Sep 262011
 

white grapes from bibberche.comAbout thirty years ago, father acquired a piece of land in the hills overlooking the town. Deda-Ljubo gave him half of the money and convinced him to invest, firmly believing that you cannot go hungry as long as you own something tied to the earth. Since then, it has slowly morphed from a neglected side project to a daily obsession that takes most of his hours.

It takes less then fifteen minutes to drive from the city house to the gates to the ranch property, taking a narrow, serpentine country road uphill, praying that another vehicle does not appear behind the next curve. The road is cut into the side of a mountain, with acacia and blackberry brambles separating it from the fields and meadows. The last twenty or thirty yards are lined with young plum trees that one of the neighbors who owns the approaching path to the land planted a decade ago. In a never-ending squabble akin to the Hatfields and McCoys, the elderly neighbor, who lives there permanently with his wife, sneaks over the border and steals Father’s prized evergreens, exotic kiwis, figs, and gooseberries that he’s collected from nurseries all over the country.

Father inherited an old shack, an orchard, and a vineyard. He had the shack leveled and in its place there is a log cabin he had transported from far away, falling in love with it the instant he had seen it. Thirty years later, it is still being fixed, polished, and equipped. The view from the porch is spectacular, the red roofs in the valley appearing as if a part of a fairy tale, marred only by an occasional skyscraper. The orchard and the vineyard he kept, but just like the cabin, they continue to be works in progress. He is constantly cutting trees down and replanting new ones, always on the quest for exotic and different fruit. Whenever he visits us in the U.S., he stares at trees, collects fallen chestnuts and every holiday season he returns home with a baggie full of various nuts.

Serbian countryside from bibberche.com

Whenever he tried to enlist our help with any of the agricultural work he so ambitiously took on himself, we complained, whined, and found every excuse not to accompany him “to the Hills”, as he called the place endearingly. To us, as teenagers, there was nothing endearing in spending an eagerly awaited weekend picking fruit, weeding, getting dirt underneath our fingernails, and sweating profusely under the spring sun, while we envisioned our friends getting together for a game of volleyball, a matinee, or a casual get-together in someone’s home. We went when we absolutely had to, when his patience wore thin, and we could predict a volcanic outburst and withdrawal of allowance for the weekend.

Serbian countryside from bibberche.com

Father is still a genius diagnostician who can decipher a medical problem with several variables within minutes, but he cannot change a light bulb, nor plug in a brand new telephone (do not ask how he handles his cell phone). He approached farming with the energy, vigor, and ignorance of a child, collecting bits and pieces of information and formulating a grandiose plan for his precious “Hills”. An organic farmer who firmly believed in not using pesticides, he grew potatoes the size of walnuts, allowed a bunch of emaciated wild squirrels to feast on a pile of hazelnuts, and brought home produce that needed hours of cleaning and care before it could be used.

When there were barely three or four varieties of local tomatoes at the Farmers’ market, he grew a dozen. Before anyone had even heard of rainbow chard, he planted three rows. He collected seeds from American varieties of squash, zucchini, pumpkin, and cucumber, and brought proudly home bushels of tiny, weird-looking, and oddly-shaped vegetables every single day. Our kitchen in the summer months turned into a preserving factory, jars, bottles, and plastic containers hastily filling the pantry and cellar shelves, or finding a temporary home in one of the huge box freezers kept in the garage.

Serbian countryside from bibberche.com

The British royal family would be tremendously jealous of his carefully tended natural grass, spreading from the gate all the way down the slopes, reaching between the rows of grape vines and the whitewashed trunks of his fruit trees. In accordance with his OCD, Father keeps “the Hills” immaculately clean and organized. He built a chicken coop and raised chickens. He kept bees. He even bought a dozen or so young turkeys and managed to nurture them until they were ready to become a golden brown and delicious roast for one of the holidays.

With a heavy heart, he mourned the demise by one of his two pheasants which a fox dragged through a hole in the fence, leaving a bloody trail in the grass  (the other one flew away with a broken heart). He plans on getting a small flock of sheep to help trim the grass in the orchard and a few bunnies to keep them company. He dreams of finding a home for some goats for milk and cheese.

