May 152013
 

Pan-Fried Zucchini and Eggplant Salad from bibberche.com

It’s a sweltering July afternoon and even though the back door is open wide, only the scorching dry summer heat comes into the kitchen. Mother is standing by the gas stove, flipping thinly sliced zucchini  just as they turn golden brown. A tray sits on the counter, filled with a few layers of the uncooked ones, salted and dipped in flour, just luxuriating and waiting to be covered with egg batter and pan fried.

Father walks in on his way back from the hospital, grabs the top-most zucchini, and pops it in his mouth without stopping, oblivious to the fact that it’s still sizzling from the hot pan. The three of us saunter in the kitchen, refreshed from the shower we just took, exhausted and ravenous after a few hours spent at the city pool. I can’t help but sneak a zucchini off the platter, even though I make sure that Mother notices me rolling my eyes at the sight of her pan-frying a mountain of them on the hottest day of the century.

Pan-Fried Zucchini and Eggplant from bibberche.com

Chewing slowly to prolong the enjoyment, I swear that I will stop the tradition and avoid the kitchen when I grow up. After all, Aristotle would not have been Aristotle had he spent every waking minute cooking, cleaning, sewing, and helping children with their homework, as I sagely pointed to Mother fairly often, scolding her for abandoning her easel and her sketchbook for the degrading and not-at-all rewarding life of a housewife.

Some years later, here I am standing next to a gas stove in my southern California kitchen, flipping golden brown egg-battered zucchini slices, my apron speckled with flour. I checked the items off the list in my head as the mound on the platter next to me keeps on growing. I will have finished everything I intended to before going to work in the afternoon, including pan-frying zucchini and eggplant for next day’s Food Bloggers LA monthly meet-up.

Pan-Fried Zucchini from bibberche.com

As I proudly pat myself on the shoulder, my fourteen-year old enters the kitchen in a quest for something “sweet, creamy and delicious”. “That looks like the most tedious chore in the world!”, she proclaims, throwing one of her famous disdainful looks my way. And all of a sudden I am transported from this gorgeous, balmy May afternoon in California, with the breeze that brings the smell of roses and rosemary through the open front door, to one of the scorching summer days in Serbia filled with crates of pale green, tender-skinned zucchini begging for attention.

And I understand that Mother did not find her role as degrading as I thought it was at the time. She enjoyed preparing the most wonderful meals for her family, even though the job was not that rewarding and we definitely took her creativity, talent, and effort for granted. My precocious teenager is as haughty as I was at her age and I know better than to try to explain to her that Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan would probably praise me for my choice to sacrifice a few hours of my precious free time to cook a delectable meal, as it makes me infinitely happy.

Salads from FBLA from bibberche.com

Pan-Fried Zucchini or Eggplant
5.0 from 3 reviews

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Recipe type: Side dish
Cuisine: Serbian, International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
Even though it is somewhat tedious and time-consuming to prepare, this dish brings out the best out of the humble zucchini. It is by far my favorite zucchini dish. If only I could source out the preparation!
Ingredients
  • 6-8 zucchini or 2 eggplants, peeled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup sunflower oil
  • salt
  • Batter:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Dressing:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup vinegar (my mom used white, I prefer either red wine or apple cider vinegar)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
Instructions
  1. Cut the zucchini lengthwise in slices about 5 mm thick (between ¼ and ⅛ inch).
  2. Cut the eggplant in rounds about ¼ inch thick.
  3. Lay the cut slices on a tray lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt (you can put them in several layers separated by paper towels)
  4. Leave them on the counter for 30 minutes.
  5. Squeeze the vegetables and drain the liquid in the sink.
  6. Place flour on a plate.
  7. Batter:
  8. Beat the eggs, milk, and water with an electric hand-held mixer until fluffy and combined.
  9. Mix flour and salt.
  10. Pour eggs and milk into flour and stir vigorously to combine (it should be the consistency of crepe batter).
  11. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  12. Add oil (check if it is done by placing a drop of batter in it; it should sizzle and foam around the drop)
  13. Coat each slice with flour on both sides and dip into batter.
  14. Let the excess drip off and place carefully into heated oil.
  15. Pan-fry for a couple of minutes until golden brown and flip.
  16. Cook the other side until done.
  17. Remove to the plate layered with paper towels.
  18. Sprinkle with salt.
  19. You can serve zucchini and eggplant like this as a side dish or an appetizer, or you can turn it into a salad:
  20. Place all the ingredients for dressing except for garlic in a small jar.
  21. Put the lid on tightly and shake to combine.
  22. Place a layer of pan-fried vegetables on the bottom of the platter, sprinkle with garlic and spoon some dressing on top.
  23. Continue until all the vegetables and all dressing have been used.
  24. Put the platter in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to meld.
  25. Serve as an appetizer, salad, or a side dish.

Apr 252013
 

Couscous Tabbouleh from bibberche.com

For a few years, we have been facing some tough times. At moments, the panic would strike and I would not be able to breathe from anxiety, helpless, ambushed by an existential crisis that completely blocked my view.  I felt like a rabbit caught suddenly and without a warning in bright headlights, unable to move, frozen, awaiting with dread whatever came at me from the darkness.

The end to our troubles was an elusive, a pie-in-the-sky kind of thing, but I still believed and held firmly to that belief. Passage of time did not bring it closer, as it always stayed far enough away, tempting us with the promise, but never becoming a reality. And now, that there is no more “us”, my world changed completely, including new strategies, new goals, and new promises.

Israeli couscous from bibberche.com

There were days when I did not know if the refrigerator and pantry would yield an edible meal for two teenagers, and I would drag out the printouts of all the places in the neighborhood that offered free meals to the indigent people. In time I learned the addresses of churches and temples, but fortunately did not have to use their services and hospitality. I was raised to be Aesop’s proverbial Ant and I somehow always managed to put food on the table. It helped that my girls were adventurous eaters, not picky at all, satisfied with whatever they found on their plates.

