adults screaming “were you born in a barn?” My Grandma had several weird catchphrases that she used regularly, but none was as frequently invoked and borrowed by as many family members as this one.  It is a really weird and inefficient way to tell a kid that they forgot to pull the door shut behind them.

But you know what?  Just like kids that are bullied sometimes grow up to bully other kids, and freshman who were hazed by their fraternity brothers age into people who haze underclassmen, I turned into someone that at some point asked my younger siblings and cousins if they were born in a barn.  I’m ashamed to admit this, but these very words were on the tip of my tongue when my five year-old nephew recently left a sliding glass door open.  BUT I TOOK A SECOND TO THINK ABOUT IT AND KNEW THAT A KINDERGARTNER WOULD NOT UNDERSTAND THE POINT OF MY QUESTION.  I am not going to be responsible for subjecting another generation to strange rhetorical questions when I could instead just remind them to please pull the door shut.  Sorry Grandma, but IT STOPS HERE.

All this to say: it is still really, really insufferably muggy outside.  In trying to simply survive the humidity I’ve run out of good summer memories and instead, things like this one are popping into my mind.  Whether you were born in a barn or not, I figured you could use another tasty no-cook, no-mayo summer dish, this one courtesy of The Slovenian-American Table, published in 2015 by the Slovenian Union of America and available for purchase here.

The Slovenian-American Table

I enjoy the organization of this cookbook, because it is structured based on the seasons and holidays throughout the year.  This recipe is from the “Family Picnic” section.  I made a few changes based on what ingredients I had on hand, and have noted those below.  I strongly recommend making this in advance and letting it sit in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours or longer, as the flavor and texture improve with time!

Coleslaw (Zeljeva solata)

*Google tells me that the word for cabbage is “zelje,” so I assume this to mean “cabbage salad”)

I used half a head of cabbage that I sliced very thinly by hand, which yielded about double what this recipe indicates (6 cups vs. 3), so I doubled everything listed below.

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pimento (I omitted this)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated onion (I love onions so instead used half an onion, sliced thin)
  • 3 tablespoons oil (I used olive oil; the original calls for Mazola Salad Oil)
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 3 cups cabbage
  • 1/4 cup green pepper, chopped (I used a banana pepper, sliced thinly, since it’s what I had.  It added a nice kick!)
  • Sliced olives, optional

Place all but the cabbage and pepper in a large bowl and whisk together.  Add cabbage and pepper and mix well.  Chill thoroughly.  Garnish with sliced olives (which I also omitted).

The seasonings in the dressing (and my addition of a banana pepper) give this a slightly spicy kick, which we really enjoyed in my house.  Perfect for an end-of-summer picnic or cookout, or to just enjoy in the air-conditioned comfort of your home this weekend.  Whatever you do, be sure to pull the door closed behind you, okay?

slovenian coleslaw

4-Ingredient Slovenian Potato Salad

My family does not distinguish between “food actually consumed by people who live in Slovenia” and “foods we eat at Slovenian holiday parties in the US.”  Maybe there isn’t a difference between the two, or, more likely, maybe only two members of my family (sadly, not me, at least not yet) have ever actually visited Slovenia so our American-Slovenian culinary experiences far outnumber our authentically Slovenian ones.  Either way, I look forward to someday finding out if the things we call “Slovenian chicken” (which I think is… roasted chicken?) and “Slovenian Salad” (iceberg lettuce in oil-and-vinegar dressing) are actually enjoyed on a regular basis by my distant relatives overseas.

Given this family-wide habit of calling foods “Slovenian” when they may just be, um, “food,” I did not expect Slovenian Potato Salad to be a real thing.  The way I’ve always prepared it is super-simple and for that reason I assumed it was just something my mom made up to appease her mayo-hating kids.

(Because – yuck – if you don’t like mayonnaise, is there anything worse than seeing that bowl of creamy potato salad sitting out in the hot sun at summer parties?)

Since it is going to be three thousand degrees this weekend in many parts of the country, with enough humidity to bend graham crackers and roof shingles into damp submission, resulting in a heat index of eleventy forty-hundred millennia,* and I don’t want you to accidentally poison your loved ones with warm mayonnaise, it seems like a good time to share this recipe.  Below are the two versions I found in my 1999 copy of More Pots & Pans.  It even has a Slovenian name, Krompirjeva solata (literally, “potato salad.”

potato salad

My mom’s version is more along the lines of Mary Marolt’s (No. I) but even easier. I’ve done my best to write it for you below.  FOUR INGREDIENTS (six if you count salt and pepper).  You could have this on the table just after the potatoes are cooked or, for even better flavor, allow it to chill in the refrigerator for a few hours (better yet: overnight).  You can really use any kind of potato for this, though my personal favorite are small redskins.  I used this basket of tiny potatoes the last time I made this, and they were perfect!  Even though some of the smallest ones were truly bite-sized, I sliced them in half so the cut sides could absorb more dressing.


