Sep 182013

Greek Salad with Watermelon Cucumbers from

I planted seven heirloom tomato plants in April. They were all different shape, color, and size. I staked them, watered them, and watched them grow and bloom to be strong, healthy, and fragrant. Some of them took of faster and started producing a lot of soon-to-be ripe fruit. After five years of gardening withdrawals, my heart was atwitter with excitement. The neighbors were stopping by admiring my luscious plants and I already started imagining baskets  filled with red, orange, yellow, green, and striped tomatoes, still warm from the sun, decorating our kitchen counter.

One day I caught a snail eating a small tomato that just turned the right shade of red that morning. I picked it off and flung it across the fence into the street. I rummaged through the plants and found many more stuck to the leaves, probably resting and gathering the energy to attack the fruit as soon as the pale moon appeared in the sky. Visibly perturbed, I gathered them one by one and stepped on them, ignoring the disgusting slime that coated the soles of my shoes.

My Ohio Garden from

My tiny, but so rewarding Ohio garden

In a few days, my tomato plants started to lose their luster. They drooped, leaves curled and dried out, no matter how ardently I watered them in the morning and twilight. And then the holes around them started to appear. I would fill them in with fresh sod, and the next time I looked, there were new ones, deep, narrow, baring the roots. I wanted to keep on blaming the snails, but unless a gross mutation was involved, it seemed more probable that a rodent of some kind was responsible.

Unfortunately, I did not manage to find the culprit and I lost my tomato plants one by one. The neighbors extended their sympathy and offered their opinions on the origin of the damage. I was devastated. Sure, I harvested a few dozen of early bloomers, but nothing close to what I imagined. Yes, it was another summer sadly void of homegrown tomatoes.

Garden Tomatoes from

My summers in Serbia were marked by simple salads of tomatoes and onions, sometimes with crunchy cucumbers and crumbled cheese, served daily as an accompaniment to any dish. I start craving their familiar flavor in late May, resigned to wait a few weeks until the ripest, sweetest fruit appears. With a heavy heart, I pulled my desiccated remnants from the ground, and started making weekly pilgrimages to Torrance Farmers’ Market, where piles of heirloom tomatoes, albeit pretty pricey, waited for me. For summer is not summer without tomato salad.

According to the calendar, we are running out of summer days. But southern California climate ignores the arbitrary limits, which means we can wear white after Labor Day and we can eat summer salads until whenever. A few days ago I made a Greek salad to accompany my favorite roasted red peppers, spinach, and feta quiche I took to a picnic in a downtown LA park.

Watermelon Cucumbers from Melissa's Produce

I could not wait to use the cute, tiny watermelon cucumbers I received from Melissa’s Produce, one of the biggest fruits and vegetables distributor in the U.S. I like my mixed salads chopped in smaller bites, so I halved these lemony, crunchy treats and mixed them with ripe, juicy tomatoes, olives, red onions, roasted beets, pepperoncini, and feta cheese. A hefty pinch of coarse salt, some freshly ground pepper, and a few glugs of extra-virgin olive oil (thanks, George!) was all that was necessary.

All these different and complementary flavors came together in each bite and for a moment I forgot that the produce had not come from my garden. I was transported to the shores of my Adriatic instantly, if only for a brief moment, until Judd Nelson appeared on the big projector screen in “Breakfast Club” and my girls started screeching in delight. This was a memory-building evening, somewhat bitter-sweet, as I inevitably returned to my first viewing of the movie, to those innocent days when the world was brimming with promises just behind the horizon.

Greek Salad with Watermelon Cucumbers from


Greek Salad

Recipe type: Salads
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
There is no lettuce in this salad, which is how most Mediterranean countries prefer their summer salads. The quantities are approximate.
  • 3-4 wine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • a handful of watermelon cucumbers (or 1 smaller regular cucumber, peeled)
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 3-4 pepperoncini peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut ionto rings
  • 1-2 roasted beets, cut into slices
  • a handful of olives
  • salt and pepper
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • about 8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Mix all the vegetables gently.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Stir once more gently.
  5. Crumble the cheese on top.


