Category Archives: food

Bosnian BBQ–Cevapi, Cevapi, Cevapi

Cevapi (cheh-vah-pee)

Cevapi (cheh-vah-pee)

Considered by many to be Bosnia’s national dish, cevapi is to Bosnia what the hamburger is to America. Jas requests cevapi every birthday and it is the one food he talks about for weeks before we head to Bosnia. Every Bosnian has their own recipe and you’ll find it in every Bosnian restaurant (some spots only serve cevapi).  My father-in-law made it the best but I think I come in a close second. Thankfully it’s easy to prepare in an American kitchen.

Cevapi are little rolled beef sausages classically served with bread, diced onion, and kajmak (a Bosnian cheese). A simple tomato and cucumber salad on the side completes the dinner. While cevapi are eaten year-round (we also make them for New Year’s Eve), they are great on the grill. If you’re looking to change up your traditional barbeque menu this summer, cevapi are the way to go. They can be prepared ahead of time, are easy and affordable to make for a crowd and you can even get your little one to help you roll them.  Served family style, eaten with your hands—what could be better?

Cevapi summer dinner

Cevapi summer dinner

A few notes about adapting this dish to your kitchen:

Cevapi are served on a type of bread called lepinja which is firm and doughy at the same time. I haven’t found it in America and you could make it, but who wants to knead dough in the summer heat? Sort of defeats the purpose of summer cooking. A bread that comes closest to lepinja and that is much easier to find is ciabatta though a doughy pita bread or even  naan could be used  with success.

Vegeta is a seasoning blend used widely in Slavic countries. It is easy to find online and some supermarkets are beginning to carry it, but if yours doesn’t or you don’t want to hunt online you could replace it with your favorite blend such as Lawry’s or McCormick’s. I do recommend going the extra step to secure some Vegeta as its uses are endless (Jas sprinkled it on our turkey this past Thanksgiving and it was fabulous).

Kajmak (kai-muk) is a spreadable sheep’s milk cheese. It’s like a cross between butter and cream cheese and the textures vary depending on where you buy it in Bosnia. It is not easy to find in America. There are a number of recipes online detailing how to make your own but I haven’t mastered the process and again, it defeats the purpose of summer cooking. Using a blend of easily found cheeses and some butter, you  can whip up your own kajmak to serve with your cevapi. The recipe is below.

Cevapi

Serves 4 -6

  • 3 lbs. ground beef (aim for 8o/20 meat/ fat ratio)
  • 2 Tbs. vegeta
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup sparkling water
  • 1 cup hot beef broth or water
  • Salt & pepper (to taste–I use 1 tsp. salt & 1/2 tsp. pepper)
  • Bread (ciabatta pref)

Soak the minced garlic in a little cool water for 15 minutes and drain. Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands (if the mixture feels too dry–you’ll know if it’s difficult to mix with your hands– add a bit more sparkling water).

Begin forming the cevapi–roll meat into a two inch ball and then roll between your palms into a log shape about two inches long. Place on a cookie sheet and keep rolling until all the meat is done. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Heat your grill, grill pan or flat top on high until screaming hot. Lay cevapi onto grill making sure not to crowd them. Turn the heat down to medium high and cook on all sides to desired done-ness (we prefer med-well which take about 5 – 7 minutes total). Note: Cevapi is properly seared when you can easily turn it on the grill, if it sticks, wait another minute or so before trying to turn again.

When all of your cevapi are grilled, slice your ciabatta bread in half and spoon hot beef broth or water (about 2 Tbs) over the insides. Place the bread face down on the hot grill and spoon more of the beef broth or water over the top. Note: if using pita or naan, place directly on the grill without slicing and sprinkle both sides with the broth or water. When the bread has grill marks on the bottom and the broth has steamed away (about 2 minutes) remove and serve with cevapi, diced onion and a bowl of kajmak.

To eat: Some pile their cevapi onto the bread and eat like a sandwich. We tear a piece of bread, slather it with kajmak, wrap it around an individual cevap, and sprinkle onion on top, like little mini hot dogs.

