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.

 

Sep 102012
 

Chiles Rellenos with Picadillo from bibberche.com

It’s been a few months that I did not participate in my favorite online culinary exchange Recipe Swaps. Oh, I was ambitious when I set sails for Serbia earlier in the summer, intending on reporting about various farmers’ markets I visited, foods I tasted and I enjoyed, dinners al fresco and at restaurants, and family meals I prepared in the warmth of our family’s kitchen. But life intervened and my good wishes were dispersed in an instant. My blog suffered and I missed the interchange with my virtual friends scattered all over the globe.

Things happened and hours in the day were too few. My muse was like a flitting fairy, here in one second, gone in the next, and the rhythm of my days over there was so syncopated that I could not plan anything even one hour ahead. I am not complaining, even though some of those hours were saturated with grief of the deepest kind; I was fortunate to spend a few weeks with people I loved who loved me in return. We cried and we laughed intermittently; we reminisced and remembered, filling each other’s stories with our own  almost forgotten details; we spent long minutes in silent embraces, our shoulders wet from tears; we sat at a long, disjointed table in the yard underneath the eave, drinking Father’s golden-hued, homemade slivovitz and listening to the ballads that marked our youth; we allowed ourselves to get lost in bygone years, reaching to the past to get that special feeling back, the feeling of unwavering hope, unbridled energy, and the unstoppable zest for life yet to come.

Hatch Chiles from bibberche.comThe weeks I spent overseas were therapeutic, sobering, and mind-awakening. I drifted between sorrow and exultation; after my mom died, I sniffed her  pillow knowing that even the faintest whiff of her smell would make me cry for hours; minutes later I would be laughing with my sister as we remembered the funniest moments of our childhood, Mother making faces, cracking jokes, and instigating some seriously funny mischief.

I returned to the U.S. filled with energy, ready to tackle all the obstacles of  life, prepared to face all the demons I was hiding from for so many years. My smile is bright, my skin is shining, and my mind is set on finding the right path for my future. My friends love my new aura of self-confidence, and I bask in the glow of their appreciation.

As if she could guess seemingly antagonistic thoughts occupying my head, our group leader and founder Christianna, from Burwell General Store, challenged us to recreate Pork Fruit Cake from Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook for this month’s Recipe Swap. Ground pork paired with molasses, cloves, and raisins, mixed with flour and baked into a cake? An impossible task at first glance.

recipeswap, pork fruit cake from bibberche.com

I channeled all the contradictions of my present life and conjured up a vision of a dish containing many of the given ingredients,  celebrating their bold, yet complementing tastes. Picadillo sounded just right, with its sweet plump raisins and exotic spices not often paired with pork (at least not where I come from). Piquant Hatch chiles are at the peak of their season and I used a batch I had roasted a couple of days ago as a cradle for this fragrant sauce. When their soft flesh closed around the filling, and the icy touch of the freezer made them more compliant, I rolled them in the flour and the beaten eggs, and fried them gently until they were perfectly browned and crispy.

All the flavors from rice, tomato sauce, and stuffed peppers melded together even as they jumped individually, asserting themselves one by one: the sweet and tart of cranberries mellowing out the spicy notes of Hatch chiles, the cumin in rice finding the cumin in the tomato sauce, the nutty crunch of roasted almonds welcome alongside crumbled, slightly tart pork.

I am slowly settling back into my American routine, each new day another challenge I gladly accept with my new-found energy, even though I am still partially overseas, roaming the house that holds so many memories, smiling through tears, confident that the best of life is ahead of me.

Roasted Hatch Chiles from bibberche.com

CHILES RELLENOS WITH PICADILLO SAUCE

Loosely adapted from Mexico, One Plate at a Time by Rick Bailess

Ingredients:

Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp lard or bacon fat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28oz) whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor or a blender
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Picadillo:

  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2lb ground pork (or beef)
  • 2 Tbsp milk*
  • 1 cup reserved tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries (usually it’s the raisins required by the recipe, but my girls don’t like them)
  • ½ Tbsp vinegar (I used cider vinegar, but you can add one of your choice)

Peppers:

  • 12 Hatch chiles (or 6 poblanos), roasted and peeled ( destemmed mine, but it’s easier if you leave the stem on and clean only the seeds)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour+1Tbsp
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • oil for frying
*I always add a few tablespoons of milk when  work with ground meat; it softens it so it breaks easier, thus avoiding big lumps; I saw this tip a long time ago on a food TV show featuring an Italian chef.

Directions:

Heat the lard or bacon fat on medium-low temperature. Add the onions and garlic, and sautee until translucent and soft, about 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves, and simmer for another 25-30 minutes, until it thickens.

Reserve 1 cup of the sauce for picadillo.

Add the chicken broth to the rest of the sauce and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat and add almonds. Stir for 1-2 minutes until they are golden brown and crispy. Remove the almonds and add the pork to the skillet along with milk. Break the meat clusters with a wooden spoon and sautee until equally browned and crispy on the edges.