I want to think that those days are behind me. Freida, who opened her house to us, marvels at all the food that I manage to cram in the fridge, freezer and pantry, assuring me that I am not the only one who draws comfort from it. I don’t really want to do it, but in my head I keep a tally of all the meals I can prepare from the food I diligently dragged home. Just like there has to be some money stashed somewhere for emergencies, so there has to be emergency food. Once bitten, twice shy, they say. I was bitten twice already in my life in the US, and I’d rather be prepared really well.

Couscous Tabbouleh from bibberche.com

These days I can send my girls to the neighborhood ice cream place with their friends without wringing my hands and second-guessing my decision. I feel secure enough in our family finances to indulge their occasional cravings for a milk shake or an In-N-Out hamburger. And I deliberately silence voices in my head who pipe up immediately as soon as I even think of doing something for myself, trying to make me feel guilty. I have to work on that, but I am determined to prevail.

My finger lingered for a few moments before it pressed the button that would make an online purchase final, but I made it move down. In a few days, the mail man delivered a box from Amazon and in it a beautiful book I coveted for months: Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Some time back, my friend Beth of OMG! Yummy invited me to participate in Tasting Jerusalem, a virtual cooking group that explores the recipes of this fascinating region as seen by two people who grew up in the city, an Israeli and a Palestinian. For a long time I just watched from the bleachers, unable to take part, anticipating the day when I would be able to bury my face in the book and smell its fresh-from-the-press pages.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook from bibberche.com

Jerusalem: A Cookbook, deserves a post all by itself, but today I have to concentrate on the topic of the month, which is couscous. I have cooked with couscous for many years, ever since I discovered the versatility of these small pasta spheres made of durum semolina wheat. Instead of replicating a recipe from the cookbook, this month’s challenge was to come up with our own dish using couscous.

My girls recently developed a love affair with tabbouleh, a zesty Middle-Eastern salad made with chewy bulgur wheat, sweet, ripe tomatoes, pungent parsley, fresh mint, and lemon juice. Substituting toothsome whole wheat Israeli couscous for bulgur wheat was a no-brainer and the results did not disappoint. I used mint that grows rampant in the bed of calla lillies and lemons from the yard next door. I only wish the tomatoes came from the garden, but that will have to wait for a few more weeks.

I don’t know if I will win the contest for the most creative use of couscous. I am just excited to be a part of this group that takes me virtually to a city I long to visit one day soon. It all started with a hesitant press of a button, an action that was not possible for me even a month ago, a deed that seemed courageous and momentuous that left me feeling comforted and content…Almost like a glance into my fully stocked pantry.

Couscous Tabbouleh from bibberche.com

Couscous Tabbouleh
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Salad, Starter, Side Dish
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Use Israeli or pearl couscous instead of bulgur wheat in this healthy, flavorful Middle-Eastern dish.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of Israeli couscous (I used whole wheat variety)
  • 1¼ cups water
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped finelly
  • 1 small onion, diced finelly
  • 1 bunch of parsley, minced (about ½ cup when done)
  • ½ bunch of mint, minced (about ¼ cup when done)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Place couscous in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 10-15 minutes on low temperature, until it softens and the water evaporates.
  2. When cooled, add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly until combined.
  3. Serve with pita chips as a starter, or as a side dish alongside a Middle-Eastern entre.

Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, and liking our Facebook page

Apr 192013
 

Easy Cheddar Cheese Crackers from bibberche.com

Once a month I play Bunco with a very diverse group of women. In my previous life across the ocean, I enjoyed playing cards and board games with my friends and I am still very passionate about sharing a few leisurely hours in a relaxed and lets-pretend-to-be-competitive atmosphere.

First time around I was a complete novice, ignorant of the simple rules. It did not help that I was the newest member of the Bunco tribe that had previously met for years. I was understandably anxious, but my fears were assuaged immediately by an exceptionally warm communal welcome that included a glass of red wine and a nice and versatile spread of nibbles. I felt comforted by the thought that these women are witty, funny, approachable, and as eager to pop a cork on a bottle of wine as I was.

As I said, the rules of the Bunco game are stupidly simple and not meant to be challenging, nor ambiguous. Anyone can win, and even if you lose, you can win. Throughout the night, I switched tables, rolled the dice, and got to know my fellow Bunco-ites. I concluded that the point of the game is not to win, to compete, to be better, but to make friends, to relax, and to enjoy the company.

Easy Cheddar Cheese Crackers from bibberche.com

I was introduced to the group by my friend and neighbor as a food blogger, a “foodie”, and a make-it-from-scratch kind of girl. It is only logical that I would think really hard about the potluck dishes I had to bring, having to uphold my reputation. Food for Bunco nights is supposed to be fun, unpretentious, and easy to eat. Small portions and bite-size offerings are hugely appreciated as we eat while standing up, holding a plate and a glass of wine.

The last time we met, I had to work during the day. I knew that I would not have enough time to make something very special and time-consuming, but bringing food bought at the grocery store was definitely out of the question. Having decided that I had all the ingredients necessary to make cheese crackers, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I was confident that these little cheesy bites would be popular with the ladies, as they pack just enough punch to wake up your palate in the most delightful way.

I was not disappointed: the crackers were a success, not only with the members of my Bunco group that night, but with my girls and Freida in my absence. I now have a standing request for these easy snacks, one that I am more than happy to comply with. Crackers are easily adjusted to tastes and availability of ingredients, very simple and fast to make, and satisfy kids and adults equaly. And my Bunco ladies never suspected that I did not slave in the kitchen for hours to bring these cheesy morsels to them.

I used Special Reserve Extra Sharp Tilamook Cheddar Cheese and it was divine! No, Tilamook cheese company has not supplied me with cheese – I just happen to love it.

