Aug 132013
 

Chile Verde from bibberche.com

I pride myself on being an organized person who writes endless lists and plans ahead for even the smallest events. I like to know what lies ahead if I can control it, and to prepare for any predictable outcome. Yet, when it comes to cooking, I find that I often disregard the methodical and follow the path of spontaneity.

Sure, I try to plan our weekly meals ahead and adapt the menu to my working hours. There is a grocery list written on a dry-erase board attached to the fridge by a few magnets. I do my best to stick to the items on that list, but so many times I allow beautiful produce to seduce me and I return home with cheap, local, seasonal fruits and vegetables that I cannot  bear to see go to waste.

And as I have no clue what to do with them, I try to squeeze a few recipes into the planned menu, or to push a meal to a later date to accommodate my newest impulse buy. I always offer valid excuses to that whiny little voice of buyer’s remorse: the season is so short and the produce tastes the best right now; it’s cheap; it’s filled with anti-oxidants and vitamins that we all need; I’ve seen a recipe on my friend’s blog that I must make; and so on…

Chile Verde from bibberche.com

A few days following my purchase I am in a frenzied mode. I buy in bigger quantities as I carry the genes of food-hoarders. We eat very little and I rarely prepare big batches of anything but beans, which I freeze in smaller portions for those almost non-existent days when I do not feel like cooking. The challenge is always in finding several ways to use the produce before it becomes inedible, and I impose these ridiculous rules on myself as I cannot stand throwing food away.

I have so many ideas and if the life did not intervene every single time, I would have an idyllic existence, filled with me flitting from one part of the kitchen to another, dashing outside to clip a sprig of an herb, and feeding errant birds crumbs from the third version of a recipe I prepared in an attempt to find perfection. But, that is not my life, no matter how many mornings I get up at dawn and how many nights I turn the lights off at the wee hours.

Chile Verde from bibberche.com

Several days ago I received a box from Melissa’s Produce packed with amazing-looking, fresh, Hatch chiles which are in season for a few very short weeks in August and September. It wasn’t an impulse buy, but it was an impulsive and very enthusiastic affirmative reply to an email. After an initial happy dance (cardboard boxes full of food seem to inspire in me some of the most embarrassing expressions of happiness), I had to make a master plan, as there were way too many chiles for immediate consumption.

I have to report that I am extremely satisfied with my creative process. Barely a week later, all the chiles are accounted for. I roasted them, peeled them, and separated them; some were sequestered in Ziploc bags in the freezer, and some became a part of our daily menu. I added them to my home-made mayonnaise for a spread for hamburgers; I chopped them along with tomatillos, eggplant, and onions for a Mediterranean relish my grandmother Njanja used to make; I used them sparingly in quesadillas.

Chile Verde from bibberche.com

But they really shined in Chile Verde with Pork, a slow-simmered stew imbued with different layers of flavor, which made me wonder if my Serbian ancestors ever crossed paths with my new Mexican neighbors, as our common love of peppers, onions, and beans is evident. I reached into my mother’s treasure of recipes for the basics, and browsed the Internet for the details of preparation. I chose to roast all my vegetables, not only peppers, and I was pleased with their rich, smoky undertones.

This dish tasted oddly familiar, even though I have never had it before. The girls were away at camp, and I was the only one at the dinner table. OK, I am fibbing: I ate two bowls of chile verde and rice curled up on the lower bunk of their bed, reading a Murakami book, trying to drown the voices in my head and their incessant “what ifs”. It worked for a while, which is enough.

I felt relieved after the pile of chiles disappeared, but a few hours later I was planning an expedition to a neighboring grocery store where red peppers were 4 for $1.00 and plums .68c per pound. Will someone, please, organize an intervention?

Chile Verde from bibberche.com

Chile Verde
5.0 from 2 reviews

Print

Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Roasting vegetables adds flavor and depth to the finished dish and it’s worth it. Serve with plain rice, corn tortillas, and a cold Pacifico.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Marinade:
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 TBSP freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Vegetables:
  • 1 lb tomatillos, husked and washed
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 Hatch chiles, mild or hot
  • Stew:
  • 2 TBSP lard or bacon grease (you can use any grease/oil you like – I just prefer lard:)
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 bunch cilantro stems
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
Instructions
  1. Place the pork in a large, non-reactive bowl.
  2. Mix all the ingredients for marinade and rub into meat,
  3. Let marinate for 30-60 minutes,
  4. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400F.
  5. Place the vegetables on a rimmed cookie sheet.
  6. Roast for 40-45 minutes, until slightly charred and soft.
  7. Remove from oven and let the vegetables cool a bit.
  8. Peel tomatillos if burned.
  9. Pell and de-stem peppers.
  10. Chop or vegetables in small dice.
  11. Heat a Dutch oven on medium-high temperature.
  12. Add lard.
  13. When it starts to sizzle, add pork.
  14. Brown on all sides and remove to a plate.
  15. Pour all chopped roasted vegetables in the Dutch oven.
  16. Stir for 1 minute.
  17. Add the pork, chicken stock, cilantro stems, and oregano.
  18. Heat until it boils.
  19. Turn the heat down and simmer for 1 hour, until the pork is tender and stew has thickened.
  20. If necessary, add some more stock.
  21. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  22. Serve with rice and corn tortillas.

