Nutrition: Savor the treats of the season
Potica, a Slovenian classic, not for the faint of heart.
Colorful cookie platters, the sweet taste of homemade candies and the fragrance of freshly baked pies. The holidays are full of special treats that conjure up fond memories of family, friends and favorite traditions. For my family and for many others, potica is one of those foods. To many, potica represents not only a family-favorite treat, but also the joy of holidays, spending time with loved ones, and serves as a reminder of places and heritages.
Potica (pronounced “poh-TEET-sah”) is a Slovenian yeast-raised dough formed into a layered loaf or cake. It was traditionally served for big holidays and celebrations, particularly Christmas and Easter.
Be warned, properly preparing potica is not for the faint of heart. It is a long, labor-intensive process requiring far beyond the blissful 30 minutes of slice-and-bake cookies. The day can start by adjusting the temperature of the kitchen and locating a suitable mixing bowl and large table. Fully stretched potica dough can cover a large kitchen table, reaching over the sides and requiring extra table leaves to be put in place. Some bakers even specify the brand of ingredients they use. After preparing the dough, it requires multiple rising periods. The risen dough is then hand stretched to nearly paper thin and a cooked filling is spread across it. Finally, it is rolled up and cut or shaped to create a deliciously layered loaf.
A variety of potica fillings can be used, including walnuts, honey, tarragon and even bacon. The type of filling used traditionally reflected a family’s status. Nuts and cream were expensive when potica originated in Slovenia, and poorer families often used herbs from their garden as fillings. Many cookbooks offer recipes for making potica, but some of the best results come from long-held family recipes that have been honed over generations. Learning the art of making potica can be a rite of passage and create fond memories with loved ones. Paper recipes turn into works of art as they are dotted with grease stains and have little notes scribbled in about particular tips and tricks to get the perfect result.
Walnuts, a common filling and top choice of my family, are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein, fiber and magnesium. While I would like to say a hot slice of walnut potica is a heart-healthy food, the butter and sugar content of the pastry qualifies it more as a “once in a while food” or “treat” in dietitian speak.
So how do we enjoy these not-so-healthy, yet sentimentally important, foods this holiday season? First, slow down and savor your bites. Notice the look, the smell and the texture. Taste the flavor in each bite and note the satisfaction you receive from eating it. Stop eating when you are satisfied. You can also try pairing a slice of potica with a piece of fruit and a glass of milk for a more well-rounded and filling snack.
I encourage you to reflect on your own food memories this holiday season and mindfully enjoy the foods that conjure up thoughts and feelings of the traditions and celebrations of your heritage.
Mary Cherne is a clinical dietitian at St. Luke's.