It’s Time for Bunco: Fast and Easy Cheddar Cheese Crackers
5.0 from 2 reviews

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Recipe type: Starter
Cuisine: International
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
With just a few ingredients, these intensely cheesy bites can be on the table in no time. Serve them as an appetizer or a snack with a cold beer or glass of wine.
Ingredients
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 8 oz sharp, good quality cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp mustard powder (optional)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ cup all-purpose flour
Instructions
  1. Combine butter, egg, cheese, salt, red pepper flakes, mustard powder, and black pepper in a bowl of a stand mixer (as I still do not have, but covet, a stand mixer, I placed the ingredients in a large bowl and used my loyal hand-held mixer).
  2. Pulse until it all comes together.
  3. Add flour and pulse some more, to combine.
  4. Place the dough on the cutting board lined with plastic wrap and shape into a log approximately1½ inch in diameter.
  5. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and place in the refridgerator for a few hours (if you are short on time, as I usually am, you can place it in the freezer for 20 minutes).
  6. Preheat the oven to 350F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Cut ¼-thick circles from the log and place them on cookie sheets, leaving about 1 inch space in between.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and crispy, switching cookie sheets after 8-9 minutes.
  9. Let the crackers cool completely on the sheets before you take them out to a platter.
  10. Makes 24-30 crackers, depending on thickness.

 

Jan 192013
 

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

We did not have Super Bowl in Serbia and the phenomenon of preparing special foods for that day was a novel one. But eager to socialize with people who loved to cook and eat, I frequently joined my friends with excitement, even though I still did not understand the rules of American football and have not watched one single game in its entirety.

The major games in soccer, the ones that decide the winner of the national league or the world champion are watched sitting on the edge of the couch, falling down on your knees, jumping, pulling your hair, stomping your feet, howling, screaming, and eating your nails, oblivious to any victuals surrounding you. I delighted in preparing a menu for a day of sports, comforted in the thought that there will be others like me, there for friends, fun, and nibbles, rather than to feverishly follow the mystical dance by men in helmets.

Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

No one counted calories at Super Bowl parties and the tables were piled high with cheesy dips, spreads, and dressings, potato skins and stuffed jalapeños, chips and crackers, fried mozzarella sticks, crispy Nachos and tight spring rolls. And at every party the pièce de résistance was a platter of gloriously glistening chicken wings, an homage to the meat gods in the shape of finger food.

I have not eaten my share of chicken wings when I was a child, as my preferred piece was white meat. No one else staked a claim on chicken breast and it made me infinitely happy not to have to share with my siblings. Only in my adult years did I understand that everyone else in the family enjoyed much more flavorful morsels all those years, while I gloated over a big chunk of bland and dry food.

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

My parents fought over the chicken wings and I never understood the attraction. But when I arrived to the U.S. and tried Buffalo wings for the first time, I had to reconsider. I am not a gnawer and prefer a cut I could get to using utensils, but I discovered how good it feels to sink my teeth between the bones and suck the tiny fibers of muscle covered with spicy Red Hot Sauce and butter. Almost overnight I became a convert, not only in my love of chicken wings, but blue cheese as well.

Over the years I tried many incarnations of the ubiquitous bar food and I love them all. I have even introduced my Serbian relatives and friends to them and watched in glee as they savored the piquant Buffalo or smoky and sweet BBQ wings, their fingers sticky, their cheeks speckled with sauce.

But this year I am going back to my Serbian roots with my mother’s recipe which delighted my children and was a favorite when I was growing up. It is simple, prepared with only a few ingredients, and it can take me home faster than a Concorde. I cannot promise that we will even turn the TV on when the big game starts on Super Bowl Sunday, but you can bet there will be a few indulgent dips scattered around the living room, and a platter of sticky and crunchy Serbian chicken wings. Let the games begin!

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

BACON-FLAVORED CHICKEN WINGS

Ingredients:

  • Chicken wings (my last package contained 8 whole wings, which makes sixteen servings)
  • 2 TBSP bacon fat or home-rendered lard
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

Cut the little protruding piece from each wing and then cut through the joint to half them. Lay them out on the cutting board skin side up, and sprinkle salt and pepper on top.

Meanwhile, heat a heavy skillet on medium-high temperature. Add bacon fat or lard and heat until it sizzles. Place the chicken wings seasoned side down and sprinkle the other side with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken wings for 4-5 minutes, turn and brown the other side, for another 2-3 minutes. When the delicious brown pieces appear at the bottom of the skillet, turn the heat down to low, pour the water in (carefully, as the steam will rise up) and cover with a tightly fitting lid.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, until done. Take the lid off, turn the heat back to medium-high and simmer until the liquid evaporates and the wings become sticky. Scrape them off into a bowl and serve immediately.

(The remnants in the skillet are precious and Mother would soak them up for us with a few slices of crusty bread. But they would be perfect the next morning, turned into chicken gravy to serve with biscuits.)

Dec 182012
 

Spinach Turnovers from bibberche.com

This month I am a part of a team that promotes a cookbook written by one of our own, Faith Gorsky of An Edible Mosaic. Middle-Eastern food is like a trip home to me, and I felt a connection to Faith as she wrote about her culinary experiences after she married a Syrian man and embarked on a trip to learn how to cook his favorite dishes from Sahar, her mother-in-law (as a linguist, I could not pass this one – sahar translates into sugar:)

The culinary world is sometimes like a game of Telephone that we used to play at grade school, before the birthday parties moved forward to embrace slow-dancing. A dish travels along the meridians and changes slightly with each turn, only to become something different every hundred or so kilometers. Every region adds its own flair, adopts it, and claims it with passion; and each incarnation is a story in itself, of the people, the land, the culture, and the history that brought it all together.

When I opened Faith’s book An Edible Mosaic, I felt as if I were visiting distant relatives. I felt comfortable, at home, but still minding my manners and observing keenly from a side table. Most dishes were like beacons that pulled me back to my childhood and foods I enjoyed in Mother’s and Njanja’s kitchen. But there were variables thrown in the mix that intrigued me and made me shift focus for a bit.

We have many dishes featuring dough and spinach in the Balkans. But instead of farmers’ cheese, eggs, and phyllo dough, this recipe asks for yeasted dough, sumac, sauteed onions, lemon juice, and cumin/coriander spice mix. I am lucky to have two Persian stores a few blocks away and cumin and coriander are a staple in my house. I tasted sumac for the first time when I visited my oldest daughter in Berkeley and ate at an Afghani restaurant. I could not wait to try a recipe that asked for it. And I was not disappointed.

