What makes a family recipe special are the memories they evoke. For Michael Dillon, what he knows as zelivaslesia (cabbage and dumplings fried in butter) brings to life cherished recollections of his grandmother.
“My mom’s mother died when she was 12 and, obviously, I never knew her,” says Dillon. “But, she loved her mother so much and she told so many nice stories about the things that her mother did — and she loved this dish that her mother made that then we all loved it.”
Storytelling is a way of keeping memories alive. So are habits and rituals passed down from one generation to the next. Thus, the simple act of grating cabbage can become the bridge between past and present. In this light, Dillon notes it’s worth considering that maybe our craving for certain flavors is really a yearning for something we wish to bring forth.
Recalling his mom as she prepared zelivaslesia, Dillon says, "This was something that she would get a taste for … like maybe wanting to remember her mother."
In addition to people, recipes can also connect us to places. This recipe reminds Dillon of his family’s European roots.
“My great grandfather came over as, I don’t know what, Bohemian? And he brought his father over as a Czechoslovakian. His brother came as an Austrian and his other brother came as a Hungarian. And they all lived in the same town. Those borders just moved around during the wars,” he explains.
Dillon's interest in his family origins inspired a recent trip to the Czech Republic, where he tasted all sorts of dumplings and cabbage dishes — but none were quite like his family's zelivaslesia.
- 3 cups Cabbage (minced or grated)
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- Slovak Dumplings (recipe is below)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the cabbage and season with salt and pepper to taste. Saute the cabbage for approximately 6-7 minutes, until brown and slightly wilted (you can add a few tablespoons of water if the cabbage gets too dry).
Step 2: Once the cabbage is cooked, make a well in the middle of the cabbage. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and then the dumplings (see dumpling recipe below). When the dumplings begin to brown in the well, mix them in fully with the cabbage. Taste for seasoning.
- 2 eggs (beaten)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Whisk the eggs, salt, water, and nutmeg together. Then whisk in flour until a stiff paste forms. Press the batter through a colander directly into boiling salted water. Simmer 1 to 2 minutes until cooked. Remove from water and drain.
Editor's note: Family Recipes is produced by Lucien Jung, a long time contributor to Lake Effect. In Family Recipes, Lucien visits the kitchens of Milwaukee-area residents as they prepare special family dishes they remember from childhood.