May 152013

Pan-Fried Zucchini and Eggplant Salad from

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

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

Pan-Fried Zucchini and Eggplant from

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

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

Pan-Fried Zucchini from

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

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

Salads from FBLA from

Pan-Fried Zucchini or Eggplant
5.0 from 3 reviews


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

Apr 252013

Couscous Tabbouleh from

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

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

Israeli couscous from

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

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

Couscous Tabbouleh from

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

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

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

Jerusalem: A Cookbook from

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

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

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

Couscous Tabbouleh from

Couscous Tabbouleh
5.0 from 2 reviews


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

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

Nov 092012

Korean Pear and Kale Salad from

As the Fall firmly takes a hold even in southern California where we bundle up and don gloves and hats as soon as the temperatures drop bellow 60F, the last brave specimens of the late summer fruit slowly retreat and surrender the coveted shelf space to bright orange persimmons, dark red pomegranates, apples colored every hue from green to yellow to red, Weeble-shaped fragrant and sun-kissed pears, and ubiquitous pumpkins who reign not only because of their heft, but also because of their colorful kitschy appeal.

And as if we did not have enough drama in the produce department of any given grocery store, enters Korean pear, the prima donna of fruit, the spoiled Asian heiress grown to be the juiciest, the freshest, the lightest fruit in the aisles. Its delicate brownish-yellow skin is thin, unblemished, and perfect, as the fruit is wrapped while it grows for protection from the elements and parasites that threaten to mar its smooth surface. The flesh is white and crunchy. It does not turn brown or wrinkly when exposed to air. You can imagine it in a floppy hat and big sunglasses, sipping a mint julep at the races, looking all fabulous and haughty.

Korean Pears from

When I opened the box from Melissa’s Produce, a dozen Korean pears were nestled comfortably in soft indented trays, wrapped in delicate netting, not touching each other. I gingerly picked one out of its nest, unwrapped it, and barely resisted the temptation to start chanting a line from one of my favorite Loony Toones, “I will love him, and pet him, and squeeze him, and call him George.”* But I remembered in time that it was, after all, only a piece of fruit. I dropped the silliness and started thinking of the ways to use them in my kitchen. They are like Kobe beef of produce, coddled, nurtured, loved, but destined to satisfy the gourmands of the world in search of the best culinary experience.

Just to get an idea how pampered these pears are, watch this video:

My daughters ask for them at every meal and they make a perfect addition to their school lunches. They are crunchy like an apple, extremely juicy and refreshing, and sweet without being overbearing. For their size (and they are pretty hefty at about 10 ounces or 275 grams a piece), they pack surprisingly few calories, only 115, and less than 30 grams of carbs. They are available November through March, which means that they will start appearing at your local grocery stores soon. If you are not sure what stores carry them, contact Melissa’s Produce, the largest U.S. distributor of Korean pears, for the information.

Korean Pear

We could have easily eaten them all just like that, fresh from the box, crispy and firm and juicy. But I knew that I could pair them with a few other seasonal ingredients that would allow them to shine, all sophisticated and special. I picked up some gorgeous, dark green Tuscan kale at Torrance farmers’ market and decided to tame it with these juicy pears, plump dried cranberries, crunchy pecans, sweet matchstick-cut carrots, and roasted chicken breast. The salad came together with a light dressing of lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. A pinch of lemon zest on top added just enough citrus fragrance to make it Californian.

I was happy. I shared it with a friend and she was happy. Looking at the small chunks of Korean pears glistening from the dressing, pristine and white in the sea of bold colors, made me confident that they were happy, too,

*You do know which cartoon I am talking about? It features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Yeti. If you have not seen it, find it on YouTube; it’s hilarious.