 

Jan 222013
 
Lenti Bulgur Pilaf from bibberche.com

Photo by my 3G iPhone. No comment.

I have always wondered how celebrity chefs on TV manage to pull off their seemingly easy cooking demonstrations, having to consider the time and space limitations, the necessity to show technique, the need for banter and entertaining talk, and the intimidating presence of non-forgiving video cameras.

I am an oldest child and I embrace challenges. Or, as my sister would put it, I tend to pick ways to make my life harder. I played with the idea of making a video of myself preparing a dish I am truly comfortable with, only to satiate my curiosity and explore another terra incognita. Recently I decided to put that momentous event off until much later, convinced that it really would make my life much harder. And these days I want to invoke my inner Milan Kundera and experience my own Unbearable Lightness of Being. No need to stress, over-exert, or worry. I had more than my share of those in the past several months, thank you very much.

A while ago I enthusiastically answered an email from Casey Benedict of Kitchen Play and signed up for the Cookbook Tour with five other food bloggers. Supporting Faith Gorsky, a fellow writer and a newly-hatched cookbook author came naturally. Her book An Eddible Mosaic is gorgeous, the dishes from her Syrian mother-in-law invite me back home to Serbia, and every time I open it, I feel as if I were visiting an old friend.

An Edible Mosaic by Faith Gorsky

We invited our friends and readers to join us for a live Twitter party last weekend. All six of us were preparing the same dish, Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions, at the same time. We had one hour to gather the ingredients, cook, take photos, upload them to Twitter, and record our progress in a live Twitter stream.

Well, people who know me are aware of the fact that I am a techno-peasant. I believe that there are mean little elves who reside inside my laptop, whose only purpose in life is to sabotage and impede my technological efforts. But not only was I armed with my iPhone, I recruited my oldest daughter who was on her winter break from UC Berkeley. She poo-poos my woes and wrestles with any techie problem with an analytical and logical approach. And together we pulled it off.

The dish came together in less than an hour, the house smelled divine, and apart from the annoying fact that my father ate all of the caramelized onions that were supposed to be the finishing touch to the dish, I felt really proud of my accomplishment: not only was I able to follow all the steps accurately to come up with a fragrant and delicious meal, I managed to take the photos of the process and tweet while doing it!

Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions from bibberche.com

Yes, we had to make another batch of caramelized onions, but we were at an advantage, as it was still early in southern California after the Twitter party ended. I made my first bulgur meal, I learned novel techniques and tips, and my whole family enjoyed this pilaf that I served with grilled Moroccan chicken.

This was enough excitement and multi-tasking for now. Shooting a video is definitely not going to happen soon. But as I learned from James Bond movies, never say never again.

I hope you get a chance to try some of the recipes from An Edible Mosaic. They are well written, comprehensible, easy to follow, and delicious. You don’t have to be an expert on Middle Eastern foods to take the plunge. And if you need some questions answered, don’t hesitate to ask me, or my friends who are participating in this book promotion.

LENTIL AND BULGUR PILAF WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

(MUJADDARA BURGHUL)

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 4 to 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 50 minutes, plus 10 minutes to let the bulgur sit after cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¹/3 cups (275 g) dried brown lentils (or 2 cans brown lentils, rinsed and drained)
  • 6 cups (1.5 liters) water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pods cardamom, cracked open
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (185 g) coarse-ground bulgur wheat
  • 1½ cups (300 ml) boiling water
  • Plain yogurt (optional, for serving)

Directions:

1. Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the rinsed lentils and the water to a boil in a lidded medium saucepan. Cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary so that they are always immersed; strain.

2. While the lentils cook, heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over moderately-high heat; add the onion and saute until completely softened but not yet browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer half the onion to a small bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the remaining onion until deep caramel in color, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water as necessary if the onion starts to get too dark. Set aside.

3. Put half a kettle of water on to boil. Transfer the sauteed onion (not the caramelized onion) to a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the bulgur and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Add the boiling water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil.

4. Give the bulgur a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the bulgur sit 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and gently stir in the lentils. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired.

5. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the caramelized onion. Serve with plain yogurt to spoon on top, if using.

