How to make simple & traditional Slovenian minestrone soup
Let’s be real, one of the most enjoyable things about travelling (and life!) is all the new tasty food you get to try. And what’s even better is to learn how to make traditional dishes from locals, so you can relive those amazing travel memories bite by bite once home. In our new ‘Workaway Foodie’ blog series, food-loving Workawayers will share how they have learnt about foreign cultures and communities through their food. And yes, we will also be sharing one especially tasty recipe at a time, so your taste buds get to travel as well! Over to Workawayer Malou, who has learned the recipe of the traditional and flavoursome Slovenian minestrone soup:
August in Slovenia is a month of abundance; of full sunshine and fierce thunderstorms, of beautiful lakes and clear streams, of rolling valleys and pine forests. I spent it at this workaway on an organic farm in the mountains of southern Slovenia. The farm is part of a small village, one of a network on this mountainside, with its own white church and working men’s club (where locals play boules and get drunk on Lasko every Friday). The pace of life is, for the most part, slow and peaceful.
Hay bales dot green pastures, fig trees and blackberry bushes are full for the taking and every farms’ produce is ripe and ready for harvest. Bulbous beets and beefy tomatoes, monstrous purple aubergines (and white ones too!), courgettes with bright yellow flowers, fat onions and more chard than you can bear to think about. We spent our days harvesting it all, bringing it in to wash and sort for market. I learnt my first Slovenian words out on the field (all vegetable-related), way before I knew how to say hello or thank you!
The farm is run by three generations of the same family. They are warm and welcoming, rooted in these villages where they’ve grown up and still live, and are super grateful for our help during these abundant summer months. They work hard, sometimes up to 14 hours a day, pulling in trailers of potatoes, planting lettuce or herding the goats. Everyone that is, except Vida. At 82, Vida is the head of the family and great-grandmother to the youngest. I would find her every morning sitting on her bench. She’d offer coffee and call me mia cara (my darling)❤️. She was so nice!
Most days, Vida would cook for the family. One-pot Slovenian soups and stews, like goulash, orzo or jota – a classically Slovenian potato and pickled turnip soup. These are dishes that make the most of the seasons, using whatever ingredients are available locally and cheaply, and which get better with each day that passes.
As time went on, Vida extended her soups to us, bringing us leftovers from yesterday’s lunches in a big pot, ready to heat and ladle straight into bowls. Minestrone was one of them – a dish that sounds Italian, but has long been eaten in this south-eastern part of Slovenia, adapted to suit the local palate and seasonal ingredients.
A truly traditional Slovenian minestrone is cooked low and slow, while adding pork or ham bone, ribs, dried tongue or tail: the unloved offcuts of a slaughtered pig. These days, the addition of smoked bacon is good enough, but if you’re vegetarian, it’ll taste just fine without it.
One thing is clear, Slovenians LOVE pork, and they use its fat a lot. On a walk in the forest one day, we came across a group of men roasting a whole pig on a spit, just casual. They rubbed white doughy bread over the sizzling meat to catch its drippings, then offered it up to us with a cold beer from the river. Pork fat mixed with smoked pork lardons was also offered, spread thickly on bread. Next time, you’re cooking a pork roast, save the drippings and store in the fridge, then do as the Slovenians do, and add it to the base of stews, soups and casseroles (or spread on toast!) for delicious flavour.
The great thing about this recipe is you can adapt it to what you have. Keep it light with fewer potatoes and more leafy greens or bulk it out with beans and pasta for more of a hearty meal. This is grandma Vida’s version on a particularly sunny day in August; a dish I’m sure keeps evolving as the year rolls on. I hope you like it.
Slovenian summer minestrone soup:
- 2 tablespoons pork lard or vegetable oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 50g smoked bacon, chopped
- 1kg mixed vegetables, such as potato, carrot, courgette, beetroot, scrubbed and diced
- 5 fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 1 good handful of rice
- 150g fresh or frozen peas
- optional: a few fresh herbs, such as basil or parsley
Heat the lard or oil in a large pot, then add the bacon and onion and sauté gently until softened. Add the diced vegetables and tomatoes and fry for a further 10 to 15 minutes.
Pour in 2 litres of water or stock, then simmer until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the rice and a good pinch of salt, then cook until the rice is tender and the soup has thickened and reduced. Add the peas for the final few minutes.
Serve with fresh herbs, like basil or parsley, chopped and scattered on top. Delicious with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a grating of Parmesan cheese, if you like. And there you go. Dober tek (Bon appétit)!!