Korean Pear Salad from



  • A bunch of Tuscan (Lacinato) kale, rinsed, trimmed of tough stems, and cut into thin strips
  • 1 Korean pear, cored, cut in wedges and then in smaller chunks (I prefer mine smaller, as I like to get a bit of everything on my fork, but this is up to you)
  • 1 handful of dried cranberries (dried cherries or even raisins would work, too)
  • ½ cup of chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1 medium carrot cut into matchsticks or grated
  • 4 oz roasted chicken (I used ½ of roasted chicken breast) cut into cubes


  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • a twist or two of freshly ground pepper


Toss all the salad ingredients together in a big bowl.

Place the dressing ingredients in a small recycled glass jar, twist the lid on tightly and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to combine. Pour over the salad and toss well. If you want kale to soften a bit, let the salad sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

For more recipes using Korean pears check some of my favorite blogs:

 I received a sample of Korean pears from Melissa’s Produce. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. The opinions are mine and only mine:)

Oct 092012

Classic American Egg Salad from

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

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

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

October Recipe Swap from

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

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

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

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

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

Classic American Egg Salad from

This open-faced beauty was my lunch



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


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

Sep 282012

salad with figs, goat cheese, and pecans from

I remember the two steps to the entrance of our yellow bungalow; I remember eating cold whipped cream “Ledo” with a square plastic spoon on our way to the beach; it was packed in a paper cup and it tasted like milk, vanilla, and freshly churned butter; I remember holding several really big, skinny books Mother and Father bought me at the fair; I remember the feel of hot pebbles and cool Adriatic caressing my chubby, four year old feet; I remember the ease with which my younger sister made friends with the kids next door, while I hid behind a huge aloe vera plant and bit my nails; I remember a paper cone filled with warm figs Father brought from the market and spilled on top of our oversized striped beach towel; and I remember how I watched the weird-looking fruit with suspicion, doubting its real identity, invoking the images of Christmas Eve and amber-colored, chewy, and wrinkled pillows filled with sweet seeds that exploded when bitten.

Father bit into a slightly soft, light brown fig to reveal fleshy pulp the color of my tongue, and when his eyes closed in delight I trusted him without a question. I reached for one tentatively; my sister followed, and pretty soon we were running to the sea to wash off the sticky, pink rivulets that laced our tanned limbs, as we crunched the small seeds between our molars, trying to extract the last traces of the exotic honey taste that enchanted us.

Budva, 1968, from

For years, the only time I enjoyed figs was on the beaches of the Adriatic, and I almost forgot my initial infatuation. It all came back eight years ago when my sister and I took my three girls to the seaside in the town of Igalo in Montenegro. We were too lazy to go to the farmers’ market in the heat of the midday, and not willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to avoid it, but dark-haired and handsome teenagers who patrolled the beaches were not offering only small frosted bottles of Fanta and chocolate-covered mini donuts that would invariably attract the girls’ attention, but also baskets of warm figs, as ripe and swollen with seeds as that long-gone day Father offered them to us as a gift.

My daughters were older and not as trusting as we were. Anya was skeptical and doubtful, squeezing one unfortunate specimen between her fingers, dissecting it with her nails, breaking small pieces off and placing them carefully in her mouth, taking her time in getting to know this new fruit. Zoe, on the other hand, mesmerized by the dark rose interior and completely beguiled by the honey-taste and tiny crunchy seeds, grabbed a handful. My sister and I did not need a prompt, and our pile disappeared quickly, leaving our fingers, mouths, and cheeks sticky and sweet, and our faces brightened with smiles of contentment.

We ate our weight in figs that summer and my girls fell in love with that dowdy-looking Mediterranean fruit that hides its brilliant essence so skillfully. For years to come that was the only thing they wanted from friends and relatives who vacationed on the Adriatic coast when we happened to spend our summers in Serbia.

