LUKA, the series of Eastern European-themed pop-up dinners hosted by writer and culinary veteran John J. Goddard, has postponed all upcoming events due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic. “While it pains me very, very, very deeply to shut down all forthcoming events, we all need to be extra vigilant right now,” said Goddard in a recent episode of his podcast, Eastern European Cooking With LUKA.
In place of the dining events, LUKA has launched a deli-box delivery service, distributing boxes of curated Eastern European food items for home prep and enjoyment within a 125-square-mile area of St. Louis city. Goddard considered what people really need at this time: something they can order once that will take care of them for a week, or at least a few days.
With that in mind, each LUKA Deli Box ($60, including delivery within the designated area) contains premium, shelf-stable delicacies such as smoked meats and fish, cheese, soup mix, vegetable preserves, jam, tea and chocolate – “basically everything you need to go on a picnic in Eastern Europe or hiking in the mountains,” says Goddard.
“I’m not sure what the demand will be, or what product availability will be like in the coming days and weeks, but I’m gonna try to keep product rotation down to once weekly,” he adds.
Current contents of the LUKA Deli Box include a dense loaf of fresh wheat bread sourced from local Bosnian bakers. The loaf is unsliced – Goddard’s personal preference – so it can be cut differently for different applications. Gyulai kolbász, classic Hungarian paprika sausage, is ready to be divided and eaten like salami, but it’s especially delicious diced, fried in a little fat and scrambled with eggs. There’s also a second protein in the box right now: suha rebra, cured, smoked and dried beef ribs produced by Lemay Meat, a St. Louis County butcher shop and grocery store owned by the Iriskic family. Flavorful and aromatic, the meat is also very versatile; you can slice it from the bone for snacking or cook the meat and bones into a stock for soups and stews.
Where there’s bread and meat, there has to be cheese, right? Kashkaval, a mild, semi-firm Bulgarian sheep’s milk cheese, can be sliced for a charcuterie board, shredded for an omelet or even used to make garlic cheese bread. Another use for the large loaf of bread is to slather it with rose hip jam. Rose hips are notoriously high in immune-boosting vitamin C, making this tart treat worthy of a place in the box. Wash it all down with a hot cup of majkina dušica, Serbian wild thyme tea, which is a natural nerve tonic and tranquilizer. Majkina dušica means “mother’s soul,” and in Serbia, it’s an accepted fact that it also relieves headaches and muscle tension, fights infections and colds, lowers fevers and calms coughs.
Fast, easy comfort comes in a package of Podravka kokošja juha, chicken noodle soup mix, which is also featured in the inaugural box. “The [package] says ‘chicken-flavored,’ but it’s a poor translation,” Goddard explained on the podcast. “The Podravka company has a long tradition of using quality ingredients, and I assure you, real chickens were involved in the making of this chicken noodle soup.” Have a warm or cold side of letcho, the beloved Eastern European version of ratatouille, with your soup. The Polish variety in the box contains sweet pepper, onion, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots and cabbage – all cooked together until perfectly tender.
Goddard doesn’t skimp on dessert either. Enjoy a square or two of Kraš Dorina milk chocolate after each meal. The Croatian confection is decadent – the perfect finale to this at-home tasting tour of the old country.
There are a variety of ways to use the contents of the LUKA Deli Box, so in the coming days, Goddard will also be producing educational and instructional podcasts to coincide with the ingredients in the delivered boxes.
Rather than rely on a service to deliver the boxes, he’s hired a Saint Louis University student, who has been instructed to leave each customer’s box in a place where he or she can conveniently pick it up, without any direct contact between the student and the customer.
We are all in uncharted territory, and Goddard is one of many doing his best to switch gears in the face of financial hardship. That said, he doesn’t want to be insensitive about the situation. “I wish I could give and do more right now,” he says. “I’m slightly uncomfortable promoting a timely paid service like this because it feels like disaster capitalism; it feels a little icky. But my dining event business has definitely been affected heavily by the coronavirus pandemic – I’m paddling hard here.”
“Assuming that everything returns to somewhat normal, I am working with a commercial kitchen to start, eventually, producing our own items for delivery [such as] deli salads and maybe some hot foods,” he continues. “But we’re gonna hold back on events for a while. I’m not worried about trying to get those fired up again; I like the idea of delivery right now.”
Even now, it’s possible to support those in the local food and drink industries while observing coronavirus containment measures. Order your LUKA Deli Box at lukadining.com/luka-deli-box-delivery. Order deadlines are Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and boxes are currently delivered on Thursdays and Sundays.
LUKA, St. Louis, Missouri, lukadining.com