 

Dec 062012
 

Serbian Creamy Chicken Soup from bibberche.com

No matter how many times I tell myself that I am a competent home cook, it takes only a well-intentioned, but misplaced comment from one of my girls to make me roll my eyes in disbelief and grind my teeth in an effort not to speak up and ruin the moment. One of those occasions involved an incarnation of a simple creamy chicken soup and my oldest daughter.

We were visiting my cousin who is married to a priest with a parish in one of the suburbs of Belgrade. For years, Mira and I have been pen-pals; we spent many summers together, playing badminton, sewing clothes for a couple of precious Barbies, and climbing hills above their house in Novi Pazar. We try to get together at least once a year if I am in Serbia, in hopes that our children will bond and friend each other on Facebook, and maybe get involved in a virtual game of badminton, if nothing else.

chicken soup vegetables from bibberche.com

vegetables for the stock (I save parsley stems)

The two of us managed to corral the six kids and deposit them around the dining-room table; I helped her carry the food from the kitchen, keeping a watchful eye on the group of unpredictable energetic girls and a token boy, the youngest of all. The first dish was a Serbian staple, a creamy chicken soup thickened with farina, eggs, milk, and a bit of flour, something we looked forward when we were growing up.

Sure, there was a picky eater in the bunch who pulled the tiny cubes of carrots to the rim of the bowl, but most of them stopped talking for a minute and surrendered to the comforting flavors of the dish and we were rewarded by a few moments of silence. I raised my girls to be respectful and kind, but I almost fell out of my chair when my oldest, Nina, who was ten at the time exuberantly chimed, “Aunt Mira, this is the best soup I have ever tasted! How did you make it?”

Pileca corbica from bibberche.com

Mira beamed, hiding her chuckle behind her hand, while I stared at my daughter with disbelief. She looked at us both utterly perplexed with childish innocence. I made that soup for her many times. So had Mother. But to her it tasted so different and so much better slurped in utmost disharmony with five other children who kept kicking one another under the table and competing in stupid jokes. The peasant fare became exotic not necessarily because Mira’s culinary achievements surpass mine (although she is a really good cook), but because she shared it with cousins she rarely sees in that welcoming kitchen with windows opening to the view of the green meadow and the parish church in those wonderfully lazy days of summer that bring promise with each sweltering moment.

Serbian Creamy Chicken Soup from bibberche.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 small or ½ big yellow onion, diced
  • a few carrots, diced
  • 2-3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced (optional, but I really like the color and the sweetness it adds)
  • 1 cup of roasted chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 1 quart of chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp farina (cream of wheat)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • ¾ cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley for garnish

Directions:

Heat the oil in a heavy soup pan on medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and bell pepper (if used), and sautee until softened, 8-10 minutes. Add chicken and stock and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Stir in farina. In a small bowl combine flour and milk and whisk until smooth. Pour into the soup and stir vigorously to break up the small bumps of flour. Cook for a couple of minutes and turn the heat off.

Mix together egg and yogurt in a small bowl. Pour a ladle of soup to temper it and stir to combine. Pour the warm mixture slowly into the soup, whisking, to avoid curdling.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley.

 

Nov 272012
 

Beef Stew with Chestnuts, Pearl Onions, and Potatoes from bibberche.com

I know I am not the only one out there experiencing fierce post-Thanksgiving blues. We dutifully ate various incarnations of the smallest turkey I could find for four days, and there is still a hefty package sequestered in the freezer and a huge pot of turkey stock cooling off on the stove. This morning at the store I closed my eyes tightly and quickened my pace as I passed the poultry section on my way to dairy products. Not even the sight of beautiful duck breast I bought at Lazy Acres Market a while ago perching on my freezer shelf seductively could make me excited.

It was time to get the animal protein that did not have feathers, and when I saw rosy fresh, halal beef at our local Persian store, I knew what I wanted to make: a beef stew with pearl onions, chestnuts, and baby Dutch potatoes. I don’t need sub-zero temperatures and ice storms to put me in the mood to braise and simmer; there was just enough chill in the air to wear long sleeves and in my book that’s as perfect as it can get for an ordinary fall day in southern California.

I opened the apartment door trying not to pay any attention to the excited shrieks of a few small children enjoying our outside pool, immersed in my autumnal reverie. I knew that was a risk as seductive aroma of sweating onions and peppers would inevitably entice every neighbor passing by to peek in. But I needed to feel that breeze, even though it did not bring on its wings the icy touch of a northern wind nor the smell of wet leaves and wood-burning fireplaces.

I don’t follow a recipe any more when I prepare these one-pot meals – call them stew, braise, carbonnade, goulash, paprikash, fricasse, or anything in between and beyond. I know what vegetables to add and how long to leave them on the stove to yield to the heat and become soft and translucent. I can sense the right moment to add just enough wine or stock when I smell the sweetness of caramelizing tomato paste. And if I add a bit too much liquid, all I have to do is leave the lid off and let it steam off and escape out through the doorway, tantalizing my neighbors even more.