Igalo from

my sister and my girls

But now we live in Southern California and even though figs are everywhere, in grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, on neighborhood trees, I behave as if I still had not received the memo and grab a box greedily every time I see one. And the fruit disappears as fast, sneaky long fingers plucking them one by one, until only their plastic containers remain.

Even though I admit to absconding with a few of the figs myself, I managed to save a dozen to use in the salad that all of a sudden is not a luxury. It came together so easily, as if I had been making it for years. Yes, my fingers tried to steal a few slices before they hit the salad bowl, but my restraint was formidable and we were rewarded with a glorious mound of spring greens dotted with crumbled goat cheese, sparkling candied pecans, and soft, sweet wheels of figs. Not even the presence of arugula, whose bodacious flavors the girls still have to discover, managed to deter them from clearing their plates and proclaiming it one of the best salads ever.


Recipe type: Salad
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
The flavors are bold and contrasting, but they come together in harmony, complementing each other.
  • Salad:
  • A big pile of mixed spring greens (enough for everyone)
  • 6-8 ripe figs, sliced into rounds
  • a handful of candied pecans
  • 4 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • balsamic vinaigrette:
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  1. Mix all the ingredients for salad in a big bowl.
  2. Pour balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper into a small glass jar (I save the jars from salsa, capers, artichokes, etc. and use them for emulsifying my dressings).
  3. Close the lid tightly and shake vigorously for ten seconds, to allow vinegar and oil to become friendly.
  4. Pour immediately on top of salad and toss lightly.


Jul 032012

airplane from

Thursday afternoon, the girls and I will board a big white bird and fly across the ocean to London and then to Belgrade. Last few days I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of unbearable panic accompanied as usual with an accelerated heart beat, a crazy adrenaline rush (not in a good way), and a sensation that a baby elephant has made a nest on my chest. The items on my list are almost completely crossed over, our e-tickets are printed, the passports are neatly laid out right next to the tickets, and empty suitcases lined up on the bedroom floor.

I still have to buy a few necessities for the trip, like goat cheese, multi-grain crackers, and pretzels, as the girls requested them as snacks. Packing should not take a lot of time, as  I have piles of stuff destined to travel neatly arranged all over the apartment. I am helping my sweet next-door neighbor with making a creative journal for her special friend’s 70th birthday. In exchange, she will water my succulents and keep my herbs alive until we return. The roots and grays are covered, the nails are done, the purses purged of extraneous material that inevitably manages to collect in time.

I am as excited as anxious, unable to relax, even though these trans-Atlantic trips have been my routine for over twenty five years. But, I tend to fret whenever anyone travels, even for a weekend, even just across the state. Once the baggage is checked in and boarding passes are safely tucked in my purse, I’ll slump in a hard plastic chair at a Starbucks and bury my face in a latte, a smile replacing the angst. Until we arrive at Customs, of course.

Wednesday morning, the suitcases will be packed and keeping ranks in the hallway. I hope to emulate Dorothy Parker and walk around my friend’s street party, cool, armed with a witty repartee and a glass of good wine. (The only thing that I can guarantee right now, though, is a glass of good wine.) We’ll stroll down to the beach at sunset to watch the fireworks and I will take every burst of color personally, as a farewell greeting and a colorful goodbye. I will miss the smell of the ocean and the bike rides on the strand. I will miss my friend madly. But summer is always the fastest of the seasons, and the day of our return will creep up sooner than I expected, as always, and plunge me into another panic-ruled state.

I will not be cooking any Fourth of July delicacies, but here are some great dishes that would make any party unforgettable. Happy Fourth!

Lamb Burgers 

Lamb Burgers from










Grilled Beef Tenderloin

Chimney smoking from













Summer Pasta Salad

Summer Pasta Salad from









Grilled Summer Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables from









Grilled Sweet Corn with Chipotle-Lime Butter

Grilled Corn with Chipotle-Lime Butter










Roasted Peppers, Roasted Beets, and Grilled Eggplant

roasted peppers from

Jun 012012

Summer Pasta Salad from

Mother dispatched me to college with a black-leather bound notebook filled with her hand-written recipes that were my favorites over the years. She really tried to take into account the inadequacy of my culinary skills, even though I spent many years assisting her in the kitchen. I just was not a willing participant, and I pretty much blocked any information trying to gain access to my brain that was obsessed by many worthy causes, and none of them connected with food preparation.

