Tag Archives: holidays and observances

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?

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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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Crows–The Sole Superstition

When it comes to superstitions I’ve always thought of Jas as a man without. I on the other hand, having grown up with a family that may have written the book on superstitions, follow more than I’d like to admit sometimes almost involuntarily. Jas smirks when I toss salt over my left shoulder after accidentally tipping the shaker, jumps when I screech not to put new shoes on the bed, and as for my refusal to take loved ones to the airport?–that he finds understandably annoying. Though the Bosnian culture is ripe with a myriad of superstitions on everything from coffee drinking to weather predicting, I’ve never heard him express or seen him act on one. Until we went shopping for Halloween.

When we arrived at Party City Jas shot towards the costumes and I headed towards the decorations. Almost immediately I came across an entire shelf lined with ravens and Poe sang in my mind. Perfect, I thought,  and plunked one into my basket as Jas rounded the corner wearing a blue afro and an eye-patch.

“What are you supposed to be?” I asked.

“I’m a disco dancer.”

“Well…what happened to your eye?”

“Someone poked it doing the hustle,” he replied while looking into the basket. “Wait,” he said lifting the eye patch, “what the hell is that?”

“Oh! A raven! Isn’t it great?” He looked at me blankly.

“You know, like Poe’s The Raven.”

No reaction.

“‘Once upon a midnight dreary….'”

Still nothing.

“‘Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’?” I followed.

“It looks like a crow” he said.

“I guess you could call it that. Aren’t they different birds though?” I asked scrutinizing it.

“What’s it for?” Jas asked.

“What do you mean? It’s for Halloween. I’m going to put it on the mantle,” I said excitedly.

“I don’t like it,” he said frowning.

I took another look at it.

“This is the best one,” I said. “I checked all the others on the shelf. This one has the smoothest feathers and the best face.”

“No, no” he said shaking his head. “This…it’s…not a good thing.”

At this point I was totally perplexed. Holiday decorating usually falls under my purview, particularly Halloween as it’s a holiday Jas doesn’t have much use for.

Noting the confusion on my face he continued, “In Bosnia, crows are very bad luck. We can’t bring that into our house. Put it back.”

Later, I’d learn that crows are feared universally throughout the Bosnian hills. Believed to be harbingers of sickness and death, should one land on your house it’s only a matter of time before a loved one is struck down.

“Ok but it’s not a crow it’s a raven” I argued.

“Nice try. Put it back” he said.

“But…but Jas!” I cried. “What about Poe? Nevermore? Lenore!”

“Leave it Ducati” he said walking off, blue afro bouncing.

With much effort, I returned the bird to its perch. Not because I’m the type of woman who falls in line upon her husband’s demands and requests, but because if there’s anything life has taught me it’s that when someone you know walks under ladders, befriends black cats, and opens umbrellas indoors suddenly expresses a superstition, then you listen.

As for my dreams of a raven adorned Halloween mantle? Nevermore.

In the spirit of the season, if you know any superstitions, please post them.

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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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The Fast

The night Jas came home from Bosnia after burying his father Akif, he informed me that Ramadan had begun and that he was going to begin the thirty-day fast in the morning. When I asked for specifics about Ramadan, which Jas has never observed or even indicated the smallest desire to observe, he told me: “I can’t eat or drink from sunrise to sundown for thirty days. At the end, there’s a big feast.”

Now, this is a typical response following my questions about the meaning of Muslim practices, holidays and observances. I’m given a clear explanation of the type of celebration or manner of observation (“we get dressed up and visit neighbors” or “children get money”) but never the meaning or reasoning behind it. When I’ve asked for further explanation in the past from Jas or any of my in-laws I’d only get blank stares. This can be attributed to growing up and living in a formerly communist country which doesn’t leave much space for religious practice. While Tito didn’t outright ban religion in Soviet-style, he didn’t encourage it either. For many Bosnians, religion was/is part of their heritage over anything else. Ethnically, Jas is a Muslim. Religiously? Spiritually? Not interested.  Even Akif who devoutly fasted on Ramadan only began doing so after the war, as did other Bosnian Muslims who had previously not been so inclined.

A little research gave me further understanding of Ramadan which is observed during the ninth month each year of the Muslim calendar. Muslims must not only abstain from food and drink but impurities of all kinds including thoughts and actions. The goal is to cleanse the body and soul and focus your attentions on your connection to and worship of Allah. In the weeks before he died, Akif expressed his sadness over not being able to fast during Ramadan. He wouldn’t be able to get through a day with no food or drink in his condition. This is where Jas has found meaning; the fast is his mourning song. “I’m going to do it for my dad,” he said. “He’d be fasting now, so I’ll do it for him.”

Less than a week away from the end of Ramadan, Jas has shown remarkable resilience . After the first two days he adjusted his daily fast duration a bit. He’d come home from work, watch me and Cookie eating our first few mouthfuls of dinner with a pitiful look on his face and then do some chores around the house or turn on the television until sundown. On day two, I (gently) suggested he join us for dinner.

“Your dad would love that you’re doing this for him. I don’t think he’d mind if you chose to eat dinner with your girls,”  I said.

He ignored me. On day three, he grumbled something about me having a point and sat down to dinner with us. Weekends have been the most difficult. It’s easy to distract yourself at work but when you’re home and relaxing and food’s being cooked  and consumed, it can be downright torture. Or at least that’s what Jas’s face looks like when he pokes his head in the kitchen and asks what time dinner is.

Now he is counting the days and we’ve started planning the Bajram celebration that follows Ramadan this Sunday. How will we bring this tradition to America?

“It’s a big feast” Jas says.

“Yes, but what is served at this feast?” I ask.

“Everything.”

“Such as…”

“Just everything.”

It seems I have a bit more research to do.

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