Location: South eastern Europe in the Balkans
Population: 7 million
Geography: A landlocked country with mountains in the south and east
Signature flavours: Bread, cheese, cured meats, bell peppers, relishes, flaky pastry
Serbia, Eric learned, has a culinary tradition that intersects European and Mediterranean tastes. Eric loves bread (he is trying to take back “wheat belly” from the diet industry that so loves to throw shade on glutenous delights — he takes it to mean “the love of bread”) and was pleased to see that Serbians eat bread a hundred different ways. He chose a flaky/cheesy/bread-y treat to go along with stew (I told you — the world can’t get enough stew) and a relish side to dip.
Gibanica: A phyllo-based bread of layered pastry, cheese, egg, and sour cream, and brushed with butter, very much like Greek tiropita or Turkish börek.
Prep and cooking time: 90 minutes
Ajvar: A relish of pureed and roasted red pepper, eggplant, and garlic, usually served as a dip for breads.
Prep and cooking time: 20 minutes
Fisherman’s Soup: A favourite of seafood lovers across the Balkans and Mediterranean, this thick soup is a stew of freshwater fish, tomato, onion, bell pepper, and paprika, with a sour cream and fresh parsley garnish. This creation was a fusion of two different recipes he found.
Prep and cooking time: 80 minutes
The Shopping List
Eric went to our local fishmonger, Hooked, for perch for the stew. All other ingredients were found at the local supermarket.
Eric began cooking, and the house started to smell good within about ten minutes. The aromas of baking fish, frying onions, and roasting vegetables was making my very hungry self peek eagerly into the kitchen every few minutes. Eric said he had a bit of trouble “taming the phyllo” at first–it wanted to fold in on itself–but after the first couple layers of gibanica, he got the hang of it. We both sampled the perch after he baked it and it had a wonderful flavour of its own, even before it joined the rest of the soup ingredients.
The gibanica was flaky and flavourful, and not at all greasy, which Eric feared after seeing how much butter was called for. It went very well with the sweet and smoky ajvar (which I could have eaten with a spoon by itself). The stew was thick and fishy, the perch lending it incredible flavour and heartening the tomato broth. I am already looking forward to a breakfast of cold gibanica, ajvar, and soup tomorrow morning.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.