Ingredients for Summer Pasta Salad from bibberche.comIn the beginning I did not delve much into the precious notebook as I lived with my relatives and ate dinner that my Aunt Pašana prepared every night. My cousins were even less skilled in the kitchen duties, and we often played a game or two of Yahtzee! to determine who would make coffee or do the dishes.

Once I moved into my own apartment, I opened the notebook and started cooking. To my dismay, very few of the dishes that emerged from my kitchen resembled the comfort food I received at Mother’s, and I was rightly disillusioned. But my fear of failing retreated before the realization that I enjoyed good food and the only way to experience good eating away from home and on the student’s budget was to buckle down and learn.

While my room-mates were delegated to less appealing chores like cleaning or doing dishes, I ardently cooked almost every single day. Yes, there were many Sandra Lee concoctions in the beginning because I sometimes had classes for twelve hours straight; and there were many meatless pasta dinners that came together in less then thirty minutes; but from time to time I would proudly stand by the table hosting a particularly successful meal, my hands resting on my hips,Italian Dressing from my favorite orange apron still on, and a silly grin adorning my face.

In time, I realized that I felt really good about feeding the people I loved. And feeding people great food I prepared was not something to be embarrassed about. Sure, it would not bring me closer to a job for UNICEF, nor would it eradicate world hunger, nor prevent human beings from senselessly hurting each other, but it elicited so many smiles on regular basis that I felt I was surely resolving at least a few of the global conflicts.

My life took me along some very curvy roads, but the unpredictability of my tomorrows only motivated me more and more to offer comfort and love to all who stumbled into my kitchen. Good food does not have to be expensive and it does not have to dazzle. Most of the times a bowl full of pasta simply dressed with good olive oil, garlic, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper is enough to make you forget the ugliest facets of the world. A roast chicken can pull you in and send you back to your mother’s lap for the warmest hug. A plate of creamy mashed potatoes is able to to conjure up the sweetest dreams that would leave you rested and invigorated.

As a good digital age student wannabe, I transferred all the recipes from Mother’s hand-written leather-bound day timer into a Word document that houses thousands of recipes I have collected over the years. But the actual notebook is still with me and I leaf through it occasionally, caressing the pages inscribed in that beautiful, yet unusual artsy handwriting of an Art major. I know now that my beloved Mother sent me off into the world with a treasure map, convinced that I would eventually experience all the riches her gift bestowed upon me.

Summer Pasta Saladvfrom


This is not my mother’s recipe, but when it gets hot,  nothing feels better than a refreshing serving of this pasta salad with tangy dressing and crunchy vegetables. And for me, that’s comfort at its best.



  • 1 lb (500gr) pasta of your choice (penne, ziti, farfalle, corkscrews – just avoid long-shaped pasta)
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 8oz (250gr) button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup olives, pitted (optional)


  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Grated parmigiano Reggiano

Italian Dressing:

  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar (you can use white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, even aromatic vinegars)
  • ½ good quality olive oil
  • 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper


Put all the ingredients for Italian dressing in a small jar, cover tightly with a lid and shake vigorously until it blends.

Boil pasta according to the package. Drain.

Mix in all the vegetables while pasta is still warm and stir. Add the dressing and mix thoroughly.

(The salad is better if it rests for several hours in the refrigerator.)

Garnish with parsley and parmigiano Reggiano and serve with crusty country bread or your favorite bruschetta, and a glass of crisp, chilled pinot grigio.