Loved by all ages

Loved by all ages

Kajmak

5 Tbs. sliced unsalted butter

8 oz. cream cheese (I use reduced fat)

8 oz. feta cheese crumbled

5 – 7 tbs. sour cream

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Place them into a food processor or blender and blitz until you have a smooth, uniform mixture. It should have a spreadable consistency–use the extra sour cream if your kajmak is too thick.

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Kafa vs. Coffee

Sitting on Jasmina’s couch, I found myself alone with my niece’s new nanny–a young woman who spoke beautiful English. This was the first time we had met. She asked me where in America I was from and indicated she was familiar with my particular location in New Jersey. “Oh! Have you been there?!” I asked enthusiastically.

“No, no” she replied, flipping her hand. “I watch a lot of movies. The truth is, I don’t like Americans.”

Oh. As I struggled for both a response and a film that my small town had been featured in, she quickly followed it with “No offense to you. It’s just….I don’t understand people who walk down the street drinking a cup of coffee.”

It’s hard to think of a culture that takes its coffee, or kafa as seriously as Bosnians. Their passion for the drink is so great that if you spit in any direction, you’ll hit a coffee bar. Most Bosnians drink several unadulterated espresso-sized cups a day. Ask for milk and you’ll get a sideways look. Forget finding a spot that serves it with whipped cream, caramel or any of the other accoutrements so popular in America today. Kafa is served straight up with a bowl of sugar cubes on the side. It’s drunk before one heads to work, never on the way to work. Nor is it swallowed in one shot as some cultures are prone to do. Coffee drinking in Bosnia is a part of the day that one slows down for, not a means to an end.

When you knock on a neighbor’s door, kafa is brewing before you step over the threshold. Boiling water is poured into a long handled pot and a few tablespoons of kafa are added. The pot is placed on the hot burner to simmer for a minute or two and then is brought to the table with tiny espresso cups and a bowl of sugar cubes. Some sip it straight, while others dip the sugar cube into the cup, bring the cube to their mouth so the dipped sugar breaks off, and then follow it with a sip from their cup, ensuring that each taste of kafa has the perfect amount of sugar. (I’ve never seen anyone drop an entire cube into their cup).

Traditional Bosnian coffee pot

Traditional Bosnian coffee pot

“Sip” is the operative word here though, as kafa is a daily indulgence. An event. It is a time of day to sit and rest. To breathe. To talk with your family, your neighbor, or a complete stranger.  It is a symbol of hospitality, respect, and even superstition as some Bosnian women claim to have the power to read your future in the stray grounds left in your cup. And yet, I’m sheepish to admit, I’ve never been able to join in this daily tradition as coffee has always given me dreadful stomach aches. As an American, I’m allowed such “odd” behavior (hosts will pat me on the back and give me a cup of juice), but Jas is also not a coffee drinker simply because he does not like the taste. This is not as acceptable and he often finds himself “drinking” a cup for the two of us. What he really does is use it as a dip for the ubiquitous sugar cubes. It’s not uncommon for a host to rise and refill the bowl repeatedly when we visit.

The honest nanny was not employed by the family long–something about eating her weight in Eurocrem–but her observations on our different approaches to coffee drinking did , and still do, ring metaphorically true. When I’m home in America, I think of her everytime I see someone speed-walking, cell phone in one hand, styrofoam cup in the other.

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Bosanski Lonac–Beef & Cabbage Stew

It’s New Year’s Eve!–a big holiday in Bosnia where children get gifts, large meals are consumed, beer and spirits are drunk, and fireworks are set off in every neighborhood. As I’m writing this, 2013 has already begun in Bosnia. My sister-in-law Jasmina is no doubt putting her feet up after hosting friends and family with a multi-course feast.

On our corner of the globe we’re still recovering from Christmas and the weather has been bitter cold and windy.  I can think of few meals more comforting and belly-warming than a good stew. This is the first Bosnian meal I’ve ever had and the first meal Jas cooked for me when we were dating. It defies all the rules of good-stew making–  the meat is placed into the pot raw with vegetables, seasoning and water and it’s simmered until every sweet ingredient melts in your mouth. Have some bread on hand to mop up all the yummy broth and life is good.

