Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why you should visit Belgrade

Just in a few days, I am going to visit Belgrade, my home city that I left exactly ten years ago. I feel excited, although one may think there is not so much new to discover because I know all about it. However, for me, there is plenty of stuff to appreciate in Belgrade, especially now, when I don’t live there anymore. Now, I can clearly see the advantages and special features of the city that once I took for granted. 

Belgrade is not as popular as some the other cities in Europe, and definitely not packed with tourists from all around the world, but it has so many things to offer that you won’t find anywhere else.  So if you don’t want to elbow your way through the crowd of kamikaze tourists, if you are someone who loves off-the-beaten-track but very safe destinations, and you are a big foodie, you must visit Belgrade.

I would say, food is a number one reason for coming to Belgrade. It is hard to find city with so many good and surprisingly inexpensive restaurants. Even expensive ones are very affordable, compared to fancy American restaurants. And food is outstanding, plus you have many options, including traditional, international, or modern fusion cuisine. Some restaurants look very old fashioned, like those run by government, some are with shabby chic, and there are those with very modern industrial look. However, you will be amazed how much fine touch and creativity is put into restaurant and café decor, quite opposite of American very utilitarian approach.

Although Belgrade, a capital city of Serbia, has good amount of the East- Central European heritage, the Mediterranean vibe is very dominant.  Just a short walk down the popular streets is enough to give you the feel for how much local people enjoy hanging out, good chat, drink and food. The city’s architecture is from the North, but mentality, hedonism, joie de vivre, definitely comes from the South.

The same applies for food: Serbian cuisine is a fantastic mix of influences of the North (Central and Eastern European cuisine), and of the South (Turkish, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine). Food processing industry is not so advanced in Serbia, which is great and gives you opportunity to consume fresh and flavorful produce everywhere, basically the farm-to-table concept has never disappeared, you can always count on good food no matter if you go to a cheap joint or an expensive restaurant. The strongest link between fresh food and consumers are local farmers’ markets. There are many of them in Belgrade, but the coolest thing about Serbian farmers’ markets is that they work every day and have long hours.

If you are coming from U.S., you will be surprised by the number of grocery stores; luckily going to the big supermarkets is still not dominant way of shopping.  Also, you will notice numerous bakeries that make fabulous pastries, sweet and savory, cakes and cookies, and particularly delicious stuff – Burek, savory pie made of phyllo dough and usually stuffed with cheese or ground meat, ideal for breakfast. I don’t have to tell you that people here are very into baking, this is your chance to try the finest French, Austrian and local cakes. It is not good for your waistline, but you won’t have many such opportunities in your life time.

I have to mention here couple of foods that you can’t miss if you are visiting Belgrade. Besides Burek, you should try local yogurt, Jogurt, which goes great with burek, it is very alike Kefir, but much cheaper than in U.S. Gibanaca is similar to burek, and it’s also very popular breakfast choice. It is made with white cheese unique to this region, similar to Feta,  I used to watch my granny make it. Serbian grill/barbeque is a must too, remember names Ćevapčići (small skinless sausages), Pljeskavica (Serbian hamburger), Pečenje, a piglet or lamb on a spit. Šopska salad and roasted pepper salad with garlic dressing go well with the meat, but popular condiments such as Ajvar (Roasted red pepper-eggplant-garlic spread), Kajmak (Aged clotted cream) and Urnebes (Cheese-chili pepper spread) will take your food experience to the next level. In restaurants by Sava and Danube rivers, try fish soup and grilled fish. If you are visiting Belgrade in winter time, ask for Prebranac (Baked beans) and Sarma (Pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice).

For dessert, there are endless choices. There is plenty of rich European layered cakes, phyllo dough sweet pies stuffed with sour cherries or apples, Turkish desserts such as Baklava or Tulumba, Austrian strudels stuffed with poppy seeds, walnut or jam, famous Krempita and Šampita (former is filled with egg yolks based cream, latter with egg whites cream), Krofne (Serbian doughnuts), and Palačinke, crepes with apricot jam or Nutella.

There is no dessert, or any kind of socializing, without coffee. If you eat at someone’s home you would be served with Turkish coffee, before and after the meal. In cafes and restaurants, that would be cappuccino, espresso, or Nescafe Frappe. Coffee to go is not as popular as in the U.S, coffee is considered more as a relaxing break, and it is always served in small cups and saucers.

Although there is a long tradition of making wine, Rakija (brandy) is the king among the local drinks. There are countless commercial and small non-commercial distilleries all over the country, and my dad owns one. The most popular rakija is made of plum, but apricot, pear, quince and grape are used too. Serbian rakija is praised as the best among many kinds made throughout Central Europe.

Still, the best way to enjoy visit to Belgrade is to befriend local people, who will help you to find the best restaurants or cafés in the city, and even may invite you to their own homes, where you can expect a great feast. In Serbia, homemade cooking is still very common: people, especially women, cook a lot and they can be very creative.