Mix in the tomato sauce, dried cranberries, and vinegar and stir until combined, about 5 minutes. Keep warm.

Make a slit in each pepper and remove all the seeds, trying to keep the stem intact (I failed at this, but it still worked). Place about 1 Tbsp of picadillo filling in the middle and wrap the sides of the pepper gently over it. Place on the cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When all the peppers are stuffed, put the pan in the freezer for about 1 hour, for easier frying.

Separate the eggs. Whip the whites until firm, but not rigid. Add salt and yolks. In the end mix in the 1 Tbsp of flour.

Heat the non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add enough oil for frying, about 1 inch in depth.

Roll the peppers in the flour and then in the egg mixture. Place them in the skillet, four at the time. After 2-3 minutes, when golden brown, flip them with a spatula and fry for another 1-2 minutes until the other side is done (the egg burns easily, so be careful). Place onto a plate lined with paper towels. Continue until all the peppers are fried.

Spoon some of the sauce on a plate and place a couple of peppers on top. I served mine with Mexican rice and even though Hatch chiles managed to pack some serious heat, the girls and I enjoyed the dish.

Picadillo from bibberche.com

 



May 032012
 

This is a post I wrote a while ago, but it contains some of my favorite Mexican dishes. Moving to southern California was like “Open, Sesame!” for me – I encountered so many culinary treasures previously hidden. I left the photos unchanged, just like I submitted them to Rick Bayless’s Twitter contest. I hope at least one of these meals will inspire you for Cinco de Mayo.

 

I ate my first taco at a bowling alley in Highland, Michigan, in 1986, while accompanying my ex-husband’s sister and her friends to the meeting of their bowling league. And I did not care for it at all. I found out later that taco meat is highly seasoned with cumin and at the time I was put off by it. The texture of avocado reminded me of melons, and melons and I do no keep good company. I found the green mushy fruit bland and not deserving of my time.

I discovered cilantro purely by chance. Mother was visiting at the time and we were shopping for groceries at a local supermarket. We bought some nice looking green beans, but when we cooked them they had a specific taste that we could not stand. We deemed the beans spoiled, rotten, contaminated, and threw the whole batch away.  The next day I went to the same supermarket to inspect the beans because I bought them before at the same place, and they were fine. When my nose approached the vegetables another smell, forceful and overbearing, got my attention. The green leaves next to the beans resembled Italian parsley, but when I rubbed them between my fingers, I thought I would just keel over and die. Poor, innocent beans were as healthy and fresh as they could be. They were just positioned next to cilantro, which usurped and overpowered their taste without a thought. And every time a family member would come to visit from Serbia, I would put them to the cilantro test. We are proud to be extremely adventurous in culinary matters, but not one of them liked it. Or to be more precise, we all just hated it.

For a while I avoided Mexican food, enjoying almost all the other world cuisines available to us. But I am a curious person, always looking to broaden my horizons, and it irked me to think that there was an abundance of dishes I was neglecting based on my underdeveloped palate. If I could eat liver, brain, Rocky Mountain oysters, snails, shellfish, feta cheese, and gorgonzolla, I could learn to like cumin, avocado, and cilantro. At the same time I started watching cooking shows on PBS  and my passion for food came at me full strength. I started exploring this undiscovered territory slowly adding small amounts of cumin to my ground beef. I would buy the wrinkly, ugly, almost black avocado, and cut it in half, just to stand mesmerized by its pristine green pulp. I mastered the deceptively simple art of taking the pit out and started making my own guacamole. Little by little the cumin and avocado grew on me, seduced me, and made me fall in love with them.

Cilantro had a more arduous fight ahead of it. I’d pick it out from salsas in Mexican restaurants and became resigned to an eternity of not being its fan. I love to cook with herbs and spices. I have always grown my own, and every morning, for years, the first thing I do after a sip of coffee is to go out and look at my pots. I could not stand the thought of not being able to enjoy so many dishes just because I could not stomach the cilantro. So I braced myself, bought a bunch, snippped a leaf or two in pico de gallo or a salsa, and surrendered. It was definitely a battle. Over time cilantro won.  I even learned to love it. Mexican food in our house became a staple.

And then we moved to Southern California and tasted our first fish taco. At a work potluck Christmas party, Ricardo brought home-made posole. Enrique made ponche spiked with tequila, Joe and Lupe brought spicy carne asada, Juan made chorizo. My Mexican neighbors send plates with tamales and lured the Beasties to stay over for some caldo de res and horchata (having three girls their age did not hurt). My mind was spinning. Where was all this coming from? So I started learning again.