Melissa's Chestnuts from bibberche.com

I am not the next Food Network Star by any means. I remember the days in my late twenties when I was convinced I did not inherited one single culinary gene from Mother and my two grandmothers. Every time I attempted to make a  one-pot meal I despaired upon seeing dark bits and pieces sticking to the bottom of my pan thinking that I burned it and ruined it forever. I had no clue that those unseemly little plies were the essence that would permeate the dish, thicken the sauce, and carry through the depth of its flavor. When Mother was behind the stove stirring, it seemed like magic, easy, effortless and smooth. I almost suspected that she omitted a step or two in the recipe she wrote in the little black book I took with me to my junior year in college.

But I became confident, not because I channeled my inner Volfgang Puck over night, but because these dishes are very forgiving and versatile. They let you experiment and play; they encourage you to be creative and build the layers of flavor with layering of the ingredients. They are going to taste slightly different every time as you vary your choices of meat, vegetables, liquids, and seasonings. The more you play, the better you’ll get. All you need to know are a few basic steps; the rest is your call.

Meat: The obvious choice is beef, something lean and not suitable for grilling, but you can opt for chicken, pork, lamb shanks, beef shanks, even ox tail. The time of the cooking the dish will vary as they all cook differently, but you are there to monitor and taste.

Vegetables: Onion is necessary; the rest is up to you and the yield of your pantry and fridge: carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, even apples, pears, or prunes (or in my case, earthy chestnuts and sweet pearl onions).

Liquids: I prefer to use wine (red for beef and lamb, white for chicken and pork) and stock, but you can use all stock, beer and stock, tomato juice and stock, or even a little cider along with the stock.

Herbs: Thyme and rosemary are my favorites, but bay leaf certainly holds its own, as well as tarragon (preferably with chicken and if there are mushrooms involved)

Carbs: Potatoes are easy, as they cook right in the stew. But you can also add barley, or homemade dumplings. You can serve it on top of buttery egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or creamy, cheesy polenta.

So go ahead and tinker, switch and swipe, be spontaneous and impulsive and enjoy the variety of the results. You will always end up with a cozy, comforting dish that will make your heart sing and melt even the imaginary snow.

BEEF STEW WITH PEARL ONIONS, CHESTNUTS, AND DUTCH BABY POTATOES

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 lb lean beef (chuck, top round, or bottom round), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper (I prefer red, orange, or yellow, as green bell peppers tend to be slightly bitter), diced
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 / 2 cups beef stock (start with 1 cup and add as needed)
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme, minced
  • 6 oz pearl onions, peeled (I used about half a bag of Melissa’s Red Pearl Onions)
  • 6 oz peeled and cooked chestnuts (I used a 6.5 oz package of Melissa’s Vacuum-Packed Chestnuts)
  • 1 lb baby Dutch potatoes (I used Melissa’s Peewee Dutch Yellow Potatoes)
  • coarse salt and pepper to taste

 Directions:

Melt butter and oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pour the flour into a plastic zip bag. Season the meat with salt and pepper and add to the bag with flour. Close the bag and shake vigorously to evenly distribute the flour.

When the butter and oil are hot, add meat and brown on all sides for 8-10 minutes. If necessary, divide the meat into two batches to avoid the overcrowding, which would prevent the meat from getting crispy on the outside. Take the beef out, lower the temperature to medium, and add onions and peppers.

Sautee for 6-8 minutes until soft and stir in the tomato paste for 1 minute. Add the wine and deglaze the bottom, making sure that you scrape all the delicious bits and pieces that stick to it.

Stir until wine evaporates, add herbs and water, raise the temperature to medium high and cook until it boils. Lower the temperature to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Add pearl onions, chestnuts, and potatoes, cover and continue cooking until the meat is fork-tender and potatoes soft and buttery, for another 30-45 minutes.Taste and adjust the seasonings. Let it rest for a few minutes and serve with a green salad, crusty country bread, and a glass of red.

Thanks, Melissa’s Produce for making this stew memorable!

Here are some more recipes from some of my favorite bloggers:

Beef Stew – Reluctant Gourmet

Bo Kho Vietnamese Beef Stew – The Ravenous Couple

Ox Tail Stew – Bibberche

Nihari/Indian Beef Stew – Rasa Malaysia

Basic Beef Stew Recipe – Food Blogga

Marha P̦rk̦lt РHungarian Beef Paprika Stew РThe Shiksa

Guiness Beef Stew – Geez Louise

Nov 022012
 

Meat-Stuffed Collard Greens / Zelene sarmice from bibberche.com

As the spring accelerated into summer, and the linden trees sent their sweet scent on the wayward wisps of a gentle breeze, we would get antsy. The days grew longer, the nights gradually lost the chill, and the smell of the warm asphalt under the noon sun sent us the message that school was almost over and the lazy days of summer were ahead.