His zeal never abated, but his strength is waning. He still gets up at the crack of dawn and leaves the house promptly at 6 a.m. He still spends several hours getting a farmer’s tan while he diligently picks up the fallen fruit from the grass. And he still brings home baskets and baskets of produce, proudly placing them on the kitchen table or on one of the chairs, thinking already of the next day’s projects.

The flow of fruit has been relentless and interminable since I arrived here in the middle of July. I accepted every basket, overcome by gluttony, thinking of all the ways I can preserve their summery essence. But every time my creativity took flight, reality jumped in and reminded me that there are going to be only a couple of old people living in the house throughout the winter. And no matter how happy I would feel if I managed to fill those pantry shelves with hundreds of glass jars of beautiful jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, and compotes, they would sit there abandoned, counting the days that pass without anyone picking a jar and enjoying its contents.

So I traded fruit for smoked ribs, lard, and homemade pasta for the soup. I gave it away to friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. I brought it as a gift instead of flowers whenever I went for a visit. And I kept a very small portion of every basket to preserve a tiny bit to share with my sister in Germany. Some of it we made together, experimenting, adding vanilla and pear liqueur, cutting down the amount of sugar, infusing lemon to keep the color vibrant. Most of it I made alone, while Mother was resting. All my jars are labeled, sitting patiently on the shelves and waiting for the day when they would be meticulously wrapped, sealed, and placed in a suitcase, only to awaken somewhere in sunny California.

fruit from bibberche.com

I wish I could take five suitcases and fill them with the preserved fruits of this summer. I know that nothing would make Father happier than the realization that somewhere far away, over the big ocean, across seven hills and seven valleys,  his three granddaughters are greedily piling spoonfuls of jam on their buttered bread at breakfast before school.

I have to write about my preserving projects in future posts. But this is what awaits me in the pantry:

  • Raspberry jam
  • Blackberry preserves
  • Red currant jam
  • Damsel plum preserves and jam
  • Nectarine jam
  • Plum jam, preserves, and marmalade
  • Peach jam
  • Pear, plum, and peach compote
  • Cornel cherries liqueur
  • Apple, pear, and carrot juice
fruit from bibberche.com
A year ago: Everybody Goes to Rick’s, story and the recipe for Grilled Carne Asada.
Sep 202011
 

srpski pijac from bibberche.comIt has been sweltering hot in my Serbian home town the last few weeks. As soon as I get up and water my mom’s geraniums and azaleas, I close wooden shutters on all the windows, drape a dark green tablecloth over the upstairs bathroom window, and close the back door in an attempt to block the ruthless heat from penetrating the house. (Husband, the mole, would find himself at home, enjoying the dusk-like quality of light and deep shadows that preserve the traces of fresh morning air).

I make Turkish coffee, strong and black for me, weak with a touch of sugar for Mom, and we drink it in the back yard, at the table in front of the house, chasing the shade cast by the roof. My sister-in-law, Tanja, joins us if she is not at school where she teaches Language Arts, and we spend a leisurely half an hour gossiping, exchanging stories and advice, laughing, and reminiscing. I sweep the leaves that magnolia shed during the night, not missing the beat in the conversation. When the sun reaches the six terazzo steps leading to the back door, leaving us no respite whatsoever, I pick up the cups and follow Mom as she slowly makes her way up, leaning on two canes, one metal, one wooden, that Father had bought in San Francisco’s Chinatown last Fall.

Cacak from bibberche.com

Once she is comfortably settled in her bed, with four pillows meticulously arranged to support her aching spine, I bring her breakfast on a small purple plastic tray with a white damask napkin as the nice, antique silver trays lining the upper pantry shelf on the right are too heavy for her to support while laying down. I learned the first day that she eats very little and I bring her very little, aware that even the sight of too much food will make her nauseated. I start auctioning food, offering everything available in the house and in the stores a few blocks away, knowing that I can make it back in time. She scrunches her nose and makes faces until a craving appears. When she locks onto an idea, she looks at me with her big, blue eyes and asks me for a soft boiled egg with sliced tomato, a warm croissant from the corner bakery, cream of wheat with raisins and cranberries, or a half a piece of toasted French bread with a slice of Havarti I brought form the US, knowing that she would enjoy it.