During the day time you should go to the local lake Ada Ciganlija. It is my kids’ favorite place, because there is a long beach, park, sports facilities, a lot of restaurants and cafes, and portable ice cream shops. Indeed, it is very popular place among locals.

When the night falls, darkness adds a lot to Belgrade’s charm, and the city is still full of life. Deteriorated facades of the buildings, one of the most obvious signs of poor economy and unresolved legal issues, are less striking city feature in the dark. Be aware that people go out pretty late, and they can have a dinner long after it would be common somewhere else.

Since there are not so many tourists here, if you are friendly enough person, you would be treated like a king - that is another reason to come here. Believe me, you would feel very special, not lost among thousands of tourists who are marching through the streets of the overhyped cities eating expensive and mediocre food. After visiting Belgrade you will feel you had discovered the best kept secret in Europe.

This article was written for the Belgrade walking tour operator belgradewalking.com

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Smoked Sausage-Cheese Biscuits

Besides sweet pies and BBQ, biscuits are my favorite American stuff, I love them so much that I loose any control when I see them, which means I can eat a great number of those. 

My excitement already starts while the biscuits are in the oven, that smell of butter is so promising. When they get out, I like to brush them with melted butter, just a final touch, and then I eat them layer by layer. 

I don't know the number of biscuits that I made, it is definitely a huge one, but I really know the best recipe for them. Over the time, I created very nice versions adding different ingredients, so far my favorites are biscuits with smoked sausage and cheese (the recipe follows), then those with goat cheese and za'atar, and biscuits with cheddar cheese. Also, I like to eat them with homemade herb butter.

For the wet ingredient, I usually use buttermilk, but I have to tell you Kefir is even better, although more expensive. However, if I don't have any of those at home, you can use sour cream with some milk, and that works as well.

Smoked sausage and cheese is a combination that cannot go wrong in biscuits. Surprisingly, I have never saw that combination here in US before, I got idea from my sister-in-low from Serbia who made the similar stuff. I gave it a try and outcome surpassed my expectations.

In my opinion these biscuits are great for breakfast, as an appetizer, and they also make a great snack. Also, they often end up in lunch boxes of my children.

You need for about 24 biscuits:

4 cups all purpose flour + some for dusting
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 stick of butter, very cold + 3 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups buttermilk or Kefir
1 cup smoked sausage, cut into small pieces
1 cup shredded cheese (Cheddar, Mexican mix)


Preheat the oven to 400F (205C). Line the large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a big bowl mix flour with salt, baking powder and soda. Add cold butter cut into small pieces. Rub the butter into flour mixture using your fingertips. After few minutes when you get crumbly mixture, make a well in it and add cold Kefir, or buttermilk, cut smoked sausage and shredded cheese and mix everything with a big metal spoon until you can form a very rough ball.

Move the dough onto floured surface, and form it into rectangle shape by patting. Fold it over, just like letter, and then pat it to get rectangle shape, and do folding and patting five more times, that helps to get flaky biscuits. While you work with the dough use flour generously for dusting top and bottom.

When you finally shape the dough into rectangle 1 inch tick, cut it into round shapes using floured glass or 2-inch diameter cookie cutter. Push the cutter straight down the dough. Gather the scrap dough and cut it too.

Place the round shapes on the baking sheet, slightly apart, and bake for 15-18 minutes, until biscuits' tops become golden brown.

When they are out of the oven, brush the biscuits with melted butter. They are the best when fresh, but if they are one or two days old you can always toast them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Serbian Roast Pig on a Spit (Prase na ražnju)

Most of my American friends know that there is something off about my Christmas. Indeed, it is two weeks after regular Christmas, only because Serbian church decided not to follow the new, Gregorian, calendar. The same applies for Russian church and few others Christian Orthodox churches. 

It is not easy to celebrate two-week-later Christmas, especially on a workday. Plus, in January, people are usually tired of holidays, holiday fever is practically over. People crave peace and detox diet. But, for Serbs in the U.S. holiday season is not over with New Year Eve's, we are waiting for our Christmas that comes on January 7th. It is nice that it is not about presents, but rich and festive food. And, the leading role on the Christmas feast is taken by whole roasted pig, to be more precise, roasted suckling pig. Serbs prefer young pig, because it has tender and leaner meat.

Typical Serbian feast with whole roasted piglet.

Until recently I didn't appreciate roast pig thing, it looked a little bit barbarian to me and it is far away from healthy Mediterranean diet that is my favorite. But one day I realized how cool roast pig is, how special role it had and still has in human diet. For a big part of human population that is the most festive food, many important events such as Christmas, weddings, graduations, family gatherings and so on, include roast pig. It must be a very special food I reckon, long human history proved it. And, to be honest, there is too much hype over "clean food", you just wish to go against the popular eating trends. I mean you can still have healthy diet but on holidays just relax and enjoy heavy and delicious food.

