In high school I had a habit of choosing a random country from the library non-fiction section, studying it for two weeks, and culminating my study by cooking a hearty feast of authentic dishes. It was a fun hobby and I dearly miss it.
I actually cooked this meal and wrote this post years ago, but I thought today would be a perfect time to reflect on one of my favorite culinary adventures.
So now it is time for fourteen year old Susanna to take it away:
A Taste of Serbia
A Taste of Serbia
Good morning folks. Today I would like to archive one of my personal favorites from the annals of international meal history. You are interested in seeing the makings of an Olson household international meal are you? Unfortunately, cooking these things keeps me pretty busy and in the past I haven’t had reasons to attempt passable pictures. It doesn’t help that these particular dishes are not necessarily photogenic. You can blame Serbian culture for that. So without further ado I present Serbian night. Although I am afraid that the accompanying photo’s may diminish your appetite rather than wet it. My apologies. With this new blog in mind I shall definitely attempt improving my photography in the future. (Note from future Susanna: haha photography skills just as pitiful as ever!)
Serbia is a country in the Balkans. Which is a region of Eastern Europe consisting of many small countries captured and ruled by Turkey for hundreds of years.
During WWII the Balkans were sick and tired of being bullied and decided to form one larger country, Yugoslavia, in hopes that security would come with numbers and size. Although each Balkan country has affected the others, and although their histories are closely intertwined with many alliances and common enemies – each country has somehow maintained a very distinct culture and separated religion. ( p.s. Yugoslavia didn’t work )
My Serbian menu was especially exciting due to the fact that I received input from a real Serbian. Score. I study Italian using an online community for language learners called live mocha. It is a great resource. There are people from almost every country trying learn English. I generally stick to working on my lessons with an occasional practice session with an Italian speaker. However, as a native English speaker, I’m pretty much bombarded with friend/chat requests.
One day in the midst of my vocabulary drills I noticed a request from a Serbian. I couldn’t help myself. After improving the fellow’s English for a sufficient amount of time, I asked him about his favorite authentic Serbian dishes. His reply became the basics of my menu. In my book, this is pretty cool.
Dish One: Punjene Paprike – Serbian style stuffed peppers
A simple dish. Peppers hollowed out and filled with rice and a scrumptious ground meat mixture. Simmered in a liquid-y tomato sauce for as long as possible. Nummy nummy.
Serbians have been through a lot. The capital city of Belgrade has been destroyed and rebuilt 38 times. The most recent war ( civil war in the 1990’s) left a damaged economy and super inflation. Serbs often survive tough situations by growing their own food. Gardens and farm animals are not uncommon, even in the cities!
Dish two: Sarma – stuffed cabbage.
This is your ultimate cabbage recipe – making sure to utilize almost every part of the
- smaller cabbage leaves are steamed, washed, and used as wrappers to hold a rice-y, meat-y mixture.
- Rolls are placed in a baking dish coated with sauerkraut ( or chopped up harder, whiter, edge pieces of cabbage )
- The rolls are covered with the four large outer leaves.
- The whole shebang is coated with a soupy tomato sauce and baked.
If your interested you can find the exact recipe here.
You might call Serbia the lil’ devil of Europe. It is not a big country, but if you like history, you’ve probably heard of it. It was in fact a Serbian nationalist that killed the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne and threw Europe into WWI.
Dish Three: Serbian Style Musaka.
Musaka is a layered veggie/meat casserole. (In case you wondered, yes we were tired of ground beef by the end of the night.) It is a dish you can find all over Eastern Europe, however each country has it’s own distinct way of preparing it. And each country undoubtedly believes that their version is the best. Comparable to the relationship Southern Americans have with BBQ.
Whereas many countries prepare musaka using egg plant, Serbians tend to use potatoes, which the majority of my family was pleased to hear. (That’s one of life’s questions I’ll probably never have answered – why do people not like eggplant? How can I possibly be living in a house full of people who do not like eggplant?)
What makes this dish unique is that after layering meat and potato’s, you pour on a delicious eggy/yogurt sauce. Hmm. Of course I forgot to take pictures of the end product. So here is professional picture: (probably more appetizing anyway)
Proja is cornbread with one simple twist: it has yogurt in it. The texture and flavor was just a bit different and extremely popular. (I know I’ll be incorporating into my normal cornbread recipe.)
When Yugoslavia formed in 1918, their official language was Serbian-Croatian. Croatian and Serbian are almost identical except that Serbian (influenced by the eastern orthodox church) uses the Cyrillic alphabet and Croatian ( influenced by Roman Catholicism ) uses the Latin alphabet. The result is that Serbian is now the language of two alphabets. Students learn both alphabets in school. Instructions on street signs are often written twice – once with the Latin alphabet and once in the Cyrillic.
Dessert: Sweet Cheese Palachinke
This dish was extremely popular among the family.
Crepes stuffed with a cream cheese filling and baked under
another yogurty sauce. This was the only measly picture I
managed to take before cooking times clashed and things got
a bit too intense for photography.
So I’ve substituted a professional photo here:
The full recipe can be found here.
With the addition of fresh fruit it might turn into a decadent Olson breakfast someday…
I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into Serbian night. I will attempt to improve my photography and writing in the future. (Note from future Susanna: here’s to hoping that can still happen!) Thank you, or should I say Hvala.
Yup, so that is it. Serbia in three words? Ground beef, potatoes, and yogurt. Bout sums it up. In fact, those are key ingredients in a lot of Eastern European cuisine. I remember that by the end of my trip to Poland I was absolutely craving fresh fruits and veggies. We mostly ate meat and potatoes, soup and bread, with just a bit of veggies in the soup.Granted, it was the best soup and bread I had ever had in my life, but I still craved something fresh. I tried to buy an apple at the small Schelpt cornerstore. WORST APPLE I HAVE EVER EATEN IN MY LIFE. (And I’ve eaten a lot of apples.) I should have gone for the yogurt. Even the smallest of convenience stores had an entire refrigerator dedicated to different kinds of yogurt and yogurt drinks. Oh, and not to mention an aisle for chocolate. Yes, a whole aisle!