An Edible Mosaic

Here is what Faith has to say about Spinach Turnovers:

During my time in Damascus, one of my favorite meals was my mother-in-law’s Spinach Turnovers. She and I would go to the market to pick up fresh spinach along with any other ingredients that were needed, and then she’d make the filling when we got home. After that, one of her sons was sent to the communal oven where the baker stuffed the family’s filling into his dough, and then baked the turnovers. Done this way, the family pays for the baker’s dough and goes home with freshly made treats.

The communal ovens were such a novel idea to me; they are remnants leftover from a time when very few homes had ovens of their own. Despite the fact that this is no longer the case in Damascus, the tradition has endured.

I really love the pleasantly tart flavor of these turnovers, which comes from both sumac and lemon juice. Paired with plain yogurt, they are a completely satisfying vegetarian meal.

Faith Gorsky, Author of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair 

This virtual potluck is like a mix-and-match menu, a prix fixe if you want, letting you sample appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Just say Open, Sesame, and the world of culinary wonders will be yours. Thank you, Casey from Kitchen Play for getting this group together and opening our horizons!

SPINACH TURNOVERS (Fatayer Bil Sabanekh):

Preparation Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Yields about: 25-35 turnovers

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch Savory Flat Pie Dough (recipe to follow)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as necessary for the spinach
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 lb (500 g) spinach
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Olive oil to oil the baking sheets, countertop, and tops of the turnovers
  • Fresh lemon wedges (optional, for serving)

 Directions:

  1. Prepare Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough
  2. 2. Heat both the oils in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion and saute until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the sumac.
  3. 3. Chop the spinach and remove any large stems; add it to a large pot with 2 cups (500ml) of water. Cover the pot and cook over high heat until just wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it sit until the spinach is cool enough to handle, and then wring the cheesecloth to remove the excess water.
  4. Combine the onion/sumac mixture, drained spinach, lemon juice, salt, coriander, cumin, and black pepper in a large bowl. The spinach should look slightly glossy; if it doesn’t, stir in more canola oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does. Be careful not to add too much. Taste the spinach; it should taste like a well-seasoned salad; if it doesn’t, adjust seasonings (such as lemon juice, salt, pepper, and other spices accordingly).
  5. Preheat oven to 400F (200C) and lightly brush 2 large baking sheets with olive oil (alternatively, you can line them with parchment paper or silpat liners).
  6. Gently deflate the dough, then divide into 2 equal pieces and shape the pieces into balls; put the balls back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly brush olive oil onto your countertop (or whatever surface you want to use to roll out the dough).
  7. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time and use your hands to gently stretch it out, then use the rolling pin to roll it out to a circle about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. Stamp out circles 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter with a round cookie cutter. Scoop about ½ tablespoon of spinach filling onto the center of each piece of dough. Repeat this process with the remaining ball of dough. Gather the dough scraps into a ball, roll it out, and fill only re-roll the scraps once to prevent the dough from toughening).
  8. To form the turnovers, fold the dough along line 1-2 up and over onto the center, then do the same for the dough along line 2-3, and finally for line 1-3; pinch the dough together at the seams to seal it. (Alternatively, you can shape them into little pyramids: pull up lines 1-3 and 2-3 and pinch them together to form a seam, then pull up line 1-2 and pinch it together along the sides of the seam you just made to form the two remaining sides.)
  9. Line up the turnovers (seam side up) about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets and brush a little oil on top of each. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through cooking. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Spinach Turnovers from bibberche.com
Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough 

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 11/4 teaspoons of fine salt
  • ¾ cups (185ml) milk at room temperature

 Directions:

  1. Brush ½ tablespoons of oil on the inside of a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix together the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients, and then stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Gradually stir in enough milk to form shaggy dough (you may not need all the milk).
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes; the dough is done being kneaded when you press your finger into it and the indentation remains.
  5. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl and roll it gently to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and let sit until doubled in  size, about 1 ½ hours.
I am so happy to be a part of this group of very talented bloggers who have passion for immersing themselves into new cultures and facing the challenges of new culinary pursuits.
Falafel from Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
Coconut Semolina Cake from Stephanie of 52 Kitchen Adventures
Date-Filled Cookies from Jennifer of Savory Simple

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are my own. I have received a free review copy of the book from the publisher.

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. While Kitchen PLAY will receive a small fee for each sale of An Edible Mosaic made through this link, the link has been utilized solely for tracking purposes. We want to better understand how a program like the Cookbook Tour can positively impact cookbook sales. All proceeds from this specific affiliate link will be donated to Share Our Strength.)

Oct 092012
 

Classic American Egg Salad from bibberche.com

This month’s Recipe Swap, started by Christianna Rheinhard of Burwell General Store, features a Russian Salad, a side dish very close to my homesick Serbian heart. When I was growing up, you did not dare invite people over for a dinner or a celebration in the Fall or Winter without offering an immense bowl filled with Russian salad (it goes without saying that a roasted suckling pig would have been the centerpiece of the table, no matter what).

Mother always made mayonnaise from scratch and enlisted our help in dicing the other ingredients, which had to be cut into the equally-sized tiny cubes. She would cook them all separately: the eggs, the carrots, the potatoes, and the chicken breast. Frozen peas were blanched for a minute or two and added in the end, along with ham and pickles. No herring, onions, or beats in the Serbian version. To this day, I welcome in every new Year with a bowl of this nostalgic condiment, and the taste reminds me of every single December I spent in my parents’ house.

I was tempted to make the Serbian-Russian salad, but for me it needs a special date, a celebration, or someone’s birthday. My College Critter is not home bound until November, when our first birthday celebrations start. As she is mildly obsessed with all things Russian, due more to her choice of a major than to her Ukrainian boyfriend, I am sure that she will insist on making the Capitol or French salad (as the Russians call our ubiquitous Russian salad) for her twenty-first birthday.

October Recipe Swap from bibberche.com

Meanwhile, prompted by a wish from my elderly neighbor, I made a simple egg salad that my girls crave, and that they will be happy to find in their brown bag school lunches.

As I pride myself on being organized (which mainly means that I dread getting up too early in the morning to prepare their lunches) I boiled the eggs in the afternoon and allowed them to cool off before peeling them. I made mayo from scratch, as I dutifully do once a week. At night I diced onions, celery, pickles, and eggs, and made the salad with an additional pinch of salt and a grind or two of black pepper. The covered bowl went into the fridge overnight to meld the flavors together.