Feb 012012

Blood Orange Salad from

For a long time, the smell of oranges brought forth memories of mercilessly frigid January nights with bright stars twinkling in clusters and finding their sparkle mirrored in a distorted symmetry of snow crystals underneath. I remember icy winds from the north slapping my cheeks and pinching gloveless fingers while every tiny hair on my face was frozen and covered with a thin layer of ice. January is cruel in Serbia, bringing on its wings unrelenting cold that turns everything to an ice statue. Light and dry snow muffles all the sounds and when you walk, your boots make scrunching noises that break the ominous whining of the trees bending in an effort to release their branches from the deadly embrace of ice.

On those nights the fruit bowl stationed to the right of the kitchen sink contained nothing but citrus. Thin-skinned lemons ended up cut up and squeezed in big cups of hot tea sweetened with honey that awaited us when we returned home from school, our noses running from the cold, our cheeks flushed. Instead of chocolates and candy that visitors usually brought throughout the year, there were bags of oranges from the port town of Jaffa in Israel.

Mother would place a bowl of oranges in front of Deda-Ljubo and he would unfold the Swiss-army knife that he meticulously sharpened every morning and cut through the skin, sending the heady aroma all over the room and making us appear from our hidden corners, ready to bite into juicy fruit. Those oranges were sweet, with very few seeds, and thin white pith. It might have been just a mirage of childhood, but I have been searching in vain for those oranges ever since.

In the late seventies, grapefruits became fashionable, and I learned to love their bitter-sweet taste. And then the mandarins from Montenegro appeared, easy to peel, soft, and bursting with fresh flavor. But it was not until I arrived to California that I felt as if I were thrown smack in the middle of a citrus family reunion. There were huge pomelos with thick skin hiding pinkish flesh, round and sweet Meyer lemons perfect for preserving, Ojai pixie tangerines whose short season made them sought out and coveted by aficionados, tiny kumquats that once brought me a decisive victory in Scrabble!, and more orange varieties than I could number on my fingers.

blood oranges from

A few weeks back a group of food bloggers from the area had a chance to tour Melissa’s Produce warehouse in Vernon, California. We had an amazing vegetarian spread for lunch, featuring all the seasonal produce Melissa’s proudly carries and distributes throughout the country, and not one omnivore in the bunch complained for the lack of animal protein. We donned dorky hair nets and strolled around the warehouse, observing and learning, listening to every word our charming and knowledgeable host Robert Schueller uttered. And then he challenged us to identify ten ingredients he placed on a table, promising a prize for the most right guesses. After I managed to guess only three and with a great effort, I humbly admitted to myself that my knowledge of the world of produce is extremely superficial.

I found out that I have not met even a half of the cousins at the citrus family reunion: there was sweet cocktail grapefruit completely void of bitterness; juicy Cara Cara orange; Satsuma mandarin; hydra-shaped Buddha’s hand; wrinkly-skinned desert gold mandarin; easy to peel honey tangerine; kaffir limes with their brain-looking skin; Kishu mandarins fresh off the boat from Korea; and finger lime hiding a myriad of opalescent beads with a stunning burst of flavor in its nondescript green pod (at 50 cents a piece, these “legumes” can march along truffles and caviar as the world’s most expensive food per ounce).

It is an understatement when I declare that I was thoroughly overwhelmed. My head was spinning from all the shades of yellow, orange, and green, while the aroma was filling the spacious and modern kitchen that we all wished would miraculously transport to our own homes. I felt humbled by the nature’s bounty and grateful for a chance to experience the abundance that is offered to a human being in a developed country. And when I left, my burlap bag filled with different products found at Melissa’s, I vowed to look at the world of produce with different eyes and from a different perspective.

February is the month that brings us blood oranges. A few days ago I found some at our local Persian store and I plopped several of them in my basket. To me, they are the sexiest citrus fruit, promising lusciousness with its red-speckled skin. Once you slice through, the flesh appears in different hues of magenta, red, and maroon, glistening with juice. These oranges offer not only beautifully shaded cross-sections, but also the juices both abundant and sweet.