I will tell you what is my favorite part on roast pig - crispy skin and the first layer of buttery meat that is just next to the skin, if I am lucky enough not to have fatty layer instead. And, the meat must be warm, but I know many people who prefer cold pork.

Honestly, I thought for many years that only Serbs are attracted to pig roasting, but I discovered that in many other parts of the world this specialty is highly prized too.

In Serbia, the most common way of preparing roast pig is on a spit. Hot coal and grape leaves are traditionally used for roasting, it is placed over shallow dig or over concrete surface. It is not recommended to roast pig over open flame, it is going to burn and ruin meat. Before piglet goes to fire, it is skinned and cleaned of organs and it is put on a long stick. Pig should be rubbed with salt before cooking, at the end people sprinkle the piglet with beer because it adds nice flavor. Piglet is usually very young, it weights about 40 pounds, and it takes about 3 hours to be done.

I forgot to mention that there is always  a boy who will volunteer to flip the piglet by turning the stick, and it can take for hours. As you can see this is rather time consuming and physically demanding method, so today in Serbia people usually order roast pig in specialized roasting houses with motorized rotisseries. Plus, it is not easy to make good spit roast pig, you need high-quality professionals to do the job. In the same way they roast lamb, that is also very popular in Serbia.

When it's done, roasted piglet is cut into small pieces and served on plates with cabbage salad, Russian salad and horseradish sauce ("ren").

Porchetta in  Italy.

Last year I was fortunate to try roast pig on a couple of occasions. In Serbia I ordered it for my daughter's christening, and it was a huge hit among kids and grown-ups on the party. In Italy I had an opportunity to try famous Porchetta, whole roasted boneless pig. It is a street food, you can buy slice of porchetta on panini. I had it even in the U.S. two times, once on a summer party and recently on New Year Eve's party. I didn't know that there is a Chinese restaurant in Baltimore county that roasts whole pigs of different sizes as a carry out.

Man selling porchetta, farmers market in Rome.

I want to end this story on roast pig with the wisdom - hyped food comes and goes, but only the real stuff inspires people through the centuries.

Happy Serbian Christmas!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Baby Beet - Tangerine Salad with Fennel Pollen

This post is not a regular one, this is more like celebrating beautiful fall season, I don't remember that we ever had such a warm and quiet fall. I mean, it is the end of November and it is still possible to use the basil from my garden and we all know how much that herb is sensitive to cold weather. Other day while I was making a soup I went to the garden and found a handful of cherry tomatoes. Amazing! 

And, honestly, I enjoyed this fall a lot.

Even my fennel is blossoming right now, due to the late planting, and nice weather too. How lovely is to see greenery in my little urban garden in late November.

My kids enjoy hanging out among their mama's plants as well. On the pictures you can see they like a lot the smell of fennel fronds and flowers.

There are not many opportunities to try fennel pollen, and this salad is perfect for it. All ingredients match wonderfully, you don't even need any dressing, because there is enough juice in pickled beets and tangerines. As you can see, the salad also makes a beautiful display on the plate.

You need:

Pickled baby beets

You can use regular ones, or you can pickle them yourself. However, it is easier to buy them jarred in a Polish store. Btw, this is my favorite way of preparing and consuming beets.

Tangerine, peeled and cut into circles

Fennel fronds and pollen


Place fennel frond over plate, add pickled baby beets and tangerines over it, and then dust everything with fennel pollen. Also, sprinkle the salad with beet juice.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Savory Strudel with Kale and Feta Cheese

I am a huge fan of strudel, it doesn't matter if it is sweet or savory. Everything about strudel is very special to me, and when we talk about savory one, I prefer it stuffed with Feta cheese and spinach. That is the best combination, proven so many times.

However, if you have garden full of kale for almost half of year like I do (it is very productive and long-lasting vegetable), you have to find a way to use it, so I decided to try it in strudel. Although I think there is too much hype about it, I do recognize kale if healthy and nutritious. Favorite soup in my family is Tuscan Soup with Kale and we have it at least 2-3 times monthly.

This year I planted two different kinds of kale: regular and purple one. Although they look different, the taste is pretty much the same. This vegetable is best when it's young (like on the pictures here) because baby kale is tender and not bitter.

The recipe below is for four rolls of strudel and that's a lot, but you can always freeze it, as my mom used to do it, or cut the amount of ingredients in half. This strudel is a good choice for breakfast or snack.

