European Family Recipes (2024)

My background, Slovakian (Czechoslovakia at the time) on my Mother's side and Northern Serbian (Yugoslavia at that time) on my Father's side, has influenced the way I've eaten since birth. I grew up eating certain things, certain ways, and those have stayed the same all my life, where possible. Due to constant warring through the centuries, these eastern European countries have been overrun repeatedly and have changed hands, so to speak, ethnicities overlapping and influencing. So it is that many of the recipes that come down from both parents sometimes almost overlap.

My Mom and Dad both made what their parents called Chicken Paprikash, though the styles were quite different. My paternal grandmother made strudel filled with poppyseeds, or nuts, and sometimes other things, while my maternal grandmother, instead of the very fine and delicate strudel dough, made Slovak Rolls, an enriched bread-like dough that was filled with poppyseeds, or nuts. Similar, but different. Sometimes, like with the "paprikash," the name of the dish overlaps, and sometimes the dish is just very similar but called differently.

In this blog, I want to set out a couple of recipes from my North Serbian Grandmother: Machanka (or Tomato Gravy) and Kifli, little flaky fruit filled Christmas pastries), plus two filling varieties.

Grandma Hromish

Firstly, a little bit about my North Serbian Grandma Hromish. Grandma was married in Kucur, Bačka, Vojvodina at age 15, yet still brought her knowledge of cooking and baking with her. Her pastries were legend; flaky Kifli, nut pita, strudels (that I sadly, have not learned to make) of many varieties and others I have no access to at this late date. She arrived in the US with her first two children in the early years of the 1900s. Grandpa arrived a bit earlier than Grandma. They settled eventually in Ohio, around Celina, and farmed. Grandpa died before I reached two years of age, so I never knew him, but I know they had chickens and eggs and grew vegetables, something my Dad always loved doing. My father was born in Celina, the first of their children born in the U.S.

From Grandma I learned to love saffron, as her house smelled of saffron most Sundays as we went to her house for dinner. Soup simmering on the stove, lovely golden from the saffron, with beef or chicken simmering away. She always made homemade noodles and those were always a treat. After serving the soup and noodles, she would Serve the meat from the soup, with more noodles and machanka. I am fairly certain that the word "machanka was actually spelled mačanka; the little mark above the "c" making the sound of "ch," as with the District mentioned above: Bačka. I grew up eating machanka often. It is a sweet sour kind of tomato gravy, eaten with the meat that had been cooked in the soup. This was standard. Later on, as the internet took off, I tried to find any kind of reference to machanka, and the only thing I ever found was a brown gravy, and certainly not Grandma's version. I finally fond only one reference to a tomato based gravy years later. This is similar to that machanka my Grandma made. In flavor, it fits with my memory, though I cannot say how authentic it is.

Machanka with chicken and noodles


Makes about 2½ cups

2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 cups water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a skillet heated over medium heat, melt the bacon grease and add in the flour, stirring until it is bubbly, figure 1. Off heat, add in the tomato paste (my mom used a large jar of tomato juice rather than the tomato paste and water), figure 2, and stir, mixing thoroughly with the roux, figure 3. Slowly, stir in the water until the whole mixture is smooth, figure 4, and set over the heat to cook until boiling and allow it to cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened and bubbling. Add in the vinegar, sugar and salt, and as much pepper as you choose. Cook for another few minutes to ensure all the raw flour is cooked through, figure 5. Serve over boiled beef or chicken and noodles.

Making Machanka



I remember these mostly at Christmas, though I know Grandma made them for other special occasions also. They are best if made using fillings made from scratch, as the fillings stay put. If using store bought fillings, they tend to run out. I have two filling recipes below.

Makes about 100 little pastries

Kifli with Prune or Apricot Filling

1½ tsp instant dry yeast (½ pkt)
3 cups flour
¼ pound lard
¼ pound unsalted butter
1 egg, whisked
¼ cup whipping cream, or heavy whipping cream
¼ cup evaporated milk
½ cup Poppy seed filling, Prune “Lekvar" or

Apricot fillings are common
Confectioner's Sugar, for rolling and sprinkling

Mix instant dried yeast into flour. Work in the lard and butter as for pie dough. Add egg and cream and work with hands just until the dough pulls from sides of the bowl. Do not over mix.

Sprinkle your work area with powdered sugar and roll out a portion of the dough. Cut dough into 3-inch squares. Fill these small squares or circles by placing ¾ teaspoon of filling of your choice in the center. Bring up opposing corners, dampen the edge with milk or cream and pinch together, then fold the pinched piece over to ensure they stay closed while baking. Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets for 15 to 18 minutes at 375 degrees. Bottoms will be golden and tops will just start to become golden color. Remove from oven, place on a rack to cool and sprinkle with more confectioner's sugar just before serving.

Prune Butter or "Lekvar"

Prune Butter or Lekvar

Makes approximately 1½ cups
1½ cups pitted prunes

⅔ cup water
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice

⅓ cup brown sugar
Place all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated. Cool slightly; pour into a food processor. Process until just smooth. Store any unused portions in the refrigerator.

Apricot Filling

Apricot Filling

Makes approximately 1½ cups

1½ cups dried apricots (pitted)
⅔ cup water
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons lime juice

⅓ cup granulated sugar

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated. Cool slightly; pour into a food processor. Process until just smooth. Store any unused portions in the refrigerator.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors onFacebook, andPinterest.

European Family Recipes (2024)


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