Međimurje is a county in northern Croatia, sometimes known as Hortus Croatiae or the Garden of Croatia. It’s a food-lover’s paradise: The highlands are famous for their vineyards and apple orchards, the lowlands for meat, potatoes, and the famous local pumpkins, which I wrote about here last year.
From ingredients like these, the locals create hearty and traditional dishes, passed down through the generations — among them two desserts famous in the region, orehnjača (walnut strudel) and makovnjača (poppy seed strudel).
“This cake, as all of our traditional gastronomy, is based on ingredients that were grown and produced in this region for centuries,” says Kristijan Kovacic, a leading tour guide in the region. “People found a way to make the best of what they had in every season.” These particular recipes have endured, he says, because the ingredients are readily available, “but also because you can eat these rolls fresh but also several days after, especially with milk, tea, or some other beverage.” He adds that they are the stuff of nostalgia, “because they remind us of childhood, our grandmothers, and a simpler way of life.”
Most locals make these desserts at home, but you can also find them in local restaurants. We were invited to a demonstration of how to make them by Restaurant Međimurski Dvori in Lopatinec, opened in 2005 by Marijan and Tatjana Martinjaš and specializing in traditional cuisine.
The chef is 72-year-old Dragica Dominić. She has been cooking her whole life, she says, since she was a little girl, and she is very proud that her orehnjača and makovnjača — she also likes to make a strudel filled with hazelnuts — are still appreciated after so many years.
Dominić was kind enough to share with us her recipe, which you can find here.