Holocaust Survivor’s Slovak Cuisine Delighted Her Family

Nov. 6, 2020

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN 

Shabbat Shalom, and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of The CJR. Nov. 2–9 is Holocaust Education Week (HEW), an annual series of programs run by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

The recipes this week come from the late Katarina Jolan Siroky, a survivor of Auschwitz. Siroky, née Holzman, was an excellent cook and baker, according to her daughter, Dagmar Niffeler.

After Siroky’s death in 1982, Niffeler organized her mother’s recipes into a cookbook for family members. “I thought that as our family has survived so many hardships, it would be nice to pass on some of these traditional foods, many of which go back to our grandmother and our Holzman heritage.”

Siroky prepared many of the dishes she had grown up eating in her native Slovakia. The food was Hungarian style because Slovakia had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War.

I am sharing a few of Siroky’s recipes this week. These classic Hungarian dishes include Chicken Paprika (or Chicken Paprikash); nockerl, or nokedli – Hungarian-style dumplings, and Sacher-Torte. 

This famous chocolate cake was invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher, an Austrian Jew. He was 16 and apprenticing as a sous chef when he created the namesake dessert.

His son, Eduard, went on to open the famous Hotel Sacher in Vienna, which today exports some 360,000 hand-made Sacher Tortes world-wide.

Family Life Fulfilled Siroky After Auschwitz 

Siroky grew up in Rudno, a small Slovakian village. She and her sister, Ilka (Doupovec) were the youngest of the six Holzman children. Her two older brothers immigrated to Canada and the United States, before the Second World War.

The two younger girls were shipped to Auschwitz in 1942. Siroky was 26 at the time. Because she spoke German, she worked in an office and did typing for a female SS officer. Niffeler said the two sisters kept each other alive in Auschwitz, on the death march of 1945, and later, in Bergen Belsen.

After the war they returned to their home town. Their parents and older sisters did not survive. Siroky married a childhood friend and gave birth to Niffeler in Slovakia.

With sponsorship from their brothers in North America, the family was able to emigrate in 1949. They ended up in Montreal and later settled in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Cote Saint-Luc.

Siroky gave birth to her son in 1953 and was an avid cook and gardener. In fact, in a baking competition held in Cote Saint-Luc, she won second prize for her Sacher Torte.

“Baking days were always a big event in our home,” recalled Niffeler. “My mother, often together with Aunt Ilka, made many pastries. Coming home to the sweet fragrant aromas and making shapes in the cookie dough was a real treat.” 

SACHER TORTE  Katarina Jolan Siroky

2 cups (500 ml) semisweet chocolate chips or 8 oz (230 g) chocolate 
12 eggs, separated
6 tbsp (90 ml) icing sugar
½ lb (230 g) butter, at room temperature
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
2 cups (500 ml) ground walnuts**
6 tbsp (90 ml) flour
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup (250 ml) apricot jam
** Ground almonds, hazelnuts or pecans can be substituted for the ground walnuts

Icing

8 squares (8 oz or 230 g) semi-sweet chocolate
3 tbsp (45 ml) butter
Whole almonds blanched for garnish (optional)
Whipped cream for serving

Line 2 8-or 9-inch, (21–23 cm) round baking pans with parchment paper. Grease with butter and sprinkle with flour. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water or on medium high heat in a microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip the egg whites until they reach a soft peak. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the ground nuts, mix the dry ingredients well and set aside.

Transfer the yolks to the stand-mixer bowl. Add the icing sugar and beat with the yolks. Add the vanilla, and butter. Add the melted chocolate. Combine well.

In three additions, fold the flour and ground nut mixture into the yolk and chocolate mixture. Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter in two additions.

Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pans. Bake for 20–25 minutes. The cake should be moist when done. The cakes can be removed from the pans while still warm. Let them cool completely.

To make the icing: In a large bowl combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over simmering water and mix until the chocolate is glossy and the mixture has the thickness of icing. (Alternatively melt the chocolate mixture in the microwave on medium heat.)

To Assemble: Turn the first cake upside down on a serving plate. Spread the apricot jam over the top. Place the second cake on the jam layer to create the top layer of the cake. Spread the icing over the top of and sides of the cake. 

Optional: Garnish the cake with almonds in the shape of a daisy. Serve with whipped cream. Makes 10–12 servings.

PAPRIKA CHICKEN (CHICKEN PAPRIKASH) Katarina Jolan Siroky

A 4-lb (1½ K) chicken, cut in 8 pieces
2 tbsp (30 ml) paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) pepper to taste
2 tsp (10 ml) caraway seeds
3–4 tbsp (45–60 ml) olive oil
1–2 tbsp (15–30 ml) coconut oil (optional) 
1 large onion, sliced
1–3 cloves garlic, whole
** ½ green pepper, sliced
2–3 cups (500–750 ml) of broth
2 tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
1 tbsp (15 ml) corn starch
2 tbsp (30 ml) water for corn-starch slurry
Juice of 1 lemon

**a red, yellow or orange pepper can be substituted

Coat a large skillet with the oil. Add the chicken pieces and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, paprika and caraway seeds. On medium heat sauté the chicken, browning well on both sides. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and place them on a plate Add the onion. Sauté in the oil. Add extra oil if necessary. When the onion slices are browned, return the chicken to the pan. Add the broth, stir in the tomato paste. Add the garlic, and sliced pepper. 

Cook chicken until tender, about 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a hot serving dish and remove the pepper slices.

Make a slurry: Mix 1 tbsp corn starch with 2 tbsp water. Add to the sauce and incorporate to thicken. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce the heat. Taste for seasoning. Add the juice of ½ lemon.

To serve pour the sauce over the chicken or return the chicken to the sauce in the pan and serve from the pan. Makes 4–6 servings. Paprika Chicken is usually served with nockerl or dumplings, but also goes well with rice. 

NOCKERL (Dumplings) Katarina Jolan Siroky

2 cups (500 ml) all purpose flour, sifted
1/2–3/4 cup (125– 185 ml) water
3 eggs
1 tbsp (15 ml) salt
2–3 tbsp (30–45 ml) margarine for melting 

Fill a 2 quart (2 L) pot halfway with water. Add salt and bring to a boil.

In a large bowl combine the flour, water, eggs and salt. Mix well to form a soft, pasty dough. Roll out the dough on a wet bread board. Dip a sharp knife into the boiling water and cut the dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm)-wide strips. Cut the strips into 1-inch (2.5 cm) squares and place them directly into the boiling water.

Stir to prevent sticking and do not overcrowd the pot. Cook about 7 minutes. When the water begins to boil again, turn off the heat. When the nockerl are done they will rise to the top. Drain them in a colander.

Melt the margarine in the pot. Place the nockerl back in the pot and coat with the margarine. 

Transfer the nockerl to a hot serving dish and serve with Paprika Chicken (Chicken Paprikash).

CULINARY CALENDAR

Nov. 8, 2 p.m.: Montreal-style Pizza making workshop through MNJCC’s Jewish& Virtual Cookbook program https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377 

Nov. 11, 11 a.m.: Asian Dumplings –Virtual Cooking with Maria Lindgren (Bernard Betel Centre)

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_

Dec. 3, 5 p.m.: Cook Global Cuisine with Carolyn Tanner-Cohen, sponsored by Grandmothers Partnering with Africa, Stephen Lewis Foundation. Email: GPWafrica@gmail.com