I don’t have a habit of eating salads as meals, but as I was plating my greens and layering them with beets, segments of blood oranges, toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta cheese, slivers of thinly sliced onions, and slices of cucumbers, all sprinkled with a zesty tarragon vinaigrette, I could not wait to sample this colorful dish and savor the flavors in every forkful. It was as satisfying as I thought it would be.

I scraped the last of the arugula off the plate as I was finishing a Skype conversation with my sister in Frankfurt, Germany, who was getting ready to go to bed, already grumpy at the thought of riding her bike to work at seriously sub zero temperatures. January is at its fiercest in some parts of Europe and the concrete is crackling under the attack of ice. The sun is out in all its splendor, but its rays do not reach the Earth and its glow is completely void of warmth. But I know that somewhere in my sister’s kitchen there is a bowl of citrus, each round piece of fruit ready to ward off the frigid fingers of January and bring sunshine into dreary and grey days.

Blood Orange Salad from


This salad is very versatile and the ingredients can be varied. You can use goat cheese instead of feta, red onions instead of scallions, pecans or walnuts, even hazelnuts instead of pine nuts, and golden beets would add a nice contrast of color.


  • a few big handfuls of mixed salad greens, torn into pieces if too large
  • 1 blood orange, peeled, separated into segments, white skin removed
  • 1 medium beet, roasted and cut into pieces*
  • 1 chunk of feta cheese (2×2 inches), crumbled
  • 2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted**
  • 3-4 scallions, diced
  • 1 small cucumber, sliced thinly


  • 2 Tbsp Tarragon vinegar (you can use any flavorful vinegar you like)
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp dried Italian seasoning or Herbes de Provence
  • ¼ cup good quality olive oil
*Wash the beets, but do not peel them. Wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet. Roast for 40-45 minutes until tender. After they cool, peel them, wearing gloves to protect your fingers. You can keep roasted beets in the refrigerator,  sliced and layered in a mason jar, lightly salted and sprinkled with oil.

**place the pine nuts into a non-stick pan and toast for 2-3 minutes on medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally until golden brown


Place the lettuces on a plate and top with orange segments, beet chunks, cucumber slices, crumbled cheese, scallions, and toasted pine nuts.

Pour all the dressing ingredients into a glass jar, put the lid on it tightly and shake for 20-30 seconds until combined. Pour over the salad and serve.

Last year at this time I wrote about my dad and a recipe for Ligurian Fish Stew.

Nov 022011


pickled peppers from

When I go to a grocery store, I am faithful to my nature and I always carry a list in my pocket. Farmers’ market is a completely different story. I bring an oversized canvas bag, preferably equipped with wheels, and meander around the rows waiting for inspiration to hit me while I ogle all the beautiful produce seductively spread across the wooden stalls. I never buy just what I need. There is invariably an immaculate eggplant too pretty to ignore, a gnarly celery root proudly displaying crisp greenery on top, or a bunch of elegantly slender leeks too long to comfortably fit on the counter, pleading to be saved and taken away.

I leave only when my bag cannot hold another ounce, rushing by the stalls displaying hundreds of items I did not purchase. Almost every time, I guiltily stop at some point and allow a farmer to coerce me into buying something I really do not need, that definitely will not fit in my bag… a cup full of juniper berries, a bucket of Cornellian cherries, a big black radish, a sack of spicy, colorful peppers, a baggie of hawthorn berries… I sometimes scold my parents for hoarding, but I am as culpable as they are. I collect food. I cannot help it, as my greed and addiction are too hard to resist. It has become a standing joke with my family and friends. I cannot lie and I empty my bags feeling contrite on the surface, but impatiently waiting for everyone to leave me alone just for a moment, long enough to think of all the uses for my beloved produce.

cornichones from

Mother thinks I am crazy for piling more and more obviously unnecessary work. Father is amused when he finds me buried in the yellowed pages of Veliki narodni kuvar.* My sister just looks at me with her famous “I am speechless” glance. My best friend indulges my addiction by bringing baskets full of Swiss chard and red currants, boxes of his home-rendered lard, bouquets of dill, and since the hunting season opened a few weeks ago, a hefty piece of wild boar and a skinned and thoroughly cleaned rabbit. But nothing can stop me from finding the perfect ways of preparing everything that ends up on my kitchen table, regardless of whose hands delivered it there.