The green market would start out shyly with bright green and crisp butter lettuces, ripe green onions, tender spinach leaves, young sweet peas, and fuschia hued radishes. The first strawberries would join the party, followed by early bing cherries, yellow, green, and purple-spotted snap beans, and pinkish tomatoes that everybody tried to avoid. The first time wild sorrel appeared at the stalls, gingerly tied in bundles, we knew that our wait was over: green sarmas were on the horizon!

Collard Greens from bibberche.com

The chopped onions were sauteed until translucent. Ground beef was stirred and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Rice was warmed up until nutty and flavorful, and then everything got a rest, to cool off and meld together. In the meantime the sorrel leaves were cleaned, and the stems cut off. They lay on the plate or a cutting board eagerly awaiting the addition of the filling, only to be rolled into tight round packages and placed in a deep pot, layer upon layer. The water came in, covering the little bundles half-way, some seemingly random, but not; a small amount of salt was added,  and the pot went on the stove for 45-60 minutes. A bit of oil was heated and some paprika added to make a roux, which went into the pot, making a sound that the word “sizzle” only begins to cover. The rolls were dished into a bowl, covered with a big dollop of yogurt and consumed with vigor, juices sopped up by fresh bread. Very few meals scream summer to me like these green rolls.

Meat-Stuffed Collard Greens / Zelene Sarmice from bibberche.com

And now my daughters vie for them, as if they grew up in Serbia. But I cannot find sorrel here. There is young spinach, and beautiful colorful chard, and curly Tuscan kale, and dark, flat collard greens, and beet greens, and mustard greens, and turnip greens. I have tried them all without succeeding in the replication of the taste of tender sorrel leaves.

This time, I could not resist a vendor at Torrance Farmers’ Market, who talked me into buying a bag full of various gorgeous looking greens giving me a discount here, a great deal there, until I surrendered my greens for his.

I made little stuffed rolls with collards, thinning the stem and blanching them for several minutes, just until they turned vivid green. Of course, everybody was lamenting the lack of tender sorrel, even though I enjoyed the toothsomeness of the collards. We managed to finish off every single little green roll vowing that the next time, it would taste even better.

Meat-Stuffed Collard Greens from bibberche.com

MEAT-STUFFED SORREL LEAVES (ZELENE SARMICE)

You can use grape leaves or collard greens instead of sorrel. If you are using sorrel, there is no need for blanching, as the leaves are very tender. But if you are using the more robust collards, you might want to thin the main vein on the back of the leaf to make them more flexible.

  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 500gr (1 lb) ground meat (beef or lamb)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup short-grained rice
  • 20 grape (collard) leaves, stemmed, and covered by boiling water for 15 minutes; if you are using sorrel, there is no need for blanching, as the leaves are very tender
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 sup of plain Greek-style yogurt

Directions:

Heat the skillet on medium heat.

Add the oil and onions.

Cook for 5-8  minutes until translucent.

Add the meat and stir until brown. Stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes, until nutty.

Season with salt and pepper.

Let the mixture cool a bit.

Lay a sorrel ( gape, collard) leaf on the cutting board and place 1-2 teaspoons of filling (depending on the size of the leaf) in the middle of the lower third.

Fold the sides over the filling and start rolling from the bottom up, until a tight roll is formed.

Place in the pot and continue rolling.

Heat the oil on moderate heat and add the paprika.

Stir for 30 seconds and pour into the pot.

Stir very carefully and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve with a big dollop of plain Greek-style yogurt.

Sep 142012
 

French Onion Soup from bibberche.com
The first time I encountered French Onion Soup was in a fine dining Italian restaurant in one of the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, where I started working as a waitress right after my extremely unsuccessful stint as a security guard at a local skiing hot spot*. I considered myself suave and sophisticated, well-traveled and well-read, a connoisseur of good food and fine libations – and what 22 year old youth from a good family does not think that?

The restaurant served different soups on different days, but not always on the same day. The CIA-educated owner and chef liked to surprise his patrons, and predictability was not his game. My arrogance crumbled when I tried to pronounce Mulligatawny Soup and remember all its ingredients. French Onion Soup was a gimme after that, and as I faked nonchalance, I scrambled the best I could to figure out its essence.

I had bowls and bowls of the soup which seduced me from the first spoonful, but I still could not replicate it at home. Every question I posed to the owner was received with a crooked grin, but I did not give up. Those were the days when I experimented with cooking, not because I loved it, but because I was stubborn and did not like to be defeated. I considered cooking one of the shackles of a modern woman, determined that I would master the skill only to hide it from anyone around me, afraid that it would glue me to the stove for eternity.

