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This project tends to turn my attention backwards, looking behind for guidance from people whose names I don’t know and who never knew mine. If not backwards, then internal, grappling with parts of me that remain uncharted. Where I don’t usually look is forward—into the future, and where this knowledge might go once learned.
Naturally, my kids will be even more removed than me, another generation further from knowing the pronunciation of “kolache”, or naming Hawaii’s state fish without using the internet. This preservation that I thought was for me, I’ve found, has been for them, too. And for the ones after. So I’d better keep cooking. When my nephew lends a hand with this soparnik, I get a glimpse of the way these things stay alive.
We each stand at a cutting board, knives bared. He “cuts” the chard into strips with his dull children’s knife, so battered and wet by the end, they look like they’ve been gnawed by his little sister. He does the same with the spring onion and parsley—not much of a sous chef, but I couldn’t possibly fire him. I mix the greens in a glass bowl, and an herby fragrance settles over our workstation.
The dough rolls out grudgingly, springing back a few times before it lays flat. I prop it onto raised hands and tug in a circular motion, muscle memory from four pizza jobs. My nephew sprinkles flour at purposeful intervals. I tell him we’ve added enough, but he seems to know something I don’t, and keeps sprinkling with authority. To distract, I redirect his excitement to the “grand finale”, when we’ll put four garlic cloves through the press. We seem to have a love for this in common.
When I’ve sandwiched the greens between two layers of dough, I start in on the edges. I can’t remember having made anything like this, but the rhythm of turning one edge over the other and thumbing it down feels familiar; a muscle phantom-memory. I drizzle oil on top. Now the grand finale. My nephew insists on squeezing the heavy metal garlic press himself, so I tell him I’ll get it started. As I squeeze the garlic through and hand the press to him to “finish”, I am happy for the unspoken rule that we let little ones believe in their power as it grows in.
My sister makes a tomato soup and the soparnik takes a little longer than expected, finishing sparsely golden but baked through. The garlic smell is strong and warm when the oven opens. We settle around the table: me, my sister, my nephew, my niece. Somewhere at our feet is my dog companion. My niece, not yet two, take a bites of the soparnik and proudly proclaims “yucky!”, holding it out in celebration.
I respect her opinion, but disagree. The bitter greens have softened, both in flavor and texture; the crust is somewhere between pie and bread; the garlic neither overpowers nor backs down. Each element with its own balance, the flavors combining to a finely-tuned savoriness. Herbaceous and floury, just a bit of oil. The soup is its perfect foil, and I dip more than I use my spoon.
We eat the soparnik in the morning with eggs, four part-Croatians around our shared table. I wonder if one day we might do it again, when I’m old and they’ve grown, and the two young ones cook us something they’ve learned.
The following is the recipe I used, as found here.
Flour – 500 g
Olive oil – 3 tablespoons
Water – 250 ml
Parsley – 1 bunch
Swiss chard (blitva) – 1 kg
Spring onion – 1
Garlic – 4 cloves
1. Wash the chard (blitva) cut out the storks. Cut into strips and place in a bowl. Finely chop the spring onion and parsley and add to the chard. Add salt and sprinkle with olive oil.
2. Time to do the pastry – in a bowl sieve the flour. Add salt, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and water then with a mixer mix together (adding water when needed to keep moist) until it binds.
3. Sprinkle flour on a baking tray and put the (circle) shaped pastry on it. Add the chard/spring onion and parsley mixture on. Cover with the other half of the pastry which has been also rolled into a circle shape.
4. Tuck in the edges so it is all closed around.
5. Place in the oven at 200°C for around 20 minutes.
6. Crush garlic into some olive oil and paste the top of the cooked Soparnik.