For several weeks now, farmers’ market has been full of people gathering the goods for the incoming winter. Middle-aged men push their bicycles with canvas bags full of  green tomatoes and cauliflower hanging from the handles. Old ladies shuffle along with their backs arched in a hump, toting heavy sacks of red peppers. The young men, displaying their entrepreneurial spirit, walk around proudly weaving their hand-made dollies where the bundles of onions and shiny cabbages rest comfortably. Everybody is scurrying around, like the ants from Aesop’s fable, afraid to welcome the icy northern winds with their pantries not adequately stocked.

hot peppers from

I feel the call of the preserving season and I join the crowds, grabbing every opportunity to once again walk through the market. I am returning to the U.S. pretty soon and leaving behind sick Mother who barely eats, and elderly Father whose dinner portions are smaller then my eleven-year-old’s. But I made sure that they will not lack food for another decade, labeling the jars clearly to make hunting for them as easy as possible. I visit the jars several times a day, admiring their beautiful colors, proud of my accomplishments. Day by day I progressed on my culinary journey, picking Mother’s brain and learning how to preserve, pickle, and can.

sweet red peppers from

I picked every vegetable that ended in those jars, and Father provided the fruit from The Hills. In the U.S. this would be luxury. Here in Serbia, it is the way of life, a consequence of living in a country that has not reached the dreaded standards of the west. I am convinced that in the years to come, Farmers’ Market will inevitably change, reflecting the European Union’s strict agricultural principles and that all the stalls will offer straight cucumbers without tiny thorns, perfectly matching in size, falling between seven and nine inches, with tomatoes uniform in color, immaculate in their roundness, hard and unappetizing, completely void of their sweet summer essence. But in the meantime, I’ll take advantage of all the colors, sizes, and shapes my beloved, hard-working farmers are offering every day for mere pennies, feeling eternal gratitude for them and their toil.

pickles from

*Veliki narodni kuvar is an old Serbian cookbook that is considered the Bible of cooking.


This is a universal method that can be applied to any vegetable in season. I have pickled sweet red peppers, hot peppers, and cornichones following the recipe. It differs from many as it does not ask for any preservatives and chemicals and produces perfect pickles, firm, sour, and crunchy. The amounts given are for every 1 kg (1 quart) jar.


  • Vegetables of your choice (small cucumbers, sweet red peppers, Hungarian yellow peppers, hot peppers of any variety, green tomatoes)
  • 100ml white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • several peppercorns
  • fresh dill sprigs (for cornichones only)
  • water


Wash the jars in hot water, and boil the lids for a few minutes (if you run the jars and the lids through the dishwasher, they should be sterilized).

Carefully place the vegetables in jars, lining the edges first and then filling the middle. Press them in tightly, trying to squeeze in as many as possible. Mix all the ingredients except for water and pour into the jar, atop the vegetables. Fill with water almost to the top, leaving a bit of space (1cm or ¼ inch) to the top. Screw the lids on tightly and place in a deep pot. Cover with water to reach all the way to the lids and heat to boil. Once it reaches boiling temperature turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 15 minutes until sterilized.

Using the canning tongs, carefully pull the jars out and place them upside down on a kitchen towel to cool of and seal. If they leak at all, the seal has broken and the jar needs to be used immediately or processed again.

pickled peppers from

 Last year at about this time I wrote a post about my sister and her German husband with a recipe for his Grossmutter’s Oxtail Soup.