There was no Google in those days and when I visited my local library, I brought home dozens of books, none of which pertained to cooking. I observed the cooks at work and I watched PBS cooking shows for ideas and explanations. I still did not understand the processes and chemistry behind the art of cooking, and my culinary puzzle lacked a lot of pieces. But I was determined to learn, even if it entailed me relying on my senses, as I closed my eyes and envisioned the ingredients that went into this soup, or any other dish I wanted to make at home.

On the day I pulled it off, I danced around my kitchen, the first kitchen that was truly mine, the kitchen I did not have to share with anyone else, competent or incompetent. I had a pot of French onion soup simmering on my stove, the croutons were ready to meet the cheese, and the only person I had to please was myself – not that it was an easy task, but at least I knew no one was out there determined to keep me bound to that stove.

French Onion Soup from bibberche.com

The first time Father visited back in the 90s, I made it for him, knowing that he is an epicurean eager to get acquainted with new tastes. And for him, just like for me, it was love at first bite. Every time he visited I knew how to make him happy: with a bottle of Courvoisier and a bowl of French onion soup.Mother was a natural in the kitchen and I could never compete with her accomplishments. But I had to assert myself and decided to do it in a non-threatening way, by learning how to cook the dishes that she was not familiar with. French onion soup was a simple, peasant fare that elevated a few cheap ingredients to a higher level and I managed to learn how to do it without looking at a recipe card.

He usually spends a few months with us in the U.S. every year. But Mother was fading fast last fall and he could not leave her side. We contacted the Embassy, implored, and explained the circumstances, all to no avail. Father lost his green card and we will not see him this year. I made French onion soup when my sister was here, but it was all for him, a pot prepared with more tears than mere onions could extract, a pot of melancholy and nostalgia and love and hope, and a vision of the next time I am able to welcome him to my home in Southern California.

He loves the ocean and I know that he would spend hours at the beach reminiscing about his youth spent on the coast of the Adriatic. I know that I cannot replace Mother in his life, nor in mine; but I know that I can offer him a bowl of sweet French onion soup topped with crispy, cheesy croutons that will take his mind off sorrow and make him realize that life still goes on and he will never be alone.

*My parents built a chalet on one of the most beautiful Serbian mountains, Kopaonik, and the three of us, along with many of our friends and relatives spent innumerable hours on the slopes throughout the years; the mere thought of a ski “resort” built on top of a filled-in city garbage dump made me scratch my head in bewilderment, even though I had to admire the beauty of that practical solution.

Dusan, 2010, from bibberche.com

FRENCH ONION SOUP – JUST LIKE THE DOCTOR ORDERED

I have prepared this soup many, many times, using various combinations of onions: yellow, red, white, green,  even shallots and leeks. Each time the final product was a little bit different, but equally sweet with several deep layers of flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil (or any other oil of your choice)
  • 3 large onions, halved and sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white wine (a few times I used dry vermouth when I was out of wine, and it tasted great)
  • 1 quart beef (or veal) stock (I make my own, but you can certainly use store bought; just make sure that it is low-sodium); vegetable stock is an option for vegetarians and my fellow Serbs who observe the days of fasting
  • 3 slices crusty country bread, cubed*
  • 4oz Gruyere (any cheese will do, as long as it melts well), sliced thinly; for Serbian Orthodox fast, use dairy-free cheese
  • parsley for garnish

*I used to toast whole slices of country bread, but they always turned soggy and drank up all of the liquid from the soup. That’s why I decided to switch to croutons.

 Directions:

Heat a Dutch oven or a sturdy soup pot on medium-low temperature and add butter and oil. When melted, pour in all of the sliced onions. Season with salt and pepper, and sautee until golden brown and caramelized, 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the onions start to burn, add 1 Tbsp of water. After 30 minutes add garlic.

When the onions are browned, stir in flour and mix for 1 minute. Pour the wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Increase the temperature to medium-high, and add the stock. When it boils, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, preheat the oven to 350F and lightly oil a cookie sheet. Place bread cubes on it in one layer and bake until golden brown and crispy.

Increase the heat to broil.

Ladle the soup in oven-proof individual bowls, top with croutons and lay slices of cheese over them. Place the bowls on a cookie sheet and put under the broiler for 30-60 seconds, just to melt the cheese (use the oven mittens when handling the hot bowls). Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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

Dec 022011
 

mini cocotte from bibberche.com

After almost four months in Serbia, coming home to the U.S. was not an easy feat. My roots took hold and in a way it felt as if I never left, even though I have been a guest in my native country for more than twenty years. I breathed in the crisp, evening air of my town and all the Septembers and Octobers of my childhood and youth rushed to hold me, offering the comfort of the past. With every day I spent there, I felt more and more like I never left, falling comfortably in sync with with the old paths my feet established a long time ago.

