image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

So…Bosnia and Herzegovina… yet another place I am woefully ignorant of. The name Bosnia most likely comes from a nearby river, but I find its partner’s moniker more interesting. It stems from the German hereditary title of Herzog, which is the equivalent of “duke”. Thus, it is a dukedom, which it was early on in its history. In antiquity, it was part of the large region of Illyria (the setting of Twelfth Night) which essentially mirrored and rivaled the length and breadth of Italy on the opposing eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. And as with most forces who were allied with and then turned against the Roman Republic, it was conquered and dissolved into local kingdoms, and those regions which were in opposition were…“taken care of”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s histories are ultimately not happy ones: marred by large scale ethnic conflict resulting in genocide and war crimes. And even before that there was something called…World War I? Isn’t it weird that they would name it that at the time, almost like they expected more in the future…humm. And of course the long and complicated series of political dominos that ended in war began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip.

Rather than get into all that detail (which you can look up pretty much anywhere), I will simply say that there are many ethnic groups living within the same borders (Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, etc). Following WWI and the fall of the Ottoman Empire (which lasted much longer than the Roman Empire…I’m just saying, we’ll probably address that when we get to Turkey…in a few years…), the large Austro-Hungarian Empire was divided into many of the Balkan countries we know today.

So often in our history, land was divided up seemingly appropriately at the time, with less than adequate regard for where certain ethnic groups ended up. This notion of separation is so accepted, one of the houses of government is the “House of Peoples”, with five representatives each from the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. Can you imagine if in America congress was divided between the Irish, Italians, Germans, English, etc? This is still progress, as prior to the acceptance of this format, certain peoples were being subjugated and discriminated against for centuries, and given enough time… genocided against. The ethnic cleansings of the 1990’s forced NATO to carry out two bombing campaigns in ’95 and ’99. The first was named “Operation Deliberate Force”, which I feel is a little a less subtle then these titles usually are. But what do they eat???

I’m glad you asked; sometimes I forget this is a food blog. The cuisine of this region is actually very interesting. It is situated perfectly between East and West, North and South, and has been ruled by the European Austrians and the Arabic Turks. It would not be uncommon to see Baklava and Kefir, which are so heavily associated with the Middle East, next to potatoes and other continental fodder. The dish I picked is amazing. It is a Creamy Zucchini Soup… with no dairy. That’s right… a creamy soup with NO dairy. I’m not one of those adamant proponents of eliminating all dairy from one’s diet, but I have to say, the less dairy I find myself eating, the better I generally feel, so there is probably something to that.

One of the goals of this undertaking has been to familiarize myself with global ingredients. This is a task that would not have been possible even 20 years ago. The selection and assortment of imported spices and other foods is truly a wonder if you think about how far they have traveled to get to your plate. So when I saw Vegeta listed as an ingredient two things crossed my mind: “Oh man, I really need to go back and watch Dragon Ball Z it’s been too long”, and “where am I going to find a Croatian spice blend in central Ohio?” Now I should add the words “easily” and “affordably” to that sentence because I am doing my best to cook within our means and not spend a lot for one ingredient for one dish. This is especially true when the recipe even points out that you could use vegetable broth instead. But I always try.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I found a canister at my local supermarket. It is now my go-to bouillon base when I need to make vegetable broth or season any dish, it is flavorful and unique and kicks regular vegetable broth’s butt. So next time you are at the grocery store, poke around and see if you can find it, you might be surprised. Ingredient interlude over.

This recipe is beyond easy and the only tool you need is a stick blender (though I guess any kind of blender would work on low). It is a one-pot wonder and has practically no fat, two criteria for my favorite dishes. I will say that in other recipes I might leave the bacon garnish off, and of course that is an option for anyone, but I do feel that in this dish, with the otherwise lack of meat, it is well worth it for the accompanying flavor and texture. You don’t have to use a lot to get a huge improvement overall and the same goes for the feta on top. I know I will be making this many times next winter: a giant steaming bowl of creamy goodness.

Bosnia and Herzegovina. I’ve typed it so many times in writing this and still can’t seem to spell it right and that is my cross to bear. I will see you next in Botswana which is roughly the size of France… so I assume their culinary history is just as impressive…

 

  


 

Bosnian Creamy Zucchini Soup

4 servings

Ingredients:

1 large Zucchini, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)

1 Onion, chopped
2 large Carrots, diced
1 Garlic clove, minced
3 large Potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoon olive Oil
1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Paprika
Goat Cheese (optional)
4 -5 cups Vegetable Broth (can be substituted with water and 1 tablespoon Vegeta, Bosnian spice mix)
Salt and Pepper
a little crumbled Bacon (optional)

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Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil and paprika in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add onions, garlic and carrots and saute until onions start to lose opaqueness
  • Mix in diced potatoes and vinegar and saute, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are translucent.
  • Add zucchini and enough broth to just cover the vegetables then bring to boil. Lower the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked.
  • Using an immersion blender blend the soup until creamy, you can leave some potato and zucchini chunks for texture if you want.
  • Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.  To serve, top the soup with feta and some bacon bits.