She turns her TV on and watches the morning shows, while texting with family and friends. With one last glance I make sure that she is feeling alright for the moment. I drag the white and navy checkered grocery bag with wheels, don my straw hat and my cheap, oversize a la Victoria Beckham sunglasses, and head for the market. I walk briskly, weaving in and out of shades that our linden trees provide, my feet following with certainty the path they carved so many years ago.

Cacak from bibberche.com

Going to the market is a social occasion. I will invariably meet several people on my way to the store. I will stop and chat, punch in a long-lost friend’s cell phone number to connect later, make a date for another day, and continue with my enjoyable daily task. During the week, outside cafés are filled with people huddled under the awnings, seated as if in a theater, facing the main  pedestrian walkway down the middle of the street that has been closed for traffic since I was a teenager. On the weekends, there are only a few souls brave enough to face the merciless heat, as the wise and knowledgeable blue-hair ladies have finished their daily shopping hours before.

The first stop is a grocery store, where I usually buy juice, yellow European butter that smells like fresh milk, yogurt, Happy Cow cheese, and a variety of small portions of deli meats, always hoping that I could coerce that stubborn woman to take a piece for a mid-day snack. Knowing that Father will dutifully collect all flimsy plastic bags that come in various pastel colors, unable to part with them, fold them neatly, and lay them carefully on top of another hundred or so neatly folded bags, I refuse the offer from the cashier, and place the groceries one by one in various pockets of my huge canvas bag.

Cacak from bibberche.com

Moving along, I cross a little square and pass by the pastry shop Pelivan, where mothers and children sit and eat gelato, cream puffs, or baklava, chasing the sweets with the best tasting lemonade in town. I arrive at the butcher’s appreciative of the modern addition of air-conditioning, while reveling in the old-fashioned custom of not having every cut of meat on premises at all time. I buy on recommendation, trusting my butcher’s pride in his craft. Our dinner plans may change drastically based on my purchase, but I embrace the challenge and adjust to the moment.

As I approach the farmers’ market, my step quickens and my eyes focus on the first stalls laden with beautiful produce, looming just beyond the cast-iron gate. The merchant who makes leather goods stands erect in front of his shop just before the gates, his arms crossed behind his back, his mustache curling upwards, the caricature of one of the hunters in fairy tale Peter and the Wolf. I have to weave through a throng of Gypsies hawking cheap socks, t-shirts, and soap bars, and move to the side when old women march ahead, burdened with overfilled canvas bags.

srpski pijac from bibberche.com

I am mesmerized by color and smell, and overwhelmed by a feeling of abundance every time I come to the market. I always visit every stall, remembering not only the best produce, but the friendliest and most sincere vendors. By now, I recognize most of them, and have a few that that are definitely favorites. In the beginning, I wanted to but everything every day, greedy for the luscious, sweet tomatoes, firm peppers that take my breath away with  their smell, perfect young potatoes, curvy and lopsided carrots that remind me how carrots should taste, and pale yellow beans speckled with purple that I rarely manage to find in farmers’ markets in California.

I still have to restrain myself, but the temptation is weaker now, as I know that only fifteen minutes separates me from this place. I dutifully follow the plan, only occasionally picking a beautiful eggplant that seduces me, sitting innocently next to the onions I really have to buy, or a head of cabbage picked that morning, so cheap that it could be free. I carefully place my vegetables and fruits in the bag, making sure that nothing gets squished, and with a last longing glance I leave the market and head home.

srpski pijac from bibberche.com

As I close the gate behind me and enter the yard, Mother is already watching her Turkish soap opera, alert and freshened from her nap. I recite to her who I met and what I bought. After taking a vicarious walk through town with me, she smiles mischievously and makes a dinner request. I play along and feign annoyance at her choice, inwardly beaming, happy that she feels anything at all about food. I bring her a juicy peach or a few figs, fluff her pillows and kiss the top of her head as I leave the room to start unpacking my purchases and putting every vibrantly colored piece to its designated place.