In the spring of this year the College Kritter and I went to Yucatan and Cozumel over Christmas break. That was her present from us for graduating high-school, getting enrolled in a University and turning eighteen. It was her choice destination. And I was her choice companion. I will have to write about our adventure another time. But we discovered another variation of Mexican cuisine dining in Playa Del Carmen, Valladolid, and Cozumel. We avoided tourist traps and ate in the restaurants that locals frequented. Queso relleno, poc chuc, huevos motullenos, cochinita pibil, negro relleno, ceviche… We were in culinary heaven. In every restaurant we talked to waiters and cooks (Kritter speaks fluent Spanish and I can get by with what I picked up from co-workers, adding odd words in Italian), got the recipes, and vowed to replicate the dishes at home. I bought the “tortilladora” from an old woman in Valladolid, and decided to start making my own corn tortillas.

A couple of weeks ago Rick Bayless started a contest on Twitter. He tweets a recipe in 140 characters, we make it, photograph the finished dish, mail the photo to him, and hope to become winners of his newest cookbook Fiesta at Rick’s. I participate every time. It has become a much anticipated event in our household. My photos have not won me the book yet. But the journey that Rick took us on is a gift by itself. Every single recipe is a jewel, bursting with flavors, well balanced, assertive, and addictive. We are looking forward to Mondays when he puts out the new recipe, hidden in abbreviations of the tweeterese.

My love affair with Mexican food is only growing stronger. I do not think it will ever end. One of these days I am taking on the ridiculously long process of making the Yucatecan specialty cochinita pibil. I have already bought the banana leaves and stashed them in the freezer. Until then, Mondays at Rick’s will be more than sufficient to keep the flame growing.

WEEK ONE, POBLANO RAJAS

” Sear 1.25# bnls chix brst; cool, cube. Brn 1 onion,add 3 grlc,2 poblanos (rstd,pld,slcd),6 oz chard,1c broth,1c crema.Boil2 thickn.Add chix “

WEEK TWO, ENCHILADAS VERDES

” Rst 1#tomtllos,1 on,3 grlc,3 serranos;puree;sear n oil 2 thkn;simr w 2c broth,.5c crema.Oil,micrwv 12 torts,roll w rstd veg,sauce, chs, bake “

molcajete y tejolote (aka "el serdo") I bought at the Valladolid farmers market

WEEK THREE, TROPICAL BEACH CEVICHE

” 8oz slicd raw scallops+1c grapefrt j:45 min.Drain;blend 2/3c juice,1-2 chipotles,4 rstd grlc,2T br sgr.Mix w scal, red on,trop fruit,jicama “

Vladimir Jovanovic, my cousin extraordinaire, edited my photo

WEEK FOUR, CHIPOTLE GLAZED RIBS

“Proc 4 grlc,6T ancho,4t sugr&peppr,5t salt,1t oreg,½t cumin.Rub 4 slb ribs;ovrnite.Bake 300 75 min.Blend:7oz chiptles&3/4c honey.Grill;glaze”

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.

Feb 192011
 

Back in the 70s, the nouveau riche parents of Yugoslavia suddenly could afford large quantities of animal protein and children gorged on meat at every meal. Remembering the scarcity of their childhood and youth, our immediate ancestors showed their love for their progeny by grilling, braising, curing, and roasting big chunks of pork, beef, or lamb, depending on the local dietary preferences and availability.

In the process, vegetables suffered. They were pushed away from the leading roll and given only an occasional cameo appearance, with the mighty potato holding the flanks. The exceptions were tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage which continued to be exalted, served raw in season, brined, pickled, and canned for the winter.

Carrots were sold in tight bundles with parsnips, parsley, and celery root, destined to end up as aromatics, softly boiled in soup with a charred onion and a hefty hen. Peas had their fortnight of celebrity shows in spring, starring every day, until everybody tired of them, and they retreated to freezers, awaiting spring cravings during the gray days of November. Zucchini were everywhere for a month, loved for a very short time and them shunned, pawned off on the city-dwelling relatives, forgotten in the fields on purpose, left to rot despised and devalued. Spinach and cauliflower rarely graced the dinner tables, and if they did, they were hidden behind slabs of meat, cowering in a measly pile next to the mountain of golden, glistening roasted potatoes.

String beans came in various shapes and colors, from pencil thin, green ones, to yellow, buttery wide ones, to purple-striated and flat ones. Simmered with onions and carrots in a tomato broth, they were the the summer favorites of mothers, and clandestinely hated by most children, including my sister, who could not find anything endearing about beans and spent hours finishing their servings, moving the individual pieces around hoping they would disintegrate from constant prodding. Mother was creative with beans, as usual, and cooked them in various ways. I was pretty indifferent to any of string beans’ incarnations, choosing to bestow all my loathing to the odious potato soup with smoked pork.

As adults we have moved on from irrational dislikes of food, enabled to laugh about our past by the luxury of nicely developed and indulgent palates. In the summer time I still prepare the beans the way Mother had taught me, especially treasuring the rare Romano beans available only at the Farmers’ Market. Serbs prefer their meat completely done, and their vegetables soft and yielding. But I have learned to recognize that specific taste that comes forth only when the beans are swiftly blanched, drained, and swirled around in hot oil or butter, enhanced by toasted almonds, minced garlic, scallions, or tomatoes, and finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. Father gave me a nod of approval recently when I served the emerald-colored haricot verts as a side dish, not elevating them above Mother’s recipe, but acknowledging their excellence nevertheless.

