Come Into My Kitchen

Carol McCarty’s potato salad is a taste of her Slovenian heritage

Carol McCarty of Lenexa makes “old fashioned” Slovenian potato salad.
Carol McCarty of Lenexa makes “old fashioned” Slovenian potato salad. The Kansas City Star

Carol (Dragosh) McCarty proves by the food she prepares that there’s always love in every Slovenian. Raised in the Kansas City, Kan., Strawberry Hill neighborhood, McCarty is of full-blooded Slovenian descent and oversees making the traditional potato salad for an annual festival celebrating her heritage.

She and her husband of 58 years, Karl, have a close-knit family of two sons, seven grandchildren and two great-grandsons. Although she has never traveled to the Republic of Slovenia in south-central Europe, Carol says it’s a dream of hers to visit this tiny country that borders on Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, with a landscape that includes the Alps.

Residence: Lenexa

Occupation: Retired executive secretary

Special cooking interest: Slovenian food

What does your Slovenian heritage mean to you? I was born and raised in Wyandotte County among the Polish, Croatians and Slovenians in the tight-knit Strawberry Hill neighborhood. My mother, Emma Dragosh, just passed away on June 26 at 101 years old.

She was a wonderful cook who would use real butter and cream when making her food. She was always cooking with garlic and onion and would use vinegar, whether she was making slaw or potato salad. These are the tastes I have passed on to my children and grandchildren.

You’ve not only passed along these traditions to your family, haven’t you also passed a taste of your Slovenian culture to the community, as well? Next Saturday, Sept. 27, we will be celebrating our sixth annual Slovenefest. We want people to come and experience the food, which includes Slovenian smoked sausage, potato salad dressed with oil and vinegar, sauerkraut and polnjene paprika, (stuffed pepper) or sarma (stuffed cabbage roll.)

This is a wonderful opportunity to share our culture with the community and pass traditions on to our families. But you don’t have to be Slovenian to enjoy this evening of food and fun.

This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Don Lipovac, who died in April of this year. He was an accordion legend that dedicated many years to the Holy Family Catholic Church and the Strawberry Hill community. My son, Brian McCarty, who also played with Don, will provide some of the musical entertainment with his band.

Your potato salad is so delicious, how did you transcribe the recipe? Whenever there’s a traditional Slovenian gathering, this potato salad is a must. I’ve been told that people always ask for the recipe of this potato salad after they eat the meal at Slovenefest, so here it is.

My mother would make it by adding a little of this and a little of that and by tasting it until it was just right, so it was a matter of trial and error and talking to other women who made it to get the proportions of the oil and vinegar right.

For the festival, we will prepare 125 pounds of potatoes. After Sandy Cannon — the person coordinating the Slovenefest food — and I wash and boil the potatoes, a whole team of volunteers will come to peel and slice them. I then mix the potato salad in 5 pound batches until all 125 pounds of potatoes are used and the potato salad is ready to eat.

Start with the recipe, but depending on how much of the potato skin you peel away, sometimes a little more dressing is needed. If desired, whisk together an additional 1/4 cup canola oil; 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and water; and 3/4 teaspoon salt and drizzle over the prepared potato salad, until the flavor is to your taste. If mixture seems too dry, but the vinegar taste is strong enough, just add a little more water.

Why does this festival mean so much to you? It is the greatest thing in the world to be able to share something as important as your heritage with others. There is also something very special about feeding people. Those of us who grew up on Strawberry Hill have a sense of community that surrounds us, even though many have moved out of the neighborhood. With my Slovenian background, I feel I have a special tie to a little corner of the world that is fed through these traditions.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Sixth Annual Slovenefest

Details: Begins at 4 p.m. Sept. 27 with Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church, 274 Orchard St., Kansas City, Kan. Dinner, auction and entertainment will be at the Holy Family Club, 513 Ohio St., from 5 to 10 p.m. All proceeds benefit the church.

Information: 913-371-1561, HolyFamilyChurchKCK.com

Old-Fashioned Slovenian Potato Salad

Makes 15 servings

5 pounds red potatoes, thoroughly scrubbed clean

1 medium red onion, finely minced

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Place potatoes in large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium and simmer 30 minutes or until potatoes are just fork-tender. Drain and allow potatoes to cool completely.

With a paring knife, carefully peel skins and cut blemishes out of potatoes. Thinly slice peeled potatoes and place into a large salad bowl. Sprinkle onion over potatoes and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, water, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over potato mixture and toss gently to coat evenly, using 2 large spoons.

Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Per serving: 189 calories (35 percent from fat), 7 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 28 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 436 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

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