Please welcome Lana from Bibberche, an incredible food blogger whose writing beautifully intertwines personal stories with food. This guest post is unique because Lana and I had the opportunity to take advantage of proximity and cook together– quite possibly the best way to share food.
I have never written a guest post for anybody before. When Karen of Globetrotter Diaries asked me if I would consider writing one, I was elated, excited, and panic-stricken, in that order. It was as if someone offered to share their seat on the bus for the upcoming field trip when I was ten. I am a perfectionist and anxiety is always very close to my heart.
I love the idea of the Globetrotter Diaries blog. Roaming the world tasting the best of food is the equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail… if there were uncountable grails popping up in the most amazing places. Their posts are informative, their recipes well-written and diverse, and the photography simply amazing.
I can walk through the shopping mall and ogle the newest fashions, smell the soft leather of the beautiful Italian boots, and have enough strength to turn away and move on. I can imagine living in a small house and driving a small, used car without feeling the pang of envy that is so easy to experience in Orange County. I can watch Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with my girls and sing at the top of my lungs that Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend only for the musicality and entertainment value, without coveting the sparkling rocks.
I can do all that because I know that a couple of times a year I will find myself in another town, another country, another continent, getting up at dawn and falling asleep well after midnight, euphoric and excited, ready to tackle another day of discovery. Traveling has been my passion since I was conscious enough to realize that we were not at home. Experiencing various cultures, traditions, and cuisines fills me with joy and replenishes my batteries until the next trip. Karen and Valerie find happiness in criss-crossing borders and immersing themselves in the unknown, strange and foreign, only to learn and get seduced by the unexpected. Their traveling shoes have not taken them yet to the Balkans, and Karen asked me if I would fill in the gap.
Karen and I decided to make this experience even better by meeting at my apartment and preparing a dish together. I thought for the longest time of a meal that would best represent the cuisine of Serbia. The most obvious choice was the beloved roasted suckling pig. But we did not have a weekend to splurge on this event, even if I managed to procure the piglet. The next idea that jumped to my mind is roštilj, grilled mixed meats, but I do not possess the expertise, nor the equipment necessary to prepare this delicacy the right way.
And then I thought of peppers. When I met my American husband, he was smitten by the number of dishes Serbs can make with peppers. Used only to an occasional pepper ring on his salad, he was seduced by roasted peppers sprinkled with garlic, and dressed with a vinaigrette; ajvar, the roasted red pepper spread that takes hours to make, but worth every second of hard work; hot yellow bell peppers filled with unpasteurized milk and left to ferment until the milk becomes creamy, spicy, and tangy; banana peppers blanched in water, oil, vinegar and spices, and marinated with parsley and garlic; and stuffed colorful bell peppers.
Stuffed peppers were a summer dish when I was growing up in Serbia. In the 70s and 80s, the preferred kind was a locally grown pale yellow bell pepper, moderately sized, sweet, and soft-skinned. It takes about an hour to prepare, and the smell of it simmering on the stove brings forth the memories of an innocent age, the days spent at the town swimming pool, playing cards and daring games, shyly flirting with seventeen year old boys, and composing melodramatic and sentimental poetry after everybody went to sleep. It brings back Father's unrealistic confidence in us and Mother's apprehension, the universal wishes of living somewhere else, and the hunger for knowledge that awaits us once we make it to the other side of eighteen.
When Karen arrived, there was a bowl full of red, orange, and yellow bell peppers sitting on the counter. They were small, firm, and shiny, perfect for stuffing. We spent several hours getting to know each other, talking, laughing, cooking, and eating. She insisted on washing every dish that we used, even though I felt guilty over it as a hostess. We discovered a mutual passion for coffee, and I made us a demitasse of Turkish coffee to enjoy before dinner. We were so engrossed in talking that we almost missed the opportunity to photograph the peppers.
After the hasty photography session, we sat down to eat. Karen liked the stuffed peppers, and my heart jumped a bit. I did not invent the dish, I did not develop the recipe, I just followed the steps Mother taught me many summers ago. I am sure that every region in the Balkans and its surrounds has a similar dish on its traditional menu. Serbia was, after all, under the Ottoman Turkish rule for several centuries, and the legacy is still there, embedded in cooking. There are different varieties of the dish, but this one is Mother's, the one I grew up with, the one that marked my years spent in Serbia.
- 1 Tbsp sunflower or canola oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
- ¾ cup of short grain rice (Arborio, or any other risotto rice)
- 1 cup tomato sauce or juice, smooth or chunky, depending on taste)
- 8-10 red, yellow. or orange bell peppers, smaller in size
- 1-2 potatoes, peeled, and cut into circles
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and sautee until translucent. Add the ground beef and stir until mostly browned. Season with salt and add rice. Stir until rice is coated in oil, for 2-3 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool.
Wash the peppers and cut the stems out, leaving the opening of 1 to 1 ½ inches. Using a teaspoon, fill a pepper loosely with meat, onion, and rice mixture, making sure that there is some room for the rice to expand while cooking. Plug the opening with a potato round and lay the pepper upright in a Dutch oven. Continue with stuffing, laying the peppers upright next to each other until the pot is full.
Pour the tomato sauce (or juice) around the peppers and fill the pot with water to cover the peppers half way. When it boils, turn the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the peppers are cooked through and soft.
Serve with a nice piece of crusty bread.