I am the last one in the house to go to bed and the first to get up. But I am a night owl and much sharper at the wee hours of the night then early in the morning. Therefore, before I leave the kitchen for the night, I fill two small water bottles and place them in the fridge. I lay lunch paper bags on the counter, along with a Sharpie and a stapler. I pick two pieces of fruit from the fruit bowl and place them next to the bags. And if need be, I write myself a note as a reminder, just to make my mornings less stressful and more manageable.

As my Turkish coffee cools off, I try to get in step with this syncopated morning dance, moving from the stove to the counter and back, preparing the breakfast and packing the lunch, satisfied only when the bags are stapled and clearly marked (with a carb count clearly written on Zoe’s bag), and the girls are perching on the stools along the counter, ready to attack the plates laden with food in front of them.

Come December, I will make a traditional Russian salad and post a recipe for it. But for now, I offer a classic egg salad that my girls and I learned to love, a dish almost scorned and abandoned by many, just like my beloved Serbian-Russian salad.

Classic American Egg Salad from bibberche.com

This open-faced beauty was my lunch

CLASSIC AMERICAN EGG SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 5 boiled eggs, diced
  • 2 small pickles, diced
  • ½ yellow or white onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ½ cup mayonnaise, store-bought or homemade
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Place eggs, pickles, onions, and celery into a bowl. Add mayonnaise, and stir to combine. Season to taste and serve.

Oct 072012
 

Goat Cheese Tart from bibberche.com

My sister has a hyper-sensitive nose. She makes a face when she spies a wedge of pecorino Romano and she can identify the tiniest amounts of any goat product, no matter how fresh and pristine. “It smells like a musk ox!”, she would yell and that became our war cry, a kind of a goat radar, even though no one we are even acquainted with has come in contact with a musk ox.

Father’s neighbor at the ranch above our town in Serbia has a small herd of goats that she takes for a walk along the dirt road, allowing them to enjoy the overgrown hedges and brambles that flank it, while she walks slowly behind them, her knitting needles clacking and crisscrossing, a ball of yarn clasped firmly between her arm and her ribs. When she milks the goats in the morning, she fills white, reused one-liter plastic bottles with still frothy milk, loads them in canvas bags and dispatches her children on bikes to make rounds. The milk she gets at dusk she uses to make cheese the next day.

Father is one of her regular customers when we are in Serbia and my children have learned to enjoy the exotic, grassy taste of goat products. From time to time I even manage to persuade my sister to take a bite of young, lightly salted, unripened milky-white goat cheese cut in squares and laid in neat rows in a plastic box, or a few crumbs of older, yellow and drier cheese that spent some time developing its mature aroma. But she inevitably scrunches her face after a faintest whiff of goatness, and we all cry out in unison, “It smells like a musk ox!”

Goat Cheese Tart from bibberche.comAlmost two years ago the Internet sprinkled some fairy dust and made me stumble upon Stephanie’s beautiful blog Sale e Pepe. Her photography left me breathless and inspired me to strive for better every time I pick up my camera. When she told me that she has photographed a cookbook, I was not surprised. When she asked me if I wanted to participate in a virtual potluck to promote the cookbook, Tasia’s Table, I was ecstatic.

The author of the cookbook is Tasia Malakasis, a Southern girl of Greek origin, a fellow English major who switched gears a few years back and became a cheesemonger for her native Alabama company Belle Chevre. Most of the recipes in her book feature goat cheese in its many incarnations. Her writing is evocative and soulful, and Stephanie’s images bring forth Tasia’s enchantment with food and her desire to share it with her friends and family while tossing back a glass of red wine, laughing, and leaving all pretense behind.

My kind of cheese, my kind of girl, my kind of entertaining! The only bad thing about this endeavor was that I could not stop browsing the recipes. I wanted to make so many of them that my notebook became useless. I stopped only when I realized that I can make all these recipes in the future whenever I want. For the virtual potluck I chose an easy to prepare dish that would appeal to my girls, with ingredients that I usually have in stock: Tapenade-Olive Tart with Goat Cheese.

The puff pastry rose beautifully and the crust was rustic and imperfect in the best way possible, even though I tried really hard to make the edges even. Creamy, soft goat cheese cut the abrasive notes of capers and complemented the  flowery taste of roughly chopped green Manzanilla olives in my tapenade*, while toasted nuts tossed with fresh thyme added another subtle undertone.

Tasia, you are right: this is a simple, but lovely dish to serve on a weekday with a spring greens salad, but also perfectly suited to grace a table at an informal party, or when guests appear unexpectedly. And my sister was probably dreaming about us nine hours ahead in Germany, as we chimed, as if on cue, “It smells like a musk ox!”

*I made my own tapenade as I joined October Unprocessed started by Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules.

You can order a copy of Tasia’s Table on Tasia Malakasis’s site.

 TAPENADE-WALNUT TART WITH GOAT CHEESE

from Tasia’s Table

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 roll of store-bought puff pastry
  • 4 tablespoons prepared olive tapenade
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • ½ cup walnuts, crushed and toasted

Directions:

Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle about 8 x 12 inches.

Roll up the sides slightly and prick the bottom with a fork.

Cook for 10 minutes at 400 degrees on a nonstick baking sheet.

Remove from oven and cool.

Spread the tapenade on the cooked pastry.

Sprinkle with thyme and walnuts, and cover evenly with goat cheese.

Bake for 15–20 minutes at 400 degrees, until the cheese has melted and started to brown on top.

Goat Cheese Tart from bibberche.com

Tasia is offering a free signed copy of her book to one lucky winner. Simply leave a comment below and feel free to tweet out this contest using the handle @Bibberche and @BelleChevre, and the hashtag #tasiastable. I will leave this giveaway open until Saturday, October 13th, to give Tasia some time to pick a winner.

Several other bloggers are participating in this virtual potluck. I listed their blogs so you can visit them as well and enter again. Each of these bloggers will pick one response and send it to Tasia. She will then choose the winner and send them an autographed copy of Tasia’s Table. Good Luck!

