Every 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.

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.

recipeswap rabbitstew The Center of the Universe

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.

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.

076 600x400 The Center of the Universe



  • 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


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.

17 Responses to “The Center of the Universe”

  1. I can really imagine the ladies drinking Turkish coffee and chatting on the couch when somebody is prepping some dish! I feel like I would feel so much home in your house as well!
    What a hearty, beautiful stew!

  2. Hi Lana! What a great recipe. It has just begun to get a bit cool here after very hot temperatures so this stew is imagineable! I love the fall especially to eat soul-warming food like this. A very nice job for our swap! I hope you will hop over to my blog later to see what I did for my recipe. I was delighted in reading your post to see I clearly have a like-minded swap sister! Toni

  3. Love your report about the heart of your home, the kitchen, and the recipe looks delicious too. I did have some trouble finding rabbit too, but finally succeeded. Check it out.

    Isn’t this fun?

    Linda West Eckhardt

  4. Oh Lana ~ how i have missed coming here; life has simply become much too complicated w/me flitting from one ‘to-do’ list to another . . . but i long to come and read your stories . . . because they always manage to transport me to another place and the steady cadence of your words rocks me to calmness . . . i breathe slowly, deeper and then i am lost in stories about your life . . .

    your parents have done well, Lana, for they raised a daughter who loves words, loves new adventures and loves to immerse herself in whatever task is at hand . . . i’m certain they are quite proud Lana . . . (((hugs)))

  5. hi Lana
    what a great take on the recipe swap this month! The paprikash looks amazingly delicious!
    your kitchen sounds perfect, and I agree that it is the most important room in the house, where you truly do your living, not the living room!

  6. Your story is warm and inviting, what great memories of your house and the cooking adventures from within. I love that you used your fathers wine and your mothers thyme. Beautiful swap.
    Also I noticed I was left off the blog list above, would you mind adding me? Thanks so much!

  7. Lana, I’ve missed seeing you on Twitter as much my friend but you and your family are in my thoughts constantly so I was pleasantly surprised that you and I are now both ‘swappers’ and that we can connect in this way.

    I’m glad these posts are arriving now. Five days ago and they would have seemed to heavy, too warm. But that’s because Colorado has been a late bloomer this year and fall was no exception. But now, today, it’s cool and a dish like this would be perfect. Great story, great recipe. Take good care…Barb

  8. Lana,
    I’m so glad you made it into the swap this month, and with such a comforting recipe. Thank you, as always, for being a part of the group. My best wishes to you and your family, and I’m looking forward to connecting with you when you are back stateside.

  9. Beautiful! For some reason I want it to be snowing and have a fire going with a bowl of this – delicious!

  10. As soon as the cold weather star here (November) I’m going to be cooking this dish.
    I have enjoy a lot your recollection of your vacation.

  11. Lana, I have fallen in love with your writing. Every time you post something new, I’m so excited to read it. I love hearing about your Serbian home and it’s wonderful kitchen. I’ve been thinking about you and your mom, and am sending you lots of hugs.
    P.S. Of course, this dish looks incredibly delicious!

  12. Have been thinking about you & your mother. I think for many of us, the kitchen is the where the heart of the home truly lies. I know that if I am in the kitchen for any length of time, at least one of the “little people” will settle down on the other side of the island while I complete whatever it is I am doing. Times I wouldn’t trade for anything.

  13. What a beautiful insight into your house and that kitchen looks like such a warm and loving place to be in. Love what you did for this swap- it looks and sounds inviting!

  14. I like the contrast b/w knowing a home inside and out versus having to reacquaint yourself with your home. i remember when my mom and i traveled back from india and i was just a little girl, my mom brought curry leaves over in a small ziploc bag and customs had a huge fit over it insisting it was something else. i mean, it’s curry leaves! there’s nothing else that’s even a sister plant or smell! anyway, they took it from her and then let her pass.

  15. Lana,
    That paprikash looks so delish! I can’t wait to try this recipe. Is it ok with chicken instead of pork?

    I love reading your life stories. It somehow transports me to a different world. I grew up cooking with my mom and I believe, my kitchen is actually my “living” room :)

    ps: Hows your mom? Sending positive thoughts and hugs your way.

  16. It all sounds wonderful! Hope you are enjoying your holiday :)

  17. Just stopped by to see what you are up to…I know I will enjoy a good read every time I visit you. I love seeing your family home and especially the kitchen which is really your “living” room. Such a heartfelt post and so happy to have stopped by. “See” you soon.

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