Profile: Farmer Luďka Fialová
Luďka Fialová is a very good cook. On a balmy afternoon this June, she was showing me around her quaint property—a mid-size farm composed of two stone barns, a utility garden with greenhouse, grain field, small animal pasture, and a main house where she lives with her husband—located next to a sprawling, black locust forest at the end of Krásný Dvůr, a historic town of 400 in Northwestern Czech Republic.
I took inventory of the animals, all happy to see a visitor: 25 chickens, 15 sheep, four ducks and 11 ducklings, two pigs and a piglet, two cows and a calf. They’re free to roam around, eat natural feed grown on the farm (grass, wheat, rye, potatoes and alfalfa), and provide Luďka and her family with organic eggs, milk and meat. Four cats and three dogs complete the coterie.
“We have been sustainable for over 20 years,” said Luďka over a snack of delightful, homemade cow-milk cheese and freshly baked bread. She described her daily routine, which typically includes feeding the animals, milking the cows and processing the milk (“I make yogurt, gervais and hard cheeses”), as well as helping her husband to run their nearby agricultural-machinery shop.
Their garden supplies a bounty of fruit and vegetables—carrots, parsnips, celeriac, peas, beans, onions, lettuce, kohlrabi, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, cherries, apples, pears and walnuts—which they eat in-season, as well as dry and ferment for winter.
“I mostly cook what we grow,” said Luďka, who was born in Moravia and learned her cooking skills from her mother. She prefers whole foods, no sugar or gluten, and nothing processed.
“We really only buy salt, wine and beer,” she added, laughing.
Age 55 — Hometown Zlín, Czech Republic — Where do you live? Krásný Dvůr, Czech Republic — Occupation Farmer — Signature dish Homemade cheeses — Who taught you how to cook? My mom — Favorite kitchen tool Tagine — Always in your pantry Buckwheat — Go-to snack Dates — Favorite cuisine Mediterranean — Do you diet? Yes, I'm sugar- and gluten-free — Food addictions Good wine — Food allergies Caffeine — Food fad pet peeve Industrially processed food — Who’s your sous chef? My husband–sometimes — Drinking while cooking? No — What’s for dinner tonight? Zucchini soup — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? Yes. I get mad that I'm clumsy. — Best meal you ever had Raw apple cake
Pork Burgers With Red Beets and Spinach
“I made this recently for a group of very hungry guys, and they loved it,” said Luďka of her rustic, flavor-packed recipe that she cooked from ingredients supplied by her farm. “It’s a light, nutritious dish and it will give you lots of energy for your next endeavor.”
She fries the burgers first—“lard is the best”— to seal the meat juices, and then she bakes them in the oven on a bed of grated red beets mixed with spinach. You can serve it as-is or with boiled or roasted potatoes.
If you have time, grind the meat yourself—you’ll know what you’re putting in your burgers, and it’s also very easy to do. I like to use my food processor, but there are all kinds of meat grinders out there, too.
First, start with brining the meat. It tenderizes it, makes it juicier, and improves the overall taste. Place the meat—pork shoulder works great in this recipe—in a bowl, cover it with water until fully submerged, and add ¼ cup of white or apple cider vinegar. Cover the bowl with plastic food wrap, and refrigerate for 24–48 hours.
The next day, remove the meat from the bowl and discard the brine. Dry the meat with paper towels and cut it into one-inch cubes. Place the cubes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure they don’t touch. Freeze the meat for 20 minutes.
Place about one cup of meat in a food processor bowl fitted with an S-blade, and pulse in one-second pulses, until ground. Take it out, and repeat the process with the remaining meat. Grind only as much as you need for the recipe, and freeze the rest for later use.
- Serves 4–6
- 18 ounces fresh baby spinach
- 5–6 large red beets
- 1½ pounds ground pork
- ¼ cup yellow onion, peeled, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, finely ground
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup heavy cream (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add all the spinach, and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain the water, and place the spinach in a large bowl filled with water and ice. Let it sit in the water to stop the cooking process. Squeeze the spinach with your hands to release all the water, and set aside.
- Place the red beets in medium-size pot, cover with water until fully submerged, and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender (test for doneness with a paring knife—if it goes in and out easily, the beets are done). Drain the water and let cool. Peel and grate the beets. Mix the beets with the spinach and set aside.
- In a medium-size bowl, mix together the ground pork, onion, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Using a ¼ cup as a measure, shape the mixture with your hands into ¼-inch-high patties.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Fry the burgers until lightly brown, about 1 minute per side. Dry on paper towels.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Spread the red beet-spinach mixture over the bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper to taste. If using the heavy cream, pour it evenly over the vegetables. Place the burgers on top of the mixture, spacing them ½-inch apart, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
For a paleo version, skip the heavy cream and the breadcrumbs
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