fruit from the farmers' market from bibberche.com

I struggle between laughing and crying, anticipating nutritious meals that would boost her immune system and keep this filthy disease at bay. And I know that she trusts me, even though I see myself as a Don Quixote, foolishly attacking these windmills with nothing else but a bunch of vibrantly colored vegetables and pure love for the woman who taught me to how to laugh, how to cry, and how to love.

Serbian farmers' market from bibberche.com

Last year, about this time I wrote about the book Hungry Planet and Chicken Makhani in my Hunger Challenge series.

 

Sep 102011
 

shopping bags from bibberche.com

They all look different. An old woman with greasy tufts of hair shuffles along the hallway, dressed in a faded brown house dress.  A middle-aged man in jeans and sandals sits on the bench playing with the ends of a light blue scarf casually folded around his neck, obviously not there as a fashion statement. An old man lies on the stretcher with a pillow underneath his head, his torso dressed in a white and blue pajama, showing a few grey hairs on his chest, while his fingers firmly squeeze the metal edges, his knuckles white from effort. Another stretcher supports the petrified form of a man of indeterminate age, only his head visible from around the corner, his eyes frozen on the ceiling. Leaning against a post is a beautiful girl in her twenties, the purple in her head scarf matching perfectly the hue of a big straw bag, her sandals, and loose blouse falling in waves over her white jeans.

Some of them arrived with family. Some of them hold their wife’s or husband’s hand. Some of them were accompanied by a close friend. And some of them came alone, like the beautiful girl in purple, who defiantly chews her gum and flicks her gold loop earrings with her manicured nails; or a man in his sixties, dressed in a dated navy suit coat with a hand-knitted blue vest showing underneath, his gait uncertain, his rough, peasant hand gripping the railings of the parapet. He looks resigned and accepting. Another pair of eyes darts back and forth landing on every face for a second, not able to hide enormous fear and panic. Few of them look around with disdain, as if they did not belong there. Some of them stare at the floor tiles, counting the rows immediately in front of their face, never once glancing up.

When I close my eyes, I can hear a cacophony of sounds, unrecognizable snippets of conversation, a barely audible whisper, a surprising burst of laughter, a rustling of the snack bags, cell phones ringing in tones of Mozart over here, a folk song over there, a bubble-gum balloon popping, an echo of clogs briskly traversing the corridors, and, somewhere in the distance, a faint and painful moan. The air is barely moving, but still saturated with old-lady perfume, the overpowering smell of moth balls, the coconut fragrance of sun tan lotion, the salty aroma of potato chips, and a thousand variations of the stench of summer sweat.

A stranger coming off the street might mistake this oddly assembled group with people waiting at the bus station or waiting to renew their driving licenses, if not for an occasional thick piece of gauze securely held in place by a cross of tape, a small breathing tube protruding shyly from someone’s neck, the unmistakable and unbearable odor of disease surrounding them.

They all look different. They are young and old, they are sophisticated and not so sharp, they are classy city dwellers and earth-bound farmers; they are poets, and lawyers, and cashiers, and surgeons, and retired housewives. They live around  the block, and they travel six hours by a tired bus whose windows are welded shut to prevent some random draft of fresh air from penetrating and killing insidiously the dozens of people riding it.

The only thread that connects them is the big shopping bags that each one of them holds close to their bodies. The bags are cheerful, advertising companies and grocery stores, featuring big bows and flowers in celebration of someone’s birthday. They are recycled from the previous trip to the computer store, saved just in case from the year before, when the kid got his first pair of skiing shoes. These are the biggest shopping bags, new, shiny and resplendent in all colors of the rainbow, hiding their ominous content deep inside.

When I first entered the spacious room and read the words Oncology and Radiology Ward, I saw the famous line from Dante’s Inferno inscribed instead: Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate. My knees wobbled and I stumbled, unable to hold the tears back when I noticed all those big shopping bags, each one hiding a mortal life inside. And now, as regulars, we join the group, Father dutifully toting our own big shopping bag, all silver and navy, holding a file that keeps getting thicker every day and a grayscale set of X-rays, MR film, and CAT scan readings.

The waiting room of the ward is light, the walls are painted white, and large windows allow the cloudless blue skies of late summer to enter unencumbered, letting the early morning sun play with the metal frames and throw blinding reflections haphazardly. There are lush potted plants in every possible shade of green tucked in the corners, and the nurses are all young, pretty, and unbelievably kind. When they breeze through, their pony tails swing from side to side and all the faces turn to them expectantly, breathing in the inebriating scent of youth, hope, and subtle summery perfume, feeding on their energy and warmth in their smiling eyes.

The air stirs as the first patient’s name is announced and one of the bags disappears through the door that houses the three member committee, a Supreme Court of MDs, all stern and serious, who pass the judgement,  prescribe the therapy, and grant admittance to the Ward, or a dismissal. The rest of the group moves closer to the door in expectation, the bags leading the way, fighting for a better spot. As the minutes go by, the bags move along and vanish, dispersed or kept in the hospital, their contents regurgitated and examined again and again.

When our turn with the Consilium is over, we collect the documents with their verdict, and stuff the file back in the bag. As we retreat slowly down the corridor, my Brother skillfully and gently pushes Mother who is seated uncomfortably in a hospital wheelchair that is missing half of the spokes and both foot rests. Each one of us has a specific role and we perform like a well-practiced team, pretending that we can control at least something in this danse macabre. Her heart slowly returns to an approximation of its normal beat and she immediately starts cracking jokes, relieved, and buoyed by the thought that we are on our way home.

Somewhere between the hospital entrance and the car, Father surreptitiously takes the latest freshly printed document with the newest diagnosis and recommended course of action, and studies it intently with innate professional calmness, revealing nothing to our inquiring eyes. Perhaps he is strictly a doctor in this moment and not a husband… not an old man… not retired and afraid. Perhaps, but that’s a tough sell. When we arrive home, he will get every single piece of paper out, carefully go over every line in Latin, hoping to find something he missed. But until then, the file will rest ominously behind the back seat of my Brother’s Audi and rustle in the wind all the way home, 146 kilometers away, reminding us that this is just a short respite.

serbian plums from bibberche.comI cannot fight the bag and the monsters that hide within. But I can make the world around my beautiful and brave Mother appear normal. I can sit in her room and play mindless computer games while she rests in her bed. I can dig up the memories of our childhood and prompt her to reminisce. I can coerce a smile on her face so often distorted with pain by mentioning any one of our youthful peccadillos. I can make sure that her beloved plants are still the pride of the neighborhood and that all of the magnolia leaves have been swept off the tiles in the back yard.

I want her to know that she still runs this household, with me holding the duster and hanging up the laundry on the line to dry. I come to her for advice on some culinary matter, even though I can find my way around any kitchen. I greedily write down her instructions and copy the recipes on a notebook I keep on the coffee table in her room. I just hope that I can return even a smidgen of the love and dedication that she offered when she prepared countless breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks for us which we, in our selfish sense of security, took for granted. But then, that is the measure of parental success… that our children take us for granted.  They certainly should.

Father buries me with fruit from his “ranch” and I am in constant search of canning jars. The shelves in the pantry get another row added to them almost every day, as I frantically try to save the essence of all sweet, fresh, ripe produce that miraculously appears in the basket on the kitchen chair closest to the back door. I’ve made plum, peach, and pear compote, and the jars are nestled comfortably next to cherries, quinces, and apricots that my Aunt Sonja managed to preserve before I arrived. When all the fresh fruit is gone this winter, I want Mother to open a jar of compote I made and taste my love and devotion, the only weapon I can wield against the horrors of this sudden new world where even shopping bags do not contain anything anyone wants.

peaches and pears from bibberche.com

FRUIT COMPOTE

Ingredients:

  • Fruit of your choice
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • water

Directions:

Wash and stem the fruit. Peel peaches and nectarines, cut them in half and take the pit out.

Sterilize the canning jars by heating them in the oven on 100C (200F) for 10-15 minutes. Boil the lids for several minutes and allow them to dry. Prepare the preserving pots by putting a kitchen towel on the bottom. The pots need to have walls taller than the jars by 2-3 inches.

Put the fruit into the jars, pushing the pieces in as much as possible, to have nice, tight rows. Pour the sugar on top and fill with water. Put the lid on tightly and place the jars in pots. Pour the water to reach to the rim of the jars and heat on high temperature until it boils. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Carefully pull the jars out of the water using the special preserving tongs and turn them upside down on the counter. Leave them like that until they cool off. That will make the lids seal and prevent the oxygen from getting in. If a jar is not properly sealed, use the compote immediately, or keep in the fridge for a week (if the lid is not sealed properly, it will click when pressed in the middle).

Fruit Compote from bibberche.com

A year ago I wrote about Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes in the post I Found My Thrill

Sep 042011
 

 

our Serbian kitchen from bibberche.comEvery time my parents moved, the kitchen became much larger. Njanja and Deda-Ljubo lived in the big family house where most of the cooking was done outside in the separate summer kitchen. A hallway between their bedroom and the bathroom was converted into a tiny, galley-style kitchen, that could not accommodate both Njanja and Mother at the same time.

When I started fifth grade, Father was provided a condo by the hospital, and we moved away from our grandparents. A mere block away.  The building was brand new, and the eat-in kitchen was hip and modern, equipped with the best 70s appliances. It could fit a dining room table big enough for all of us to sit around and have a meal together.

We eventually moved into the house I have called home for most of my life, the house I sit in even now, writing this. This house was built in the beginning of 20th century, and the kitchen is pretty big. It was designed to be the center of family life with a big dining room table and a couch facing the working area, perfect for neighborhood housewives to stop by, have Turkish coffee every day, exchange recipes, and feed each other tasty morsels of town gossip. This kitchen was meant for the husband returning home from work, who would only have to climb four steps from the back yard, take his shoes off in the tiny square entrance way, and collapse on the couch while his face broke into a smile from the sight of his beautifully flushed wife finishing the preparation of their delicious daily repast.

There is a room in this house that contains a television and a more comfortable sofa and chairs. That other room is, for reasons that elude me, often called a “living room,” even though most of the living gets done in this kitchen. From morning coffee to late night snack… and all the conversations and life moments that go with them… the living gets done here, in the center of the universe… in this kitchen.

I love this kitchen, its twelve-foot high walls, white-brown-apricot color scheme, the old wood-burning stove (used only in times of scarcity and astronomically high prices of kilowatt hours), and the big window that opens up to a concrete slab filled with house plants. I love the big pantry lined with shelves housing hundreds of jars of preserves, various appliances (useful and useless), and Mother’s enormous collection of pots and pans of different age, color, and material.

I can walk through this kitchen in the middle of a moonless night, when the electricity goes out, and find my way around the chairs, not once even touching a piece of furniture. Yet, every time I come back from the US, it takes me a week to relearn where everything is and get acquainted with new skillets and mysterious gadgets. I used to bring spices in tiny baggies, dreading the customs and the dogs trained to sniff out drugs and other smelly contraband, eager to share my culinary accomplishments in global cuisine.

This time I brought nothing, deciding to prepare only Serbian dishes with gorgeous produce from the overflowing farmers’ market. If I could, I would spend hours strolling between the stalls, never getting tired of the smells and vibrant colors of the summer offering. I would take the sweltering heat that everyone tries to avoid. I would even tolerate the pesky wasps that scare me, accepting that sweet, yellow pears attract them as much as they attract me.