Savory Strudel with Kale and Feta Cheese

You need for the dough:

4 1/2 cups bread flour

1 cup warm milk

1 cup warm water

1/2 oz active yeast

2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
9 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs

For filling:

1lb Feta cheese, crumbled
2 bunches of kale, stems removed and chopped
5 eggs
1 cup of Greek yogurt or Kefir
Salt and black pepper
1/2 stick of butter, melted

Baking pan, dimensions 13x9x2 inches, oiled


Stir together flour, salt, sugar, yeast, melted butter and beaten eggs in a mixing bowl. Pour warm milk and water into the flour mixture. Mix everything with the spoon or in a food processor.

Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for about 10 min. Add more flour if needed.

Form dough in the round shape and put it in the lightly oiled large bowl to rise for 1 hour, to double its original size. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

In a bowl combine beaten eggs, crumbled Feta cheese, Greek yogurt, chopped kale and salt and black pepper to taste. You will use this as stuffing. 

Preheat the oven to 400F (205C).

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into four even pieces. Roll out each piece of dough with a rolling pin into rectangular shape that fits your baking pan. First brush the dough with melted butter, add 1/4 of stuffing over it, and fold the dough carefully into long roll. Place it in baking pan. Do the same with the rest of materials.

When you have all rolls placed in baking pan, brush their tops with melted butter. Let them rest for 15 minutes.

Bake strudel about 30 minutes, or until it gets nice golden-brown crust.

Serve with Kefir.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cheese - Roasted Red Pepper Spread (Urnebes Salad), and Summer in Serbia

This summer we had a very busy trip to Serbia. It was all about meting our friends and relatives and eating a lot of food. Although it sounds like a rather pleasant thing to do, it took a lot of planning, I have to say, we had a full schedule.

But, there were also days when we really wanted to skip the routine, we wanted to be alone, my husband and I, and do something for ourselves. One day we decided to borrow bikes from our friends and escape for a long ride to a forest on the other bank of the great river, Sava.

The Sava river offshoot

Sava is my favorite river. Although I grew up nearby, I discovered its beauty only in my teenage years. It is quite big, although this summer, after great heat and drought, it shrunk significantly.

As we rode by the river bank, we could see dry cracked soil, scattered river shells, and a lot of leaping frogs. No giant mosquitoes this time.

Before moving to U.S, riding bikes by the Sava river was one of our favorite activities. Surrounded by beautiful landscape, we had used to feel relaxed and energized at the same time. Now we wanted to recreate that feeling.

Given that just few days before this trip we had a long bike ride in Tuscany, from Florence to Siena, it was kind of interesting to compare landscapes of Italy and Serbia. While the heat was brutal in both countries, I definitely preferred flat Serbian road over hilly Tuscan one!

On our way, we noticed such a common scene for this part of Serbia, a stork and its huge nest on the village church belfry. That was so lovely. Hard to believe but I have never seen a stork in the U.S.

After an hour or so, we were at our destination, the forest called Bojčinska šuma.

Yep, we planed to go to this restaurant located in the woods, in a deep shade. Its name is Bojčinka koleba.

The restaurant had a very traditional decoration, and the food was traditional too.

Serbia is a country of good bread, and it is eaten in great quantity, that is so true.

When you come to Serbia you eat food that you cannot try anywhere else, for example fish soup from a picture above. And let me ask you, where can you eat delicious fish soup that costs less than $1? Only in Serbia.

Few more typical Serbian dishes that every expatriate craves:

Šopska salad, eaten as a side with any kind of dish in the summer time.

Ćevapčići, grilled sausage links made of ground meat, one of the best and most popular dishes you can eat in Serbia.

Sarmice od zelja, some kind of greens, zelje, unknown in the U. S, stuffed with ground meat. It is always served with yogurt.  

Look at that roasted hot pepper with garlic dressing! Such a beauty! Find recipe here.

Beside eating good food, you can ride a horse here, or have a stroll in the woods...

And, you can visit a pig farm. 

This kind of pig called Mangulica is a special one, indigenous to this region. It is black and rather lean, and great sausages are made of it!

Soon, it was time to start our ride back. The trip ended soon, but the good memories are still alive.

Urnebes Salad

With so many things to do while in Serbia, we didn't have a chance to try everything we wanted to eat, so when I came back home to U.S., I was just making that food in my kitchen. One was a beautiful dessert, Krempita, puff pastry with vanilla custard, when I perfect the recipe I will share it with you.

The second dish was this Urnebes salad. It is very hard to translate its name, to be honest I don't even know the origin, or why it is named salad when obviously it is not. Urnebes is more like a spread or a dip. It is traditional Serbian dish that is served with Pljeskavica (Serbian burger), and Ćevapčići. Urnebes is spicy as the rest of food that comes from south of Serbia (like U.S., the food gets spicier as you go south).

You can use it with cooked smoked sausages and bacon, as I did, or as a dip for different raw vegetables.

You need:

1 large red bell pepper
200g Serbian white cheese, or Feta cheese
1 garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground dried sweet pepper, Paprika
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon chili or cayenne pepper, