Every time my parents moved, the kitchen became much larger. Njanja and Deda-Ljubo lived in the big family house where most of the cooking was done outside in the separate summer kitchen. A hallway between their bedroom and the bathroom was converted into a tiny, galley-style kitchen, that could not accommodate both Njanja and Mother at the same time.
When I started fifth grade, Father was provided a condo by the hospital, and we moved away from our grandparents. A mere block away. The building was brand new, and the eat-in kitchen was hip and modern, equipped with the best 70s appliances. It could fit a dining room table big enough for all of us to sit around and have a meal together.
We eventually moved into the house I have called home for most of my life, the house I sit in even now, writing this. This house was built in the beginning of 20th century, and the kitchen is pretty big. It was designed to be the center of family life with a big dining room table and a couch facing the working area, perfect for neighborhood housewives to stop by, have Turkish coffee every day, exchange recipes, and feed each other tasty morsels of town gossip. This kitchen was meant for the husband returning home from work, who would only have to climb four steps from the back yard, take his shoes off in the tiny square entrance way, and collapse on the couch while his face broke into a smile from the sight of his beautifully flushed wife finishing the preparation of their delicious daily repast.
There is a room in this house that contains a television and a more comfortable sofa and chairs. That other room is, for reasons that elude me, often called a “living room,” even though most of the living gets done in this kitchen. From morning coffee to late night snack… and all the conversations and life moments that go with them… the living gets done here, in the center of the universe… in this kitchen.
I love this kitchen, its twelve-foot high walls, white-brown-apricot color scheme, the old wood-burning stove (used only in times of scarcity and astronomically high prices of kilowatt hours), and the big window that opens up to a concrete slab filled with house plants. I love the big pantry lined with shelves housing hundreds of jars of preserves, various appliances (useful and useless), and Mother’s enormous collection of pots and pans of different age, color, and material.
I can walk through this kitchen in the middle of a moonless night, when the electricity goes out, and find my way around the chairs, not once even touching a piece of furniture. Yet, every time I come back from the US, it takes me a week to relearn where everything is and get acquainted with new skillets and mysterious gadgets. I used to bring spices in tiny baggies, dreading the customs and the dogs trained to sniff out drugs and other smelly contraband, eager to share my culinary accomplishments in global cuisine.
This time I brought nothing, deciding to prepare only Serbian dishes with gorgeous produce from the overflowing farmers’ market. If I could, I would spend hours strolling between the stalls, never getting tired of the smells and vibrant colors of the summer offering. I would take the sweltering heat that everyone tries to avoid. I would even tolerate the pesky wasps that scare me, accepting that sweet, yellow pears attract them as much as they attract me.
When I found out that the September choice for the Recipe Swap was Wild Rabbit with Vegetables, I really wanted to cook game. The hunting season in Serbia is over, but one of my best friends runs the hunting grounds in the town and his company freezer is always full of wild boar, pheasant, venison, quail, and rabbit. He promised to bring me a surprise package if I invited him over for dinner. I love bartering for food, but he had to spend a weekend putting out forest fires, and the delivery was delayed.
I stopped by the butcher and bought a chunk of boneless pork shoulder instead, fighting the urge to bury my nose in the paper and breathe in the smell of fresh meat. I was making a utilitarian dish and I knew that I had the winner with my purchase, even though I was really looking forward to using the juniper berries and bay leaf in my venison stew.
When I returned home, I went through the pantry and collected the ingredients for the dish I intended to make. In the beginning my pile was small, the ingredients simple and few: a couple of onions, a pepper, new potatoes, sweet paprika, stock, salt, and pepper. But I discovered two roasted red peppers in the fridge, two pieces of smoked pork ribs, and a pound of button mushrooms. To make the party merrier, I brought out a bottle of Father’s homemade red wine and a bag of dry thyme Mother had picked on the mountain.
My produce was fragrant and fresh. My meat was of superb quality. The wine was dry, carrying tones of sherry in its bouquet. Even my pot was gorgeous, an old enamel piece with handles that got hot after five minutes on the stove. I was not disappointed that it was not the rabbit simmering in the pot as the big old kitchen was enveloped in the comforting and warm smell of a hearty pork paprikash.
This is a versatile and forgiving dish. It can be made with various vegetables and meat. You can season it with different herbs and spices, you can make it as mild or as hot as you prefer. The broth can be thin, or it can be thickened with flour. You can cook the potatoes in it as I did, or you can serve it with pasta, dumplings, or mashed potatoes. You can call it paprikash, goulash, or stew, depending on the changes you made. Or you can just call it delicious.
PORK PAPRIKASH WITH POTATOES
- 1 tbsp lard (or any other fat you prefer)
- 750gr (1 ½ lbs) pork shoulder, cut in cubes (I prefer smaller cut, ¾ inch cubes)
- 2 small pieces of smoked pork ribs (optional – I love the addition of the smoky layer, though)
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 pepper (I use Serbian triangular pale green or yellow peppers, but a bell pepper would do), chopped
- ¼ cup sweet paprika
- 500gr (1 lb) button mushrooms, halved or quartered, depending on the size
- 2 roasted peppers, peeled, stemmed, and chopped (optional)
- ½ cup dry, red wine
- 1 quart of homemade chicken or beef stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp dried thyme (or any herb or spice to your liking)
- 1 kg (2 lbs) new potatoes, peeled (if you are inSerbia) or unpeeled (if you are in US) and halved
Melt the lard on medium-high heat in a heavy skillet, and add the meat seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in one layer, and remove from the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium, and add onions and peppers. Saute until soft, but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the paprika and stir to incorporate.
Mix in all the mushrooms and roasted peppers, if using, and stir for another few minutes. Deglaze the skillet with wine, and when it evaporates, add the stock, salt, pepper, and thyme.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to boil. Turn the heat back down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the flavors develop and meat is almost fork tender. Add the potatoes and continue simmering, until the are done. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Serve with a vinegary coleslaw and crusty homemade bread. A cold beer or a glass of red wine are optional but desirable sides.
I met Christianna at BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta. We spent only a few hours talking, but that was enough for me to connect to her and her amazing life story. When I found out that she hosts a food blogging event featuring an old recipe and hymnal book she unearthed at a garage sale, I signed up immediately. And I love being a part of the Recipe Swap group that so many talented and creative people belong to.
Please visit Christianna’s blog Burwell General Store to read my friends’ imaginative approaches to the simple recipe for Wild Rabbit With Vegetables. There are some truly inspirational posts. Christianna, Dennis, Toni, Shumaila, Alex, Lora, Lindsay, Mari, Barb, Pola, Jamie, Claire, Shari, Joy, Monique,Linda, Priya, Rachel, Alli, Katy,