As a special treat, my mother used to make a tasty dish she called wonton dumplings. They were large, meat-filled triangles made of noodle dough, boiled and then served in soup or topped with browned bread crumbs. Sometimes she called them kreplach, like our Jewish friends.
But she never suggested they were Slovenian. I wasn’t sure she even knew what I had just discovered: Filled, boiled dumplings are considered a Slovenian specialty, highly touted on all the tourist websites.
“So Mom,” I asked her, “did Grandma ever make something like wontons? Called, maybe, zlin-krow-fee?”
I hesitated over the pronunciation, since I’d seen a few different variants of the Slovenian name in my cookbooks: zlinkrofi, zlikrofi, zinkrofi.
But my mother didn’t hesitate at all.
“Oh, sure. Only we called them zhleee’-kro-feh.”
Amazing. Not only did she know all about them, but she had come up with the proper Slovenian pronunciation, right down to that tricky little ž!
Now I was determined to make them, whatever they were called.
Both spellings, žlikrofi and žlinkrofi, are used in Slovenia. The Professor, my translator-linguist friend in Ljubljana, tells me the proper way is the first one, without the “n” in the middle. According to him, it is probably derived from a German term that means “slippery dumpling.”
In Slovenia, you can find zlikrofi in many fanciful shapes that are filled with meat, potato, cottage cheese, millet, and even dried fruit. The most famous seems to be the potato/bacon version made in Idrija, with the name and the recipe protected by law. It also seems to be the fashion, at least in these English language translations, to describe žlikrofi as ravioli or pasta.
But my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks were more down-to-earth. Zlikrofi were dumplings or noodles, filled with meat. The meat combinations, unfortunately, left me a little cold. Liver or cooked lungs, put through a meat chopper? Veal pluck? Ham and sausage?
I decided to come up with a version that would be close to what I recalled of my mother’s: a fairly plain meat filling, probably beef with onion and a little parsley.
As a child, I used to love helping her turn the crank on our old-fashioned cast iron meat grinder. It was such a mysterious alchemy, to watch those leftover chunks of roast beef emerge as a fluffy bowl of shredded meat. I had inherited that old grinder from her, some years back. Sadly, I no longer had it. It had been the casualty of one too many moves. I wish I had it now.
I figured cooked ground beef would be a reasonable alternative. And I did spot a recipe for a meat pie (“Meat Pita”) in the American Slovene Club’s cookbook, with a filling that looked like it might work.
I also had in mind a traditional Jewish recipe from my husband’s side of the family. We had just been visiting my father-in-law in Florida. He had proudly shared with me his special recipe, Murray’s Kreplach, learned from his Polish-born mother. It had even been published in a cookbook a friend of his had written.
The secret, my father-in-law had told me, was to use lots of browned onion. And none of this ground meat business. His very elaborate recipe used poached chicken cutlets and a smaller amount of sauteed beef chuck, cooked separately and then chopped in a food processor.
Well, I still wasn’t prepared to cook whole chunks of meat from scratch. But I agreed with him about the onion. And I took one important seasoning addition from his recipe: Paprika. I also used matzo meal instead of the bread crumbs called for in my Slovenian cookbook.
So maybe I had made my family’s new version of an old favorite, a marriage of Slovenian zlikrofi and Jewish kreplach. That would be fitting!