The last bastion of string bean haters was my oldest, College Kritter. When she was here for winter break, she grudgingly admitted that she had started eating the beans in small quantities, and on rare occasions (At this point I am extremely optimistic: lamb – check; cabbage in salads – check; mushrooms – check; green beans – check. She has only to conquer peas and Brussels sprouts). If she had not crossed over from the dark side already, the green beans with pancetta that I made last night would have definitely won her over.

This was another one of Dorie Greenspan’s recipes form the book Around My French Table. I served them with Chicken Francese and Aioli pasta. The chicken was beautifully seasoned, touched by a sauce made velvety by lemon juice and white wine simmered with garlic and chicken stock. Farfalle were lightly coated with freshly made aioli, mirroring the lemon and garlic from the sauce. But the Green Beans with Pancetta stole the show. The beans were cooked perfectly, crunchy and spackled with sea salt, still verdant, but not grassy. The pancetta was crispy and salty, its aftertaste bringing out the best attributes pork has to offer.

Preparing this dish was like an afterthought. Each ingredient was showcased and brought  to perfection in its simplicity. And even though pancetta is fairly expensive, the two ounces necessary for the recipe were barely noticeable on our extremely frugal wallet. The Beasties concluded that pancetta is the same as bacon, and polished off every speck on their plates.

Looking at my girls embracing green beans without a second thought made me think that the French might have a right approach: everything tastes better with crunchy lardons. If a handful of crispy pork cracklings left over from rendering lard had ended up on top of a modest pile of green vegetables, some naive friend of mine back in the 70s might have actually enjoyed his allotted dose of vitamins.

green beans with pancetta from bibberche.com

There are some wonderful people who participate in French Fridays with Dorie and I am so happy to be a part of that group.

Feb 012011
 

patatas a la riojana from bibberche.comYesterday morning I woke up smiling, looking forward to another day off work. I stretched, I yawned, and I enjoyed the slow-motion feel of my lazy morning. I decided to stay in bed for a while. A cup of coffee steamed on my nightstand. Husband brought it as soon as he heard me moving about. With the laptop resting on my knees, and fuzzy, striped socks hugging my feet, I was ready to welcome another glorious day to my life.

The Beasties stayed in bed late, awake, I am certain, but extremely silent, which was as good in my book as if they had been asleep. Breakfast turned into brunch with easy and quick puff pastry rolls filled with Nutella, barely giving the girls time to change out of their pajamas and brush the tangles out of their hair.

I planned on attacking my patio plants and getting them ready for spring. My mind was bursting with ideas of the new arrivals sitting pretty in clean, colorful pots. The neighbor several doors down had already accomplished the feat, and I felt like I was lagging behind. Not acceptable at all. But as the sun sank deeper and deeper behind the clouds, all my hopes for getting dirty evaporated. Or so I thought.

I had to abandon the patio project, but another one, much less enjoyable and much more tiresome popped up on the horizon. The first daily glimpse of the Beasties’ room sent me back to the kitchen to gather the cleaning supplies and my drill sergeant uniform, complete with the whistle and the whip. The ranks were unruly at best, and the exercise dragged on for hours. My girls take after the Husband and hoard every card, picture, painting, drawing, or scribble. They love to make cards, paint, draw, and scribble, and in a few weeks there are piles hiding every bare surface of the shelves, nightstands, desks, and even carpet. Interspersed with the papers were tiny Barbie shoes, plastic dishes, mini Beanie-Babies, barrettes, crayons, and various miniature objects I did not have the time to identify.

Armed with a garbage bag, I directed them to separate and sort the mess. I took a pile of very important paintings and drawings that needed to be saved for posterity, and took photos of them. The originals went into the garbage can. It took some time, but eventually carpet started to appear, liberated from debris. Satisfied with the progress, I left the room, promising to stop by every fifteen minutes to prod them forward (after all, rediscovering all those amazing trinkets and almost forgotten messages posed a serious threat to a timely and thorough cleaning).

By this time, the rain was coming down in sheets. I looked sadly at my forlorn plants, and bid them goodbye for another day at least. I turned toward the kitchen, trying to get an inspiration for a gloomy day dinner. I guessed (correctly) that Husband did not feel like mingling with the Sunday crowd at the supermarket (people in Southern California rush to the stores when it rains to stock up on food; and driving in the rain is an adventure). I rummaged through the freezer, but nothing made me jump up and say “Eureka!” The refrigerator, on the other hand, held a hidden treasure: about a pound of Mexican chorizo sausages.