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You want your veg to be a decent size so they don’t dissolve into the stew.

Start with the seasoned meat.

Start with the seasoned meat.

Layer with veg (we left the peppers out of this one).

Layer with veg (we left the peppers out of this one).

Layer cabbage and seasoning.

Layer cabbage and seasoning.

Continue layering ingredients until the pot is full, then submerge ingredients with boiling water.

Continue layering ingredients until the pot is full, then submerge ingredients with boiling water.

It's not the prettiest dish--but one taste and you won't care.

It’s not the prettiest dish–but one taste and you won’t care.

Here’s the complete recipe:

Bosanski Lonac–Beef & Cabbage Stew

  • 1- 1.5 lbs beef chuck cut into cubes
  • 1 lg. carrot cut into large chunks
  • 5 potatoes cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 head of cabbage cut into chunks
  • 1/2 onion quartered
  • 2 tomatoes cut into chunks
  • 2 cubanel peppers cut into chunks (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbs. vegeta (spice blend) separated
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil (separated)
  • Boiling water to cover
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Drizzle some of your olive oil in the bottom of your stew pot/ dutch oven. Sprinkle all of the beef with 1 Tbs. vegeta and layer half of it in the bottom of pot. Top with a layer of onion, carrots, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes. Top with a layer of cabbage. Sprinkle the cabbage with vegeta and drizzle some though not all of the leftover oil on top. Repeat the layers until you have no more ingredients. Tuck the bay leaf into the pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Add your boiling water to cover all of the ingredients and bring the whole pot to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours. Check if the stew is done by forking a piece of beef–if it’s fork tender, you’re ready to eat. If not, continue simmering and check every 15 minutes.

Yields: 4 – 6 servings

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Christmas Breakfast Bosnian-Style–Palacinke

For years I’ve struggled to figure out how to inject a little Bosnia into our Christmas celebration. Before we started dating, Jas never celebrated Christmas and so the holiday has always been an onslaught of Italian-American tradition. I’ve asked Jas if he wanted to add an extra dish to either the Christmas Eve or Day menus, or if there are any other traditions he’d like to incorporate but again, as he’d never celebrated it before, such traditions did not exist. Until now.

One morning, a few months ago Jas announced he was in the mood for palacinke (pah-lah-cheen-kay) and began whipping up a batch. Palacinke are Bosnian-style pancakes similar to the French crepe though a bit sturdier and while the crepe is eaten both savory or sweet at varying times of the day, palacinke are always served sweet as a snack or dessert. They are filled with nutella, chocolate, ground walnuts, or jam (strawberry or plum). They are not breakfast food and yet that didn’t stop Jas from fulfilling his craving one morning. As I watched him whisk the batter, ladle it in large circles onto a hot griddle and then flip the pancake the air–it hit me. Why not bring Bosnia to Christmas breakfast?

Chocolate palacinke served with ice cream at a cafe in Bosnia.

Chocolate palacinke served with ice cream at a cafe in Bosnia.

Christmas breakfast has always been a mixed bag in my family. Some years my mom would make apple fritters dipped in beer batter and dusted with cinnamon-sugar–a heavenly concoction and one that I quickly abandoned after trying it myself one year. Deep frying on Christmas morning prior to preparing all of the other Christmas Day foods does not a happy girl make. Other years we’d have scrambled eggs with bacon, or almond olive oil cake with macerated oranges, while others we’d simply nibble on some Christmas cookies or dip into the platter of leftover struffoli (Italian cookie/pastry). This year we made Bosnian pancakes.

Or, Jas made Bosnian pancakes. On Christmas morning. In his pajamas. Hair askew. While he whisked, ladled and flipped (did I mention he flips them in the air? It’s one of the reasons I married him), I arranged the fillings on a serving tray. Again, traditionally palacinke are filled with Nutella, jam or ground walnuts. I added some French touches to the choices such as butter, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. I stopped short of placing some cheese and ham on the tray for those who might be in a savory mood–it’s good to adapt but some changes fall into the realm of sacrilege.