When I finally plopped down on the seat in the bus to Belgrade, it felt as if someone had plucked me out of the dirt and left my wounded roots to crumble and dry. I was like a child taken away from the warmth of her mother’s lap and the security of her father’s embrace. I was returning to my own family that I missed horribly, but I was coming apart inside, clutching at all the familiar sights, sounds, and smells, unable to leave them.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

I suffered for a week the merciless consequences of jet lag, waking before dawn and getting drowsy just when the kids were finishing their homework. I felt as if I were sleepwalking through my daily routine, while I established the patterns anew and grabbed the reigns of my girls’ daily lives. It made me happy when I made the first school day breakfast and saw the excited grins on their faces, while Husband gave me the most endearing smile full of gratitude and relief. I welcomed the routine and the schedule that took my mind off Serbia for a few hours.

pots and pans

During the day, when the girls were in school and Husband at work, I took to cleaning with passion, finding therapy in menial labor. I cooked Chinese, Indian, and Thai dishes that I missed while in Europe, filling the apartment with exotic smells that transported me to lands far away from both California and Serbia. I kept all the windows and doors open to take advantage of the wonderful spurt of hot weather unusual even for our latitude, hoping to shake off the remnants of chilly continental nights in Mother’s room.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

But I would go back again and again, spurred by a Skype talk with my sister who took over when I left, a sip of strong Turkish coffee,  the touch of the scarf I bought for peanuts in one of the myriad boutiques in my town. I bruised myself daily bumping from counter to counter to the fridge in the pinball machine that we call our tiny kitchen, and cursed silently when I had to play Tetris to extract a pan from deep and dark cupboards. I missed the freedom of movement I had in Mother’s kitchen and the ease of locating anything I needed in her immaculately organized huge pantry.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

Over the years, she has accumulated a nice collection of enameled cooking pots, and while as a child I failed to grasp their appeal, I stood mesmerized this summer looking at each metal dish, banged, yellowed, and scratched from use. I wanted them all, knowing that I coveted the impossible. I guess that one day we can reserve a big container on one of the Trans-Atlantic ships and appropriate the whole lot, providing that my sister gives me her blessing.

And like a magpie that absconds with various sparkling objects, I semi-furtively packed in my suitcase a dozen items that reminded me of growing up in that house and Mother at Her strongest and healthiest. It did not surprise anyone that most of the things I smuggled out were connected with cooking. I counted on my luck when I was approaching customs, assured that my treasure would be viewed as odd at least, which would make me very suspicious.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

my loot

These four old enameled dishes live a luxurious life in my little kitchen, adored daily and used as frequently as I can justify. Their handles get hot and they don’t hold a lot, but looking at them makes me bridge the expanse of the ocean and bring Mother and my beloved house closer to California.

While I was gone, Husband went to HomeGoods and found beautiful mini cocottes for me. Moved by his thoughtfulness and inspired by their cute design, I grabbed them from their shelf and put them to work, leaving my Serbian beauties to watch from the bleachers.

BAKED EGGS WITH GRITS, BACON, CHEESE, AND SCALLIONS

This dish is very easy to put together, but cooking grits demands some time. I grew up on cornmeal and husband on grits – it’s no wonder that our girls love maize in any form, and we always have a bag or two in the pantry. If I had not brought the pots, I would have had room in my suitcases for a kilo or two of Serbian, mill-ground corn meal. But, there is always the next time.

Ingredients:

  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 1 cup of stone-ground grits or polenta
  • 4 cups of water (for creamier grits, use 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk)
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper (if black specks bother your sense of esthetics, you can use white pepper
  • 1 bunch of scallions, green parts only, diced
  • 4 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 4 eggs

Directions:

Place the bacon in a skillet and heat on medium temperature until crispy. Flip and fry the other side. Let it rest on a plate covered with a paper towel and when cooled, crumble into pieces.

Heat the water (and milk, if used) on high heat until it boils, turn the burner to low, and gradually add grits, salt, and pepper, constantly whisking for a few minutes. Let it cook for 20-30 minutes (polenta cooks faster than stone-ground grits) until creamy and thickened. Mix in the scallions.

Heat the oven to 400F.

Divide the grits between four ceramic ramekins. Sprinkle with grated cheese and crumbled bacon. Carefully break an egg into each ramekin on top of the bacon and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending if you like your eggs more runny or less.

 Baked eggs and grits with bacon, cheese, and scallions from bibberche.com

 Last year: Baby Bird Buzzes the Nest (and a recipe for Leftover Turkey Soup).

Oct 022011
 

The summer between seventh and eighth grade was the last summer when just being a child was enough. Sure, I had a huge crush on David Cassidy (which thirteen-year old girl did not in 1977?). I wrote some really bad melodramatic poetry about unrequited love for Zoran, the eighth grader with the most beautiful cornflower blue eyes and dark brown curls (my beloved did not know I existed, but if Petrarch could have pulled it off, so could I). I went to the movies with friends to watch Bruce Lee. I had a crush on him, too (which thirteen-year old girl did not in 1977?), which inspired me to start taking karate classes in the fall. That earth-shattering event brought to my attention an arrogant high-schooler working on his black belt. He immediately captured my willing heart, and made me forget all about David, Bruce, and Zoran. Not that he knew I existed.

Bruce-Lee  

I spent a month of that summer in Novi Pazar, the town of my birth (I was barely two months old when my parents moved to central Serbia, to be with Njanja* and Deda Ljubo**, Father’s mother and stepfather. Njanja’s younger brother Deda-Zhile still lived there with his family, and we often visited. His daughter Mira, by relation my Aunt, was my age, and Boba was four years older.

I was always fascinated by this town which reminded me of Baghdad’s 1001 Nights with its mosques and minarets, cobblestones, small shops selling copper dishes and gold, the smell of freshly roasted coffee, the high brick and mortar walls with gates facing the street, men in red fezes smoking unfiltered cigarettes and drinking tea for hours, the busy markets crowded with haggling shoppers and people with strange sounding names.

That summer, Mira and Boba’s mother was in the hospital, and it felt completely natural to me that their father and Boba would take care of the household chores and cooking (even though my Father did not know how to boil an egg, and the memories of him feeding us when Mother was absent were akin to the famous french toast scene in Kramer vs. Kramer).

Mira and I spent our time sitting on the blanket in the courtyard and sewing clothes for our Barbies, or playing endless games of badminton in the street. In the late afternoons we would visit cousins and friends, play outside, or walk into one of the town’s pastry shops for a piece of baklava and fresh lemonade.

We fancied ourselves adventurous explorers, and went climbing the hill above the house, picking wild flowers and bunches of mugwort (we loved the pungent smell of this relative of wormwood, which is actually used to make a bitter liqueur called “pelinkovac” used as a digestif or a remedy for tummy ache, depending on who you asked). Every so often we would gather enough damsel plums to fit into our shirts, and bring them to the kitchen to bake the pie, completely improvising, not having a clue of the proper methods. We insisted everybody try the finished masterpiece, and ignored the bulging eyes and stuffed cheeks of our culinary guinea-pigs.  If that had been Food Network, we would have been told to pack our knives, but they bravely encouraged us to continue on in our creative endeavors  - I guess it was a step up from the previous attempts in cooking with dirt, water, leaves and flower petals, as pretty as it might have looked.  We haven’t seen those ingredients on Chopped. Yet.

We would proudly prance home, hauling our newest loot, legs dusty and scratched by weeds, fingers green, hair wind-blown into a rats’ nest, only to be seduced by the smell of Deda-Zhile’s cabbage, simmering on the old wood-stove with vegetables and pork, guiding us like a beacon and awakening our grumbling bellies. We would try to scrub off most of the dirt, racing to the table, eager to dip our spoons into still steaming bowls. The middle of the table held a basket of freshly baked bread cut into thick slices and a saucer of small, thin, green, very hot peppers, called “feferoni”. We did not care what hurt more – the heat or the spice. We dared each other, tears running down our cheeks, feeling on top of the world, high on being thirteen.

Deda-Zhile died of prostate cancer in the 80s. But every time I smell cabbage with pork, it brings me back to that summer of innocence. I recall his patient smile. I see a devoted father, a  tall man with graying hair, drooping mustache, and slouching shoulders bent over the stove, stirring “pekmez”***, envisioning his daughters happy and at moments less sad missing their mother.

*pronounced Nyah nyah – I was an imaginative kid who did not want to have a “grandma” or “baba”, and I named her Njanja

**Deda means Grandpa in Serbian

***pekmez is a type of a plum jam, thick and not too sweet

SLATKI KUPUS (SERBIAN CABBAGE WITH PORK)

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cabbage, 3-4 lbs
  • 500gr (1 lb) boneless country style ribs, cut into chunks
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped (I do not like the taste of green bell peppers, and opt for pale-yellow, semi hot peppers, deseeded)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (I prefer homemade)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp paprika

Directions:

Cut the cabbage into big chunks. Line the dutch oven with a layer of cabbage. Place the chunks of meat on top. Sprinkle the vegetables over the meat and cabbage. Add salt, pepper, and paprika. Add another layer of cabbage. Pour in the tomato sauce and enough water to cover the meat, cabbage, and vegetables. Heat on high until it boils. Turn to medium-low and simmer fro 1-2 hours, until the meat is tender. Serve with fresh baked bread and some hot peppers for the kick.

 

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.