The comments are the official entry, there is no purchase necessary, void where prohibited. US mailing addresses only. One (1) winner will be chosen randomly. Prize will be shipped by Belle Chevre. The contest ends Sunday, October 14th, 2012 at 11:59 pm Eastern time. The winner will be announced on Monday, October 15th, via email and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. Disclaimer: I received a signed copy of Tasia’s Table and no other compensation. Opinions and photography are my own.

Jun 262012
 

Corn Chowder from bibberche.com

When I was four months old, our family friend and one of the towns best pediatricians, Dr. Herzog, asked Mother if she had fed me meat yet. As I was her first, we used each other as guinea pigs and she struggled to find the proper balance of foods that would satisfy my voracious appetite as the supply of breast milk was very unpredictable. Every Aunt, grandmother, and neighbor took it as a God-given right to offer this new mother a piece of mostly contradictory advice, leaving her buried under a mountain made up of old wives’ tales and most modern views that annulled each other.

She avoided honey, eggs, and strawberries to fend off potential allergies, mixed cow milk with water once her milk just refused to come out, placed a few seeds of carraway to lessen the stomach cramps, and mashed potatoes, pumpkin, and peas with a fork to feed it to my decidedly finicky and wide-open mouth. But meat? For a four month old whose gums were still void of even the smallest white protrusions seemed dangerous and too invasive. But Dr. Herzog had over thirty years of experience in assuaging fears of brand new mothers and his mild-mannered, but authoritative approach convinced her to try his recipe.

She made a vegetable and veal broth, simmered it until everything was very soft, strained it, smashed the veggies and discarded the meat strands which toughened in the poaching liquid. All the essence of the veal, he assured her, would remain in that broth. She fed it to me with a spoon, apprehensive, prepared to stop and take me to the emergency room at the first sign of trouble. But as I ruminated contentedly, she relaxed, which rarely happens to mothers with their firstborns.

When my oldest daughter was born, the economic sanctions imposed on Serbia were getting worse and worse and baby supplies were hit the hardest. No formula, no diapers, no baby creams, and definitely no jarred baby food. My sister brought anything she could think of every time she visited from Germany, and my little baby smelled sweetly of Bübchen and Nivea baby soaps and lotions, had a stash of disposable diapers when we ventured out for visits, and gulped down Enfamil with the addictive need of a seasoned drunkard as my milk supply was not even close to being adequate.

Mother and I pureed and mashed vegetables and fruits, and prepared flavorful meat broths as my baby-girl kept on getting bigger and stronger. When I moved back to Michigan, my ex-mother-in-law gave me a Mullinex hand blender, which was the best present I could have received. I made soups and stews, compotes and fruity desserts, and blended them all into colorful pulps that I froze in ice trays, labeled and color-coordinated, of course.

For two more babies this process was repeated, and anything the adults ate, they ate, too, fortunately too inexperienced and oblivious to frown upon mushy stuff in various shades of browns and greys. As they grew up, from time to time they inevitably developed a strong distaste for peas, or broccoli, or green beans, or eggplant, but my hand blender solved everything, rendering hearty vegetable soups into velvety smooth cream soups that I would garnish with spiderwebs or heart garlands of plain yogurt.

One of our food blogging friends, Shelley from Franish Nonspeaker is expecting a brand new baby Ruby in August, and my dear Ilke gathered a few of us to throw her a virtual baby-shower and give her ideas for simple, nutritious, easy to prepare and fast meals that would make her first months just a little bit less hectic (if that is at all possible).

I knew that I would make a soup that can fit all of those categories with hope that she will receive a hand blender at one of her real baby showers, which would miraculously convert it into several healthy servings of baby food.

Shelley, I wish you enjoy these last two months, even though they will be  riddled with anticipation and impatience, aggravated by the summer heat and humidity, and probably filled with doubt that your body will ever return to its before-Ruby shape. Trust me, it all changes the moment you hold that wrinkled, most beautiful creature in your arms for the first time.

Good luck!

CORN CHOWDER

I cannot wait for sweet, tender summer corn to use for this hearty, flavorful, but healthy and easy to prepare soup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 strip of bacon, diced (you can use bacon fat, or skip it altogether and use 1 Tbsp butter, to make it vegetarian)
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1/3 big red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric (it does not change the taste, but adds a bit of color to the soup)
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
    1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (home-made, but if store-bought preferably low sodium)
  • 3 ears of corn (about 1 ½ cups), shucked (you can use frozen corn, or already leftover cooked corn)
  • 1 big Yukon Gold potato (I used three baby Yukon Golds), diced

Directions:

Heat a heavy 3-quart soup pot or Dutch oven on medium heat and add diced bacon. When there is about 1 tablespoon of rendered fat, add onions, celery, carrot, and red bell pepper, and sautee for 6-7 minutes until all the vegetables are soft and somewhat translucent. Add chopped garlic, salt, and pepper, and stir for another minute. Mix in flour until evenly distributed and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add milk and water and whisk to blend every bit off the bottom of the pot. Stir from time to time, as the soup might scorch as it thickens. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add corn and potatoes and continue simmering until the potatoes are done. Adjust the seasonings to taste and serve for lunch, or an easy and fast weekday meal with a loaf of crusty bread.

For a cream soup, just whir it with the hand blender or regular blender until it’s completely smooth. If it is too thick, add some more liquid, milk or water, until desired consistency.

Freeze the leftovers in a plastic container or a Ziploc bag, labeled and dated. To serve, place still frozen soup into a pot, add ½ cup of water and heat it on medium-low heat, stirring often.