 

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Armenia and Hammer

September 5, 2014

image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

Most of the time I feel pretty smart. A bit cocky but true nonetheless, and I enjoy that feeling. Other times, I feel like an idiot. And there are those rare times when I feel bad about being an idiot…this is one of those times. As Jews, and for good reason, I get the sense that we often feel like we have the monopoly on genocide angst. We spend so much time ruminating on our history that it can often make us belittle other events in the world. So it was a shock to me to learn that there was an earlier genocide in the 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire systematically killed 1 – 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.

Why? Vaguely because Armenia historically had close ties to the West due to their overwhelming Christian population dating back over a millennia. Didn’t know Armenians were mostly Christian? Me either. Ever wonder why the four quarters of Jerusalem are: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian? Well now we know. In addition, they were thought to be too friendly with Russia whom the Turks were constantly at odds with. It didn’t hurt that the Ottoman Empire had also signed a secret alliance with Germany in 1914 which once again put them at odds with the Russians. But in all honesty, it just seems like the Arab empire wanted an excuse to cleanse one of the only large Christian populations in the area (Armenia is landlocked and surrounded on three of its sides by Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan). In any event, this lead to the Armenian Diaspora which continues to this day.

Diasporas can have strange effects on cuisine. When a people are forced to move, their food culture is one of the few things they can easily take with them. This can often strengthen the reliance on a shared culinary community to hold on to their identity. Another side effect is that the new area they are in may not have the same resources as where they left. One example would be chicken-fried steak in the Texas. This is the adaptation of German wiener schnitzel but using the available beef instead of pork or veal that would have traditionally been used. I wanted to find a dish that really represented Armenian food.

I made a three part meal as it was pretty simple and easy to assemble. The first part was the main course, a tomato based lamb dish that had a really nice sweet flavor. The starting base of green peppers and onions really brought out the meatiness of the lamb (beef would also work).

One side I did was a basic mashed eggplant. This turned out well but was a little bland on its own. When mixed with the sauce from the lamb however, it took on new life and was very delicious. To finish I made what amounted to a zucchini quiche with sharp cheddar cheese. This was very savory and I kept having to remind myself it wasn’t a spinach quiche, but zucchini with its own unique flavor. The only thing I would change is making sure I got all the seeds of the zucchini (it was freshly grown, not from the grocery which meant the seeds were larger and heartier). Overall this was a nice trio of flavors and textures, and maybe more importantly I learned something about world history I had no idea even existed.

Next stop…the old prison yard, Australia…(I promise it won’t be as depressing!)

 

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Mashed eggplant with meat (PATLIJAN/SEMPOOG HUNKAR BAYENDI )

Serves: 4

1 lb. cubed lamb (or beef)
2 large onions
2 tbsp. butter
8 oz. tomato sauce
½ green pepper (diced)
2 med. eggplants (firm and deep purple) – save for second part of recipe
1 tsp. salt
dash of red pepper
1 tbsp. wine
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. basil

Directions:

Brown meat in butter, add onions and green pepper, saute about three minutes. Add tomato sauce along with three-quarters cup hot water and all remaining ingredients (except wine). Cover and cook about one-half hour or until meat is tender. Add wine about fifteen minutes before done. Wash eggplants, pierce with a fork in several places, place in a shallow pan and bake in a 350F oven about 45 minutes or until soft, turning once during baking process.

When done your baking dish will have liquid in it – drain this liquid. When eggplants have cooled, peel skins. Put peeled eggplants into a large skillet and mash. Add one-half teaspoon salt, dash of red pepper and one-half cup beef stock (I use bouillon). Mix and heat mixture thoroughly.

Place the hot meat mixture in the center of a platter and arrange the eggplant mixture around it.

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Zucchini pie (TUTUMOV BOERAG)

1 lb. zucchini, grated (REMEMBER TO REMOVE SEEDS : D )
1 Sm. onion, grated
½ to 3/4 lb. sharp cheese, grated
5 eggs
salt, pepper to taste

After grating zucchini, squeeze until dry. Add onion, cheese, eggs, salt and pepper.

Grease 9″ pie plate. Fill pie plate with mixture and cook 30-45 minutes in 350F oven or until brown. Insert knife. If it comes out clean, it is done.

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