Once the pancakes were ready we simply placed them out with the tray of fillings and let everyone help themselves. It’s true–palacinke are strictly a Bosnian dessert, but if you can’t eat dessert for Christmas breakfast, then what’s the point of it all?

IMG_7391

Cookie enjoying palacinke with Nutella.

Here’s the recipe:

Bosnian Pancakes (Palacinke)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup sparkling water or water
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients together. Melt 4 Tbs. butter. Drizzle the butter into a hot 8 inch frying pan. Then pour in about 1/4 cup batter. Tip the pan until the batter fills the bottom (should look like a giant pancake). When the edges start to curl up, flip the pancake and cook for another 60 seconds. Flip into a large plate. Repeat until you have no more batter left.

Pass palacinke at the table with Nutella, jam, and/ or ground nuts. You can fold them into triangles as seen above, or roll them up.

Yields: about 12 pancakes

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My Favorite Bosnian Word

Milton had it wrong. It wasn’t an apple that Eve plucked and ate at the serpent’s goading. The Tree of Knowledge? More like a vine rising into the sky, dripping with seductive red globes. Surely the serpent wasn’t that crafty. Tomatoes. Is any fruit more tempting? More paradisiacal?

Bosnians would agree with me. Or, at least their language does as the word for tomato is paradajz (pah-rah-dye-z).  It was one of the first words I picked up on my own while in Bosnia. Surrounded by family at the dinner table, my niece’s requests and the resulting slice of tomato speared and passed to her gave my heart a little trill. Of course, the tomato.

As the season ends I find myself scavenging the farmer’s markets for the last remnants of the crop.  Sliced and drizzled with olive oil then seasoned with salt, pepper and torn basil, the juices mopped with bread or even enjoyed round and naked, bitten into like an apple tomatoes in all of their incarnations, feed the soul.   Can you imagine a life without them? Their transmutable nature that simultaneously brings both sweet and savory to the plate? Close your eyes and try to imagine it. My childhood disappears as does the map of Italy.

Preparing dinner last night– a simple tomato sauce for spaghetti– I couldn’t help but marvel at the miracles of the modern world as I cranked the can opener and lifted the lid revealing the plum variety from San Marzano. I slipped them into a pan of sizzling garlic and crushed them with the back of a wooden spoon, grateful that none of us ever have to truly lose paradise.

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Our First Bajram

My sister-in-law Jasmina was my go-to source for how to bring Bajram into our home in America. She wrote about it so beautifully, there’s no way for me to improve on it. So here is the traditional description of how Bosnians celebrate Bajram as written by Jasmina:
***
“Ramadan is this whole month of fasting, that is Ramadan. My favorite holiday. I love the smell of it, it comes with food, traditional meals that are served every night for those who fast. I love the togetherness that comes with it. Special bread that bakeries make. I love everything about it, mostly, exchanging recipes and ideas with Dad….
The last day of Ramadan is one of our biggest religious holidays called Bajram. Bajram is on Sunday. It starts with the sunrise, men go to the Mosque for a special prayer, they meet up with friends and neighbors after for coffee,  and then they all go home where Bajram starts with their family in the house. Our parents usually started that with their coffee. Mom would have the TV on with the Bajram melodies and words of prayer from the Mosque. She would wait for Dad to come home from the prayer and they would have coffee. We would all say happy bajram to each other and than go to Grandma’s for the special Bajram lunch. The tradition is that you go to the eldest (parents) in the family first for lunch…. After…you visit the  the eldest neighbors.
At each house you would at least have coffee and Bajram cakes. The traditional Bajram cakes are baklava, later people expanded that repertoire of cakes. Baklava is something that every house will make. Dad made [baklava in the shape of] roses. Most people make Bajram lunch with various pies, roasted meat and potatoes, some typical stews…. Mainly, people make various traditional Bosnian dishes. Bajram is celebrated for three days, to allow time to visit everyone.
Children on that day all get Bajramluk (money) from everyone. It is a tradition to buy for immediate family members  something nice, mainly new clothing, so that everyone has something new to wear for Bajram, to look their best. This was a very old tale of Dad’s and everyone elderly. For Bajram grandpa would take Dad to the tailor to make him a new suit. Dad always new that for Bajram he would get new clothes whereas on any other day they were not able to afford new clothing. So, Dad and Mom use to buy us some nice clothing. Jas may not remember as he did not celebrate Bajram with us that often after the war. As he may not remember the dishes and tradition that follows. But Mom and Dad would get us something nice. After Mom died, Dad did not dare to buy clothes but he would buy us something nice for the house:) We would all dress up to look our best to celebrate Bajram.So, you can follow the tradition by buying some nice clothing for all of you guys. This Bajram… I will make the big lunch in our home for just the four of us. I guess I get to be the eldest generation now for my children.”
***
Our Bajram in America turned out to be much simpler. As Jas is not religious, he would not end his fast with a trip to the mosque. When I mentioned that buying clothes or something for the house was also part of tradition, he responded, “That’s what old [read religious] people do.”  And as far as spending time with family and friends, Jas preferred a much more solitary day with just the three of us.
While Jasmina made a seven-course feast for Bajram, we again kept it simple with stuffed tomatoes, spinach pitta (pie), and hurmasice (a traditional Bosnian cake). I made sure to dress the table in linens my mother-in-law had given to me. We drank rose juice and I told my favorite stories about Akif–times he made us laugh, places we visited, and foods he taught me to make. In the end, our celebration was more akin to a memorial.

Rice & turkey stuffed tomatoes with a sour cream and carrot sauce.

Cookie enjoying spinach pitta.

Hurmasice (walnut cakes).

After Cookie had gone to sleep I asked Jas if we would continue to celebrate Bajram in the years to come. “I don’t know” he said, and I also don’t have a sense of whether or not we’ll continue this tradition. I do know however, what Jasmina would do:
***
“Tradition is legacy and we should carry it on with love.” 

Jasmina

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Rose Juice–Our Summer Drink

Bosnians mine their natural resources in as many ways as they can and one way in particular is through the making of juices from native berries and flowers. Our family is known for rose juice made similar to sun tea, but so much lovelier.

This recipe is old, passed down from Jas’s paternal grandmother. When the roses bloom they’re collected, stripped of their petals and added to large clear jars with water and a tiny bit of citric acid, then placed in direct sun for a few days until the petals lose their color to the water.  Then it’s strained, mixed with sugar and chilled. Describing the taste is not easy–sweet, flowery, like Bosnian summer.

We make jugs as the flowers bloom and have enough to fill the summer days and share a few bottles with the neighbors. Here’s as detailed a layout of the process that I can give. The measurements are based on a two liter glass jar and about 20 rosebuds–simply adapt it to how many roses you have.

This is the rose we use and despite several attempts I am unable to determine its variety. It’s a small bud though not as small as a tea rose, and fully bloomed is about the size of a ping-pong ball. It has a rich perfume much stronger than the large buds that you’d give to your sweetie on Valentine’s Day. The scent is important–it is what gives the juice its flavor.

Snip the roses when they’ve bloomed,

pull off the petals and place them into a large clear glass jar or other clear container.

Add about one teaspoon of citric acid (or two teaspoons lemon juice), fill the jar with water, give the contents a stir and cover. Place in the sunniest spot of your garden. If it is sunny and warm, in about three days the petals will lose their color and the water will take on this shade of pink.

Strain your juice into a large bowl.

Add 1/2 cup sugar.

Stir, stir, stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Taste. (Note: if the juice tastes like air freshener, add more sugar one tablespoon at a time until you have a nice balance of rose flavor and sweetness).

Strain one more time into bottles or the serving pitcher of your choice and chill.

You’re in for a very special treat.

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