Here are the other bloggers who are coming to the shower. I hope you stop by and say “Hi” during this week :)

Ilke from Ilke’s Kitchen

Anna from Keep It Luce  

Carrie from Bakeaholic Mama

Christina from Girl Gone Grits

Elaine from   California Living  

Esra from Irmik Hanim

Jennie from Pastry Chef Online

Jennifer from Scissors and Spatulas

Lisa from Lisa Is Cooking

Renee from Sweet Sugar Bean

Robin from A Chow Life

Sarah from Snippets of Thyme

Jun 132012
 

Zeljanica from bibberche.com

Mother firmly believed that each member of the family should contribute to the household chores. While she attacked the majority of the monotonous, routine, everyday tasks by herself, she assigned cameo roles to all of us. Father was in charge of lugging home huge sacks of flour and sugar, cartons of oil, and flats of eggs (the “lugging” part was mostly done in his Fiat 1300, later Renault 4 – only in the past few years have I seen him reluctantly leaving his beloved car in front the house and actually walking to the store or the post office).

Beet Greens from bibberche.comHis duties also included procuring vast amounts of animal protein. Nothing can send Serbian adults off to sleep with a smile on their lips better than two box-freezers filled with neatly stacked packages of meat. At any time, we had half of a young cow, a couple of pigs, twenty or so chickens, and a few turkeys chilling out in our deluxe, climate controlled animal sanctuary. Occasionally in spring, a lamb would appear in the yard, tethered to the metal frame of the rectangular carpet-beating contraption which adorns every Serbian yard. We knew better than to love him, pet him, squeeze him, and call him George. The hunting expeditions provided pheasant, quail, and rabbits. Friends going fishing would drop some extra wild trout for Fridays’ lent. No, we did not lack in the meat department.

As for us kids, our duties were light, although we certainly envisioned ourselves as modern-time Cinderellas, having to clean our room, set and clear the table, and the most abominable of all, shine Father’s shoes (we would form an assembly line where one of us scrubbed the dirt off with a bristley hard brush, the next spread the shoe polish with a small, soft brush – and, yes, there was one for black, and one for the brown shoes – and the last polished to a mirror-like shine).

In addition, as each of us turned four, our chores included shopping. There were no heavy trafficked streets to cross, and the store phyllo dough from bibberche.comwhere we bought a loaf of freshly baked bread and a glass bottle of yogurt was just around the corner from the house. Crossing our street and turning around the other corner, would take us to the kiosk which sold newspapers. With only our eyes visible above the display, we would ask for the Ekspres Politika for Deda-Ljubo, and make our way home, dragging the canvas bag with the leather handles, trying not to break the glass nor squish the bread. Drudgery, I am telling you!

After we started school and became experienced walkers and street-crossers, we would be entrusted with buying the phyllo dough. Two Albanian brothers made, stretched, and sold the dough in a store the size of a telephone booth right across the embankment that protected our town from floods. While I abhorred shopping for bread, yogurt, and newspapers, I could not wait to visit the Phyllo-men, as we called them. Inside the little stall it was always warm, and the smell of the dough was intoxicating. Peppered with flour, dressed in immaculate white shirt, pants, and apron, one of the brothers would smile and offer us a torn piece of the raw dough to munch on while he wrapped in cellophane 500gr of the thin baklava phyllo, or one kilogram of the slightly thicker (if you can even call phyllo thick) dough for various “pitas” (cheese, meat, sorrel, or spinach). I would linger, resisting leaving the cozy and comforting cocoon, only to be whipped by the cruel north winds of late November, or greeted by the steady murmur of raindrops pelting me fromrainbow swiss chard from bibberche.com a lead-grey sky.

I was already living in the U.S. when Mother told me the Phyllo-men had left the town during the ugly wars that forever changed the map of South-Eastern Europe. Every time I go back, I look at the spot across the embankment, hoping to steal a glimpse of those flour-covered arms tossing the sheets of phyllo in the air, or catch the scent of fresh dough carried on a random tendril of the wind.

There are other people making phyllo in our town. They make it using machines and sell it at the supermarkets. The sheets are uniform and too regular, wrapped in commercially sealed plastic. Until last summer, Mother still made baklavas, and pitas, and bureks, and strudels, but gone is the warmth and the smell of the tiny kiosk. Gone is the love that our Albanian neighbors poured into the dough with their skilled hands, rendering something no machine can offer.

Beet Greens from bibberche.comNot too long ago my friend Dorothy from Shockingly Delicious asked me if I would like a box of produce from Cut ‘n Clean Greens . I buy spinach in bulk and raid my friend’s garden for Swiss chard a few times a week, so it did not take a lot of arm-twisting to for me to say yes. The UPS guy showed up at my door with a huge box containing everything from organic kale to spinach, to beet greens, to Swiss Chard, and all the combinations imaginable. Even though I have to admit to being a food hoarder, I was overwhelmed at the amount of leafy green vegetables that camped in my fridge and immediately started thinking of various ways to use them.

One of the first things that came to mind was a strudel. In the Balkans, we make it with sorrel or spinach, but I knew that beet greens or chard would be equally delicious. I went to our local Persian store and returned  with commercially made phyllo dough neatly wrapped in plastic, square and perfectly uniform as only a machine can render. Like Mother, I will have to put some extra love into the strudel, hoping to compensate for what those skilled, Albanian hands could do that machines never will.

zeljanica from bibberche.com

zeljanica from bibberche.com

zeljanica from bibberche.com

zeljanica from bibberche.com

PHYLLO DOUGH AND GREENS STRUDEL (ZELJANICA)

I have changed the ingredients from the original recipe as “kajmak” is not available in the U.S. Cream cheese and sour cream make up for it adequately, if not ideally. Also, in the Balkans, this dish is called “pita” or “burek”, depending who you talk to. But whatever you call it, it’s a delightful light dinner or supper, accompanied best by a glass of cold milk, Balkan-style yogurt, or a frosty mug of beer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb fresh spinach, sorrel, beet greens, or chard
  • 3 large eggs
  • 8 oz cottage cheese or a combination of cottage cheese and crumbled feta
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 lb (500gr) phyllo dough
  • ¼ cup sunflower oil
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions:

A day ahead defrost your phyllo dough in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Lightly grease a 13×9 pan with sunflower or vegetable oil.

Mix the oil and water in a small bowl.

Heat a large pot filled with water over high heat. When it boils, add your greens and blanch for 1 minute, until wilted and vibrant green. Remove immediately to a strainer (positioned above another pot) and let cool. When sufficiently cool, squeeze the excess liquid and cut into smaller pieces.