Slovenian Potato Salad No. III


  • approximately 2 pounds of potatoes, washed but unpeeled
  • one bunch of green onions (less if you aren’t crazy about onions), sliced (green and white parts)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (I prefer white or apple cider)
  • 1/4 cup oil (I usually use olive oil)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potatoes in salted water until tender.  Rinse under cold water and, when cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces.  Whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl.  Add potatoes and green onions, and stir to combine.  Season again to taste.  May be served immediately, or chill in the refrigerator a few hours or overnight.  The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor!

(This recipe is very easy to make smaller or larger, since the dressing is really just a 1:1 oil:vinegar ratio.  Experiment as needed!)

 *Sorry, talking about weather again.

Heat Wave (time for a Frosty)!

Forgive the lack of writing this summer, but is anyone out there even interested in turning on an oven these days?  I know, talking about the weather is one of the most boring things ever, but… let’s just say this recent perfect storm of heat and oppressive humidity has turned most people I know into complete dullards.  We haven’t been baking any fun recipes in my neck of the woods, we’ve just been complaining about how our forearms stick to our desks.

Thank goodness, then, that Phil Donahue is here to rescue us from our misery!  Remember him?  My mom and grandmother were big Donahue fans, and I can absolutely recall them regularly talking about his show after they’d watched the day’s episode.  After reading a little about his career, I realize that I was actually acquainted with Phil towards the very end of his talk show (it went off the air in 1996) and he was more controversial than I’d known.  For someone my age, few things were more boring than watching this guy with white hair interrupting people for an hour every afternoon, so I didn’t pay much attention.

However, I can easily remember the lone episode of Donahue that actually appealed to me: The One Where They Made Homemade Frostys!  In 1993, before the internet was what we know it as today, it was a big deal that there was woman who’d discovered the secret recipes to many restaurant favorites.  Gloria Pitzer, Recipe Detective, came on Donahue to share her top-secret recipes with the audience.  And as Phil Donahue informed them:

“She is – and she has a newsletter and she’s not going to sell a book today.  She doesn’t even want you to know where she lives.  She is – and there – you can’t – there will be no box office number.  But she is going to show a number of recipes today and if you want to know what they are, you’ve got to write them down.  And for those of you in the audience who are kind of handicapped and didn’t bring a pen-we’ve got to help this audience.”

How do I know, word-for-word, every sentence that Phil Donahue uttered?  (even the ones that don’t make sense because he is actually interrupting himself?) Because my mom and grandma were so crazy for this episode that they actually ordered a transcript of it.  It includes recipes for the Colonel’s Chicken (“Big Bucket in the Sky Chicken”), Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (“Recess Peanut Butter Cups”) and White Castle Burgers (“White Tassle Hamburgers”), among others.  Nowadays you could Google this in 30 seconds.  But back in 1993, when these secrets weren’t even available in book form, this transcript was a treasure trove of copycat recipes.  Instead of “I had to walk twenty miles to school uphill both ways when I was your age,” we can begin using “Back in my day I had to get my recipes by making a phone call, sending a $3 check by mail and then waiting four to six weeks for my TV transcript to arrive!”

It is amazing to me that I’ve twice lost and had to replace my birth certificate, but this packet of paper is still easy for me to locate more than two decades later.

[And in a potential bit of family scandal, I notice that the name and address on the transcript belong to my grandma, not my mom.  Did she steal it?  Was it a gift?  Who paid the $3?  Did she use cash, credit card, or money order?  What is a  money order? Why did they take such a precious secret to their graves?]

We will never know the origins of the transcript, but for a short period in my house we were all about these homemade Frostys.  In 2016, copycat recipes focus mainly on saving money by making something homemade, or improving the nutritional value and overall “healthiness” of a store-bought item.  In 1993, it was just cool to make a Frosty at home, regardless of how cheaply it could be purchased for (and my goodness, forget about health… more than half of the recipes in this booklet include copious amounts of shortening, so no one was saving themselves from heart disease by making them).

I have not done a side-by-side taste test between this and an authentic Frosty, but I encourage any volunteers who want to do so to please report back their results!  Maybe milkshakes are just what we need to get through the rest of July.

Wednesday’s Frosty (makes 1 generous drink)*
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup Nestle’s Quik chocolate drink powder
  • 3 cups slightly softened vanilla ice cream

Combine ingredients in a blender, using the on/off switch at high speed until smooth with a milkshake consistency.  Serve promptly.

(*No one would judge you for consuming the entire thing, but 3 cups of ice cream sounds like a generous portion indeed)