I love comfort food, but it usually means planning ahead, starting the preparations around noon, simmering, stirring, and babysitting the pot on the stove for hours. I actually enjoy the process, but the day started pretty blue and warm, with not a cloud in sight, and my “think ahead” mood was turned off. No daubes, no tasty braised lamb shanks, no beef stews, no gulash, no piggy roasts. But there is a dish that comes about in thirty minutes, a low maintenance one, but as flavorful, as filling, and as satisfying as its much more time-consuming friends: Krompir PaprikaÅ¡ (Potato Paprikash), which sounds much more appealing and romantic in Spanish, as Patatas a la Riojana.

Mother made this humble dish for us often in the winter time, using homemade smoked garlicky sausages that hung in our pantry, spreading their tantalizing smell for months. I remember vividly coming home after several hours of skiing, cheeks numb from the icy wind, knees wobbling, hair in disarray under the hat, fingers and toes barely moving, only to be greeted by the welcoming aroma of smoked sausages and fried onions that filled our small cabin.

My chorizo was not from Spain, but my paprika was. Mother used the Hungarian sweet paprika ubiquitous to Balkan cuisine, and the sausages gave off wonderfully smoked undertones to the dish. To emulate the rich, smoky flavor of her Krompir PaprikaÅ¡, I grabbed smoked paprika, Pimentón de la Vera, which they use in Spain to prepare Patatas a la Riojana.

smoked paprika pimenton de la vera from bibberche.com

In no time, the onions were sizzling in the pan. Once they yielded to the heat, I added garlic (this is the Spanish addition – Mother would never put garlic in her paprikash), and let them become soft and almost caramelized. I stirred in perfect, pink half-moons of chorizo, let it get warm and just a bit brown, and then mixed in cubed russet potatoes, a nice heap of smoked paprika, some salt and pepper. The stock went in, the heat went up, and the cover went onto the pan. I poured a glass of California cabernet, wishing that we had some Rioja on hand and blaming the rain for my reluctance to send Husband off on a journey to the World Market.

I put my fuzzy-socked feet up, grabbed my laptop, and rested the wine on the nightstand. The paprikash was softly simmering on the stove, the rain abating, the light disappearing, while the happy children voices rang from a distance. Comforting, indeed.

fussy socks from bibberche.com

MOTHER’S KROMPIR PAPRIKAÅ  (PATATAS A LA RIOJANA)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp  lard (or olive oil, if you are making Patatas a la Riojana)
  • 1 large onion, slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb Spanish chorizo, cut into chunks
  • 2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 Tbsp (or more) smoked paprika
  • 1 scant tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • water or chicken stock (for the Spanish version a part of the liquid can be white wine)

Directions:

Heat the lard or olive oil on medium heat in a heavy skillet or a stainless steel pot. Mix in the onions and garlic, and cook for 15 minutes, until almost caramelized and soft. Add the chorizo and stir for a couple of minutes. Stir in the potatoes, and cook for 1 minute. Add the paprika, salt, and pepper, stir to combine, and then pour the water to cover. Turn the heat to high until it boils, reduce to low, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through. It should look like a thick stew.

My friend Sue from New Zealand has a great blog Couscous and Consciousness (stop by, she has wonderful recipes and really pretty photos). She has started recently an event that she calls Make It…..with Mondays. Every Monday we make a dish that features that week’s chosen pantry ingredient. For this Monday we were given paprika, and I think that my Krompir PaprikaÅ¡, aka Patatas a la Riojana is going to be a perfect dish for this event.

Jan 142011
 

I have planned for several years to make a cassoulet, but night after night,  year after year,  other hearty dishes appeared on the table, while it patiently waited its turn. The serendipitous pick for this month’s Daring Cooks Challenge was this marvelous French stew and I decided to celebrate the frigid Southern California weather by preparing this time-consuming and fussy meal (and I know that one day a hefty Minnesotan woman with a Scandinavian lilt will beat me senseless with a snow shoe for all my whining about the cold, and I will deserve it).

Father has this idea that women, historically, have not really had anything to do and therefore competed amongst each other in inventing the most difficult and tedious dishes imaginable. I know that he cannot boil an egg, so I greet these original inanities with a wide grin, avoiding arguments that would lead nowhere. As I read the recipe, I realized that it really takes three to four days to make a proper, original cassoulet, but it is mostly passive time.

I sent Husband to procure the necessary ingredients, opting for chicken leg confit (our Mexican butchers at the local Persian store know us, and I knew the meat would be of great quality. On the other hand, I had no idea where to buy duck legs). Pork belly had everybody completely confused. The butchers at “Albertson’s” were playing possum, and I had to drag Father to the store, as the porcine expert (I can vouch that he has consumed a fair quantity of pork bellies in his life).

By the time I gathered everything I needed, the house was a stage of which Ionesco would have been proud. Husband proclaimed that the dish sounded very southern (as in Appalachian way). Nina dismissed it as “just another bean dish”. Zoe went around trying to frenchify Bill Brasky jokes (do not ask me, just Google it). Father went on a tangent of a tangent trying to tie it to one of the summers of his youth. Anya flitted around pronouncing every word as if French. And I just plodded along, trying to ignore the cacophony, invoking a “happy place” mantra.