Place the greens into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, except for the phyllo dough, oil, and water. Mix to combine. Lay one sheet of dough to cover the bottom of the pan with the other half hanging over the edge. Place another sheet on the top with the other half hanging over the other edge. Sprinkle with the oil and water mix.

Lightly scrunch up a sheet of dough and place on one side of the pan. Scoop a few tablespoons of filling on top. Repeat for two more sheets, scrunching and adding the filling. Sprinkle with some oil/water mix. Continue laying the scrunched sheets until they are all gone. Cover with the overlapping pieces of phyllo and sprinkle with the remaining oil and water.

Place in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Remove and let cool in the pan. Cut into squares and serve with cold milk, plain yogurt, or beer.

A year ago: Shrimp and Scallops Creole

May 212012
 

Hummus from bibberche.com

As a child I quieted my nomadic spirit by immersing myself in books and traveling vicariously through various lands and various times. I could not accept the static of my life and hoped that some genius would invent a time machine and liberate me from the shackles of my existence. I was a sensitive child, easily seduced by a mere trace of romanticism and adventure, and I followed hundreds of fictional characters throughout their escapades all over the globe and beyond, sometimes as an observer and sometimes as a vicarious participant.

On Friday mornings I would run around the corner to the closest newspaper kiosk to grab one of the first issues of Politikin Zabavnik, the best children’s magazine of all time. They would frequently feature illustrations of boys and girls dressed in ethnic costumes with bubbles above their heads teaching you how to count in the language of that particular country. As I had already fallen in love with the languages, by the time I was in fifth grade I knew how to count to ten in dozens of them.

The next obvious gateway into the world was music. I have attended music school along with the regular elementary school, and studied the theory of music, as well as piano. Listening to the great composers transported me instantly far away from the wooden desks that bore the words carved by hundreds of little hands before me. I walked the clean streets of Vienna with Mozart, shivered in the cold wind of the steppes with Tchaikovsky, rode the unsaddled Gypsy horses with Brahms, and followed a graceful swan around its lake with Saint-Saëns.

Listening to popular music brought me closer to my international peers, and I spent interminable hours taping songs in English, Italian, French, and Spanish from the radio and trying to catch the lyrics, which I would learn by heart and sing again and again throughout the day. No one around me knew any better, and only my older self shudder much later at the gibberish I tried to pass on as the actual songs.

Around the time I was twelve, I started traveling abroad and for the first time experienced life in a foreign country. That summer I spent two wonderful weeks with my grandmother Njanja and a group of Serbian tourist on a Russian sleeping car with a giant samovar* and an elegant dining car. We visited Kiev, Moscow, and Leningrad, and as much as I loved the dense, dark bread and yellow curlicues of butter, I detested all three types of caviar they served at every meal at every hotel that housed us. I also blushed every time I saw a young, rosy-cheeked Russian soldier from the window of our tour bus, imagining that he smiled at me.

We took a road trip with another family entering Romania at its most northern point and driving south all the way to the Black Sea. That was the year I saw “Jaws”, and nothing in the world could make me step into the water deeper than my knees. We continued on to Bulgaria along the sea coast, spent a night in Sophia where my sister and my friend drank the distilled water from the plastic inserts that my parents froze to keep the food cold in the coolers and where I had one of the worst earaches in my life.

I went to Austria with my choir, and when we read “The Third Man”  and saw the movie a few years later in college, I brought back the memories from the Prater, feeling the wind in my face as Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles rode the big wheel. I don’t remember what we ate, but I remember the smell of burned human flesh from the crematoria in Mauthausen concentration camp that still lingered in the air after more than forty years.

I spent a day in Hungary with my Aunt and cousin from Vojvodina and ate a marvelously spicy beef stew in a restaurant nestled in an old-fashioned windmill right out of Don Quixote. I spent a month visiting another Aunt and Uncle who lived on the border of Germany, France, and Switzerland, taking care of their small children while they worked and practicing my rudimentary German with shopkeepers in their little town. One of their friends was a train hostess and on a weekend, she took me along on one of their trips north along the East German border, past Hamburg and onto the island of Sylt. As much as I enjoyed the trip, I felt as if I were at the end of the world on the small island surrounded by icy waters of the North Sea.

My curious mind and nomadic feet keep me moving to this day. Visiting different locales and learning about the people and their culture is still one of my biggest passions. But life somehow intervened and made me work around three kids, very limited finances, and even less free time. I packed my bags and boarded a plane several times, but my adventures became virtual and vicarious more and more. Living in the U.S. allowed me to reach beyond the borders and experience the world through food, and even though I know it is not the same, I embrace the opportunity and take advantage of my circumstances.

I want my girls to look beyond the horizon and become true citizens of the world. They are seasoned travelers whose faces break into wistful smiles when a plane flies over the car on I4o5. They hum foreign songs and download the apps for languages. They huddle over the geography atlas and quiz one another on world capitals. It makes my heart sing when they ask me to make Thai noodles, a spicy Indian curry, or a Morrocan tagine. They are adventurous and inquisitive, their young palates already developed enough to pick out nuances and identify the spices.

Through food they continue to learn and explore. They embrace the unknown and yearn to break out of their space as much as I did when I was a girl. And I want more than anything else to give them the strength to spread their wings and take on the world.

Hummus ingredients from bibberche.com

HUMMUS

A friend of mine spent a year in Tunisia with Peace Corps in the late 80s and when he came back, we spent days together while he talked and I listened, mesmerized. I would bring wine and he would make something to eat. He made me my first hummus which became a staple snack food in my family.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can garbanzo beans (you can drain and rinse them, or you can save the liquid)
  • ¼ cup tahini paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup water (or the liquid from the beans)
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp for garnish (optional)
  • ½ tsp paprika for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Place the beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, water, and salt in a blender. Puree until smooth (you may have to stir the contents a few times to mix). Pour into a bowl and garnish with olive oil and paprika. Serve with pita chips or vegetable sticks.

And just to add a bit of variety, I sometimes toss a roasted and peeled red bell pepper along the rest of the ingredients, which lends a hint of smoke and sweetness and makes the color pop.



Last year: Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo