A Flavourful Celebration of Balkan Flavours
There it is, in all its rustic glory: Pava’s Special Meal and Vanja’s favourite home food of all meals his mother made. Pava’s neighbour in Lukavac, years and years ago, served this recipe one evening and the flavour combination made such an impression that it has became a family recipe almost immediately. Vanja was in high school at the time, and it has been his favourite dinner since that time.
It is all about the meat, as everything is in this region of staunch and avid carnivores. The suvi vrat is dry cured and smoke pork neck meat. Sunka can also be used, but certainly, cured smoked pork is a fundamental component within the flavours of this country, and this dish.
It is a fairly straightforward and simple meal to make, so I suppose what makes this “special” in the very young beef and the cheese. Veal and young beef is also expensive and not so common in these parts. Cheese is common and almost always homemade, so the imported cheese in this recipe is a certain delicacy, expensive and special.
Waxy yellow potatoes, fragrant crisp yellow spring peppers and bold white onion are sliced and tossed together with Vegeta, salt and pepper.
Veal and young beef of 5-6 months is most often accessible and highly preferable to beef. This recipe uses the young beef cut into thin steaks from the shoulder.
The layering process then begins: a little oil on the oven pan covered with a thin layer of the vegetables.
The gorgeous fillets of beef are wiggled into the vegetables and seasoned.
Generous slices of Suvi Vrat are placed on top of each beef fillet.
I remain in awe of the quality of the produce and flavours the food possesses in this region. Absolutely unadulterated by genetics, pesticides, etc… Though that is about to change. Just last year, traveling through the country side, I spied posts designated with GMO corn plantings. And, Vanja’s dad has announced that GMO tomatoes are all over the market for the first time. “Absolutely flavourless.” And these are people who can actually remember what a real tomato tastes like. Most of the gardens and fields are not yet contaminated with these limited varieties of GMO food, but this country, not being protected by the guidelines of the European Union has lost this sacred virginity. Defiled in the worst way as the industrial giants like Monsanto continue to prey on the weak and poverty stricken to gain power and wealth. OK. Enough. I know. Yet, as I write “Back to the food”, we must acknowledge that this pleasure will soon be lost, should this mass farming practice, new to this land, continue.
The cheese must be strong and nutty like Edam, and firm, but not hard. It should stay in position a bit better than our domestic Edam did on this day.
You see I have a helper? Preparing the family meal is a family activity here. Everyone helps and enjoys the process as much as the food. Usually, all were involved in growing and raising what is served at the evening meal.
Vanja was nestling more potatoes, onions and peppers in between the portions of meats and cheese to ensure as many as possible fill the dish.
Topping each serving with a tomato slice or two not only serves to add colour and flavour, but moisture to the cheese, so it won’t burn.
I know. Too many photos of the same thing. But not for me. I like to eye the landscape of some dishes for several minutes… recalling each flavour and texture within. And, these vegetables and meats are very difficult to provide any frame of reference for unless you have traveled to this part of the world and eaten at a home table.
The above photo is for Jens. He commented on the post about the sunka that he would like a tour of the Smokehouse. The opening below the dish above, that is covered with bricks, is where the fire is built and the smoke rises from in the late fall each year. The Smokehouse is the summer kitchen where I do all of the cooking. It is too hot outside and the house must be kept cool.
Foil covers the dish and it goes into the oven at 450ºF for about 45 minutes.
Above, is the smokehouse, or the summer kitchen.
The outdoor sink is in front of it, and the pig house (the chicken coup, too) is behind it.
Just inside the door you will find the hole again, for the fire, on the floor. Also, the little bench is where I sit and work. The table is my counter. Behind the bench is a two burner gas stove top.
Immediately inside the door to the left is an oven, presently baking the special meal. Morning coffee is always cooked and served from here in the summer.
The gas stove top is what we use to make everything. Below, you can see the hooks where pots hang from in the summer and pork hangs to dry and be smoked in the late fall.
I am back at the table, making a fresh and simple salad with “real tomatoes”, more yellow pepper and early garden onion with onion flowers for this meal.
Salt, pepper, a little oil: nothing more is needed. The simplicity of this salad is obvious, but the power of the flavours in these vegetables is not.
Dinner is ready. Golden perfection. Aromas of many festive evenings past, with Pava, and everyone, gathered round.
Today, we are three.
Petar prepares the ever present bread.
Vanja serves his father.
I study the food and revel in our achievement.
“Ok, take your photo! I want to eat!”
And me? I don’t eat meat. I am in the land of red peppers, too. Ajvar is the caviar of the Balkans and I am crazy over it. I make it, but the peppers here are meaty and their depth of flavour is second to none. That makes all the difference. Petar made this Ajvar. The first he has ever made. It was delicious! This is my standard meal here: ajvar and mladi sir (young cheese). I prefer the homemade young cheese, but it is hard to find a really good one, so, yes – I buy it.
I am as happy with my meal as Vanja and his father are with theirs.
And after the meal? Petar is washing the dishes, of course!