The first night I rubbed four plump chicken quarters with kosher salt and left them in the refrigerator to luxuriate in grainy salinity. A pound of navy beans went into a pot with cold water to soak overnight. Not fussy at all. French housewives were patient. They relied on planning and organization to extricate the best flavors from the most ordinary foods.

The next day I poured the mix of duck fat and lard over the chicken legs, buried some rosemary and thyme underneath, and stuck a couple of cloves of garlic around the meat. It went in the oven to roast for about an hour. I strained the beans and put them back on the stove with more water, the pork belly, salt, pepper, onion, and herbs. It simmered for two hours, until the beans were softly yielding to the tongue. I took out the pork belly, discarded the onion and herbs, and strained the beans, reserving the liquid.

The chicken went to sleep in the refrigerator, miraculously missing all the crispy skin. Several days later, Father told me, in all innocence, that he really liked that roasted chicken I made (well, it was only boiled in duck and pork fat, producing the best cracklings ever!) The theater of the absurd continued while I was building the cassoulet ingredient by ingredient, trusting the Grandmeres in this blind quest for the ultimate food-Grail. I had to hide the cooked pork belly from the girls who abhor anything white and fatty in their plates (we are a household of extra-crispy bacon). I had to tuck the sausage in the far depths of the refrigerator lest it became the “after hours snack” for the whist-playing brigade. I had to guard the leftover bean liquid from being dumped in the sink, inglorious and plain in its brown tawdriness.

The third day I sauteed the sausage, the garlic and the onions in some more duck fat. The caramelized vegetables went into a blender, spiked with sea-salt and black pepper. I aligned all the participants on the counter top and started layering the cassoulet in my Romertopf clay casserole. When I pulled it out of the oven, steaming and bubbly, it looked gorgeous to me. It symbolized the essence of home-cooking, a dish pretending to be humble and ordinary. It was not an elusive Parisian beauty wearing haute couture at a soire, but a Tante that always offers a warm hug, sitting in the shade of an old elm in front of her cottage overlooking fields of lavender.

I was not surprised when The Bald Soprano and Rhinoceros failed to appear at dinnertime. The cassoulet seduced us with its complexity. Every rich ingredient complemented another, and the flavors rose step by step, until our taste buds became pleasantly overwhelmed. Gone were the French jokes and oo-la-las. The girls went for seconds, unaware that it was just another bean dish hiding soft pillows of sweet pork fat in its midst.

If you have to ask how many calories it has or how many grams of fat, then run like the wind and forget you ever read this. But if you want something rich, and with the power to induce hibernation for the remainder of the season, this one’s for you.

Blog checking lines: Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

For the original recipe click here.

Oct 272010
 

Our family car was a bright orange Russian-made Lada which stood packed since the early hours of the morning with several suitcases holding the beginnings of my new life in the big city. Tucked neatly and methodically around them, using every inch of available space in the trunk with a Tetris-like precision were checkered linen bags holding Mother’s praised preserves (wild strawberry, bing cherry, quince, and blackberry), along with apricot and plum jams, ajvar*, and jars of pickled peppers and cucumbers. Carefully wrapped and insulated bottles of Father’s golden hued plum brandy (the beloved “Å¡ljivovica” or slivovitz) were strategically placed to fill the gaps between bags. A special heavy-duty tote occupying the seat next to me was filled with home-cured Serbian delicacies like prÅ¡uta, smoky bacon, and a string of plump garlicky sausage links. The package was topped with plastic containers packed with fresh white farmers’ cheese and kajmak**, which Father bought at the green market at dawn.

Everybody was out on the street in front our house to say goodbye to me: my sister and my brother, Njanja, Deda-Ljubo, some of my friends who were not leaving town for college, and several neighbors. I was sobbing inconsolably, burying my head in my brother’s shoulder, and caressing my sister’s wet cheek. The unsuspecting passers-by were turning their heads down and away, uncomfortable witnessing this heart-wrenching scene, convinced that some horrible tragedy must have befallen this wailing family.

I was heading to the University of Belgrade, the capital city, a mere three hours away by bus, two hours away by car, and just over an hour hitchhiking, especially if you lucked out and stopped one of the crazy drivers from the town of Užice who seemed intent on sending the needle of their speedometers crashing out the passenger side window (I shudder now just thinking about it, but back in those days I had a secret affair with any adrenaline rush).

I cried because I finally realized that I was leaving behind my town, my family, and my home. It would not matter how many times we talked on the phone and how often I would take the last bus on Friday night to surprise them, our lives, so connected and intertwined until then, would inevitably start to diverge and follow different paths. I cried for the computer games I would not play with my brother and his friends, even though he banished me a hundred times for constantly ruining his joysticks. I cried for the empty half of the pull-out bed I shared with my sister. I cried for the magnolia tree Deda-Ljubo planted in the yard right next to the old-fashioned cast iron water pump. I cried for Father’s sullen admissions of affection and Mother’s love, omnipresent and eternal.