When I found out that the September choice for the Recipe Swap was Wild Rabbit with Vegetables, I really wanted to cook game. The hunting season in Serbia is over, but one of my best friends runs the hunting grounds in the town and his company freezer is always full of wild boar, pheasant, venison, quail, and rabbit. He promised to bring me a surprise package if I invited him over for dinner. I love bartering for food, but he had to spend a weekend putting out forest fires, and the delivery was delayed.

pork shoulder and smoked ribs from bibberche.com

I stopped by the butcher and bought a chunk of boneless pork shoulder instead, fighting the urge to bury my nose in the paper and breathe in the smell of fresh meat. I was making a utilitarian dish and I knew that I had the winner with my purchase, even though I was really looking forward to using the juniper berries and bay leaf in my venison stew.

When I returned home, I went through the pantry and collected the ingredients for the dish I intended to make. In the beginning my pile was small, the ingredients simple and few: a couple of onions, a pepper, new potatoes, sweet paprika, stock, salt, and pepper. But I discovered two roasted red peppers in the fridge, two pieces of smoked pork ribs, and a pound of button mushrooms. To make the party merrier, I brought out a bottle of Father’s homemade red wine and a bag of dry thyme Mother had picked on the mountain.

produce from bibberche.com

My produce was fragrant and fresh. My meat was of superb quality. The wine was dry, carrying tones of sherry in its bouquet. Even my pot was gorgeous, an old enamel piece with handles that got hot after five minutes on the stove. I was not disappointed that it was not the rabbit simmering in the pot as the big old kitchen was enveloped in the comforting and warm smell of a hearty pork paprikash.

This is a versatile and forgiving dish. It can be made with various vegetables and meat. You can season it with different herbs and spices, you can make it as mild or as hot as you prefer. The broth can be thin, or it can be thickened with flour. You can cook the potatoes in it as I did, or you can serve it with pasta, dumplings, or mashed potatoes. You can call it paprikash, goulash, or stew, depending on the changes you made. Or you can just call it delicious.

Pork Paprikash with Potatoes from bibberche.com

PORK PAPRIKASH WITH POTATOES

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp lard (or any other fat you prefer)
  • 750gr (1 ½ lbs) pork shoulder, cut in cubes (I prefer smaller cut, ¾ inch cubes)
  • 2 small pieces of smoked pork ribs (optional – I love the addition of the smoky layer, though)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 pepper (I use Serbian triangular pale green or yellow peppers, but a bell pepper would do), chopped
  • ¼ cup sweet paprika
  • 500gr (1 lb) button mushrooms, halved or quartered, depending on the size
  • 2 roasted peppers, peeled, stemmed, and chopped (optional)
  • ½ cup dry, red wine
  • 1 quart of homemade chicken or beef stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (or any herb or spice to your liking)
  • 1 kg (2 lbs) new potatoes, peeled (if you are inSerbia) or unpeeled (if you are in US) and halved

Directions:

Melt the lard on medium-high heat in a heavy skillet, and add the meat seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in one layer, and remove from the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium, and add onions and peppers. Saute until soft, but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the paprika and stir to incorporate.

Mix in all the mushrooms and roasted peppers, if using, and stir for another few minutes. Deglaze the skillet with wine, and when it evaporates, add the stock, salt, pepper, and thyme.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to boil. Turn the heat back down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the flavors develop and meat is almost fork tender. Add the potatoes and continue simmering, until the are done. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve with a vinegary coleslaw and crusty homemade bread. A cold beer or a glass of red wine are optional but desirable sides.

I met Christianna at BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta. We spent only a few hours talking, but that was enough for me to connect to her and her amazing life story. When I found out that she hosts a food blogging event featuring an old recipe and hymnal book she unearthed at a garage sale, I signed up immediately. And I love being a part of the Recipe Swap group that so many talented and creative people belong to.

Please visit Christianna’s blog Burwell General Store to read my friends’ imaginative approaches to the simple recipe for Wild Rabbit With Vegetables. There are some truly inspirational posts.  ChristiannaDennisToniShumailaAlexLoraLindsayMariBarbPolaJamieClaireShariJoyMonique,LindaPriyaRachelAlliKaty,

Emily, KrissyJacquelineClaire, Monique and Jaclyn.