Pava is my husband’s mother. To say she prepared all day for our visit would be a grave understatement. She starts preparing for our next visit the day after we leave!
After a very emotional and loving welcome with tears and hugs and hugs and kisses and more tears, everyone then sat together to have a drink of sliva: none other than the home distilled plum brandy one finds in every house in every village and city throughout the entire region.
This time, I knew not to whiff! (Of course it is stored in another liquor bottle!)
The table is set with the best dishes and awaiting the celebration of family togetherness that no other culture I have experienced celebrates so often and with such depth. Family love is cherished, important, valued and celebrated at every opportunity in this home, and throughout this country. That I have witnessed too often to recall, but enough to know that this is a fundamental aspect of this culture that I was extremely fortunate to marry into.
Does this traditional meal starter look familiar? This was actually a surprise for us. It was duck soup, not chicken. How delicious I cannot express, but I will tell you that every aspect of this soup is home grown. The noodles are also homemade, and I know there will be a package of dried ones packed away somewhere for us to bring back to Canada. Mother’s love is often at our Canadian table through her offerings, or her teachings.
I hadn’t thought about what Pava would prepare. For the soup, I was certain, and then, there are so many of her specialties that her son adores. This one is his ultimate. It is her personal “œSpecijalitet”, or “œSpecialty”. She creates it through the simplest of local ingredients, yet it would be impossible to duplicate these flavours at home. I can promise you that. I have tried more than once, and I am a good “œTrier”. We just do not have the quality of produce in our country that exists in this struggling country where everyone cooks and grows and farms and trades to survive. Somehow the gray and dry looking clumped soil produces the more perfect of vegetables and fruits. The tomatoes and the peppers are like I remember from my childhood, but better.
Pava’s Special Dinner Recipe
pork schnitzel, pounded thin, one per person
smoked prosciutto, to cover the schnitzel, one per person
Emmenthal cheese, to cover each portion
vegetables to surround the portions, potatoes, carrots, peppers, tomato
Veggeta and a little pepper to season the schnitzel and potatoes
oil over all to moisten the pan and the vegetables
Prepare one portion per person; seasoned
Fill in all empty spaces with peeled and sliced vegetables; sprinkle generously with oil
Bake at 450F for 45 minutes, covered with foil (above the cheese) until vegetables are roasted and meat is done
Serve one portion per person with the caramelized roasted vegetables on the side. Spectacular.
Now, it so happens that there are two main celebration meats in the Balkans: pig and lamb. Vanja detests lamb, but his family loves it and they just so happened to have been given a beautiful portion of lamb from their neighbour, Nikola, for this meal. Neighbours here do that. Each takes great pride in their own produce and a gift from such a labour is truly an honour, and always returned. So, we also had the most succulent baby lamb that was roasted to perfection on top of some thinly sliced potatoes. Apparently, Nikola’s family is from the north west region, and it is known for having the very best lambs in the country. It is about the grasses and the climate in that particular area. And, about the farmers.
The salads and vegetables prepared and served were also simple, plentiful and bursting with intense, clean flavour. My all-time favourite are the roasted red peppers with garlic, below. I make them at home, all of the time, and they are delicious, but the flavour of our peppers is just not the same. This is the pepper region of the world. Like southern Italy is known for producing the most flavourful tomatoes, Bosna produces the richest, meatiest and most perfect of red peppers. Sometimes, the Italian Centre in Edmonton gets a pepper in that is less watery and better for making ajvar and roasted peppers. I keep my eye peeled for them every fall to do the best I can with what we have. Also, because the process is so labour intensive, the best of ingredients must always be had. See here for the recipe.
Tomato, cucumber, fresh light yellow pepper, onion, oil and salt is the basic Serbian salad, and then the Garlic Spinach was served and is a green and cooked vegetable my husband actually enjoys and will eat! It was really vibrant with a fresh spinach flavour, and powerful with an almost raw garlic hit. Neither can be too strong for my palate! YUM.
And, here, the typical dinner table celebration in a modest home in a small town in Bosna that is inside of the Republika of Srpska portion of the country. Not Vanja’s original family home, but his new family home, as the family home is truly where the family is.
The large table is set in the living room area. You can see the kitchen in the back of the second photo, and the living room in the back of the first photo. Vanja’s father, a retired financial planner, and his mother, a retired primary school teacher have made their home here and their hard work and perseverance is apparent within every wrinkle and every twinkle.
We all finished eating and headed for a nap as the temperature was about 34 Celsius. Lori washed the dishes and we turned to see Petar still eating, and eating, and eating, It was so wonderful to see him so healthy and enjoying this meal with such relish and vigour. He told Vanja he had been working all day helping Pava to prepare the meal, and had not eaten a thing! Then he stripped all of the lamb bones for his cat while we ate, and there he is, eating by himself! Well, almost! And, he did eat with us, too, at the beginning of the meal!
Kitty is happy. Dessert awaits, but the big beautiful bed with the freshly ironed and beautifully embroidered pillow cases are calling our name! Laku noc!
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