With one look at his watch, Father broke the farewell party. The time of the scheduled departure had arrived. He started the engine as I was entering the back seat, still holding my sister’s hand. Slouching in his wheelchair, my beloved eighty-something step-grandfather, Deda-Ljubo, a veteran and invalid of WWI, was drying silent tears with his white, blue-bordered cotton handkerchief, waving to me with a trembling hand, when Mother ran down the steps, carrying the last plastic container destined to accompany us to Belgrade. She nestled in the front seat, closed the door, and the Lada took off like a sad rocket prototype intent on carrying me to another world, another planet, another life. Half of my body was hanging through the window, while I tried to take in the last imprint of my childhood, damning the tears and blessing the gravity that would forever draw me back home. I was wishing that the hundred yards to the corner would go on indefinitely, like in a dream, but in a couple of seconds, my house and my world disappeared.

I cried, holding Mother’s hand half-way to Belgrade. After we passed the tunnel, Mother opened the plastic container sitting in her lap and gave me a “piroÅ¡ka” that she made just minutes before we left. Famished, I attacked the perfect little bundle of ground meat and onions rolled into a tender, miniature burrito-shaped crepe, dipped in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, and sauted until crisp. The familiar flavors filled the abyss in my soul and abated my tears. Somehow, I survived he rest of the trip.

We arrived at my Aunt and Uncle’s apartment, lugging the bags and suitcases to the phone booth of an elevator. There were hugs and kisses at the door, the boisterous hoopla typical of Slavic manhugs, and the tears of women that were so opposite the tears of a few hours ago that they seemed almost to run up their rosy cheeks, cried out by smiles rather than pooled eyes. The shoulder-patting and and giddy squeals softly gave way to a welcome round of whiskey and Turkish coffee, and a great dinner prepared by my Strina-PaÅ¡ana, accompanied by hefty pours of Vranac red wine from ÄŒika-Aco’s hospitable hand.

After a mandatory nap, Father announced that the time had come for him and Mother to return home.  As is a custom in our parts of the world, everybody came down to the parking lot to say their goodbyes. I hugged both of them, trying in vain to stop the tears from welling and overflowing my eyes. The orange Lada slowly pulled away. The last image I remember is Mother’s face glued to the window, shaking in wordless tears.

The elevator took us back to the eighth floor. I unpacked my bags and lined the shelves of my cousin Maja’s half-empty armoire. I sat on the edge of the bed that was suddenly mine, feeling utterly lost and alone. My Strina-PaÅ¡ana brought me and Maja some coffee. We drank it in silence, not knowing what to expect. We exchanged a few words and spent the rest of the night carefully avoiding each other.

When everybody was comfortably tucked into their beds, I tiptoed to the kitchen and grabbed one of Mother’s “piroÅ¡ke”. I sat at the kitchen table, savoring every morsel, slowly realizing that certain parts of my previous life were as portable as my heart and that I could take them anywhere life might lead.

This recipe is for a completely different kind of “piroÅ¡ke”. Instead of the mini-crepes it is made with a potato yeast dough. Instead of the ground beef and onion, it is filled with ham and sour cream. Instead of a flour-egg-breadcrumb finish, it is deep-fried just as it is.

Mother’s recipe will have to wait for some future day when the right Muse knocks on my door and the gods of family life grant me enough time to properly reproduce the flavor that I crave. In the meantime, I give you the recipe for “piroÅ¡ke” that I found on my fellow Serb, Jelena’s enjoyable blog, “Food for Thought“, which she saw on “Le Cuisine Creative“, Mignonne’s blog filled with beautiful photographs of delectable food.

*Ajvar is a roasted red pepper relish cherished in all regions of ex-Yugoslavia

**Kajmak is a Serbian dairy product similar to clotted cream

PIROÅ KE (FRIED STUFFED YEAST DOUGH, by Jelena, via Mignonne)

I made the whole batch and froze half after the rising. Not willing to spend all the time by the stove frying, I baked half of the piroške. Everybody preferred the fried version. The baked ones were excellent, with a slightly crunchy crust and a very soft middle, similar to bread-sticks. They could also be filled with cheese, ground meat and onions, and mushrooms and onions.

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 700g of flour ( might need more)
  • 300g of boiled potatoes
  • 40g of fresh yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 100g of butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 300ml of warm milk

Filling:

  • 300g of ham cut into cubes
  • 300g of sour cream
  • black pepper, parsley

Directions:

Boil the unpeeled potatoes, let cool a bit, peel. Mash with a fork. Add salt, yolks, and butter to potatoes and mix with an electric mixer. Place the yeast in warm milk and leave for 15 minutes in a warm place. Add the yeast to the potato mix and half of flour. Slowly add the remaining flour and work with hands to form an elastic dough not too hard. You might need more flour. Leave the dough to rest for 45 minutes. Make the filling and place it in the fridge.

Boil the unpeeled potatoes , let cool a bit, peel. Mash with a fork. Add salt, yolks, and butter to potatoes and mix with an electric mixer. Place the yeast in warm milk and leave for 15 minutes in a warm place. Add the yeast to the potato mix and half of flour. Slowly add the remaining flour and work with hands to form an elastic dough not too hard. You might need more flour. Leave the dough to rest for 45 minutes. Make the filling and place it in the fridge.

I am submitting this post to Hearth and Soul blog hop event hosted by Alex of “A “Moderate Life” and three other wonderful bloggers.

Hearth n' Soul Blog Hop

Oct 052010
 

“Every night, just before you close your eyes and drift off to sleep, rewind your day and think about it. Ask yourself questions: What did I learn? Whom did I help? In which way did I make myself a better person? Will my day have an impact, no matter how minuscule, on the world?”

I hear these words in my head almost every night. They are spoken in a slight whisper in a calming cadence, and belong to Angela, the language teacher in my elementary school. She was tall and gawky, an older version of Olive Oyl, with horned-rimmed glasses and unflattering dark-colored dresses. She roamed the hallways smiling, perpetually lost in her imagination, oblivious to a sheet of paper scotch-taped to her back (most of the time it was blank, but would you expect anything more clever from fifth-graders?) and a gaggle of giggling boys surrounding her. She taught Serbian and Russian. I studied English and had Pavle, the grammar-Nazi, for Serbian. But we found each other at poetry recitals and literary club sessions.

I talked to her about my dreams and my fears. She listened and quoted from books. I suffered when she was ridiculed, too helpless and shy to interject and defend her. I did not understand until much later that as the queen of a beautiful world of romantic poets and chivalrous knights, she was protected by a perfect rhyme and a quill dipped in dark ink. I did not notice that the dusty smell of books enveloped her like an invisibility veil. I did not realize that her soft humming of Russian ballads could dispel the cruelest of the pranks.

I started high school with a nervous energy, excited about the change, and impatient for life to finally begin. Once in a while I would visit my siblings still in grade school, and look for Angela in dark corners. Throughout the years she did not change much – more graying hair framed her face, the slouch of her shoulders got the better of her, and long and slender hands showed faint blue rivulets underneath the pale skin. The new generations of fifth-graders pinned pieces of paper to her dress, but she was still smiling and humming, her eyes behind the thick glasses warm and understanding. Every time before we parted she would remind me “not to walk small underneath the stars” *

My life was gaining momentum and pretty soon I was at the University and then in the U.S. I never saw Angela again, but I know that she sang in the town choir with Mother. A few years back she gave Father seedlings for rainbow Swiss chard. They tell me that she is still the same.

It is not time to drift off to sleep, but I have to say that today was a pretty good day. I listened to a co-worker’s heart-wrenching break-up episode and let him cry without losing face. I made a family of four laugh. I fended off several poisonous barbs hidden in sarcastic statements of an unhappy man with a smile. I learned how to say “corner” in Spanish. I got a small editing job for Husband and exulted in his optimism of the days to come. I helped the younger Beastie make crème caramel. My sinus cold is slowly ebbing and breathing is getting easier, even though my nose is a red, peeling mess. I read my mail, replied, checked the Skype, answered to some comments on the blog, and brought my Google reader down to a manageable size. I made dinner and planned the meals for the next several days.

In a couple of hours, after I close my book and get ready to surrender to sleep, I know I will smile. I have not wasted the day. While the line of reality and dream becomes indistinguishable, I am convinced that I will hear Angela’s voice whispering soft encouragements. And that is enough for me to bid the day good night.

*I had to put this in quotation marks, because I am sure that it is a quote, but after all these years of my paraphrasing it, I cannot find the source.

(This story has nothing to do with rice, pilav, or food. It went into a completely different direction and I did not dare bring it back).

SERBIAN PILAV

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 lb boneless chicken thighs/legs (or pork – country ribs are the best choice)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 medium to large onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 pepper (I avoid green bell pepper, too bitter IMO, but anything else is fine), diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced (optional – in Serbia it is not used)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup short-grain rice, like Arborio
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, chopped

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Add the chicken, salt, and pepper, and brown on all sides. Remove from the skillet and add the vegetables. Sautee for 6-8 minutes until soft. Add the seasonings, rosemary, and rice. Stir for another 2-3 minutes and return the chicken. Add the stock to cover, stir and pour into an oven-ready dish. Bake for 1 hour. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve with a cucumber salad (cucumber slices dressed with vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic) or cabbage salad (shredded cabbage salted and kneaded for a minute, then dressed with oil and vinegar).

I am submitting this recipe to Hearth ‘n Soul, hosted by Hunger and Thirst (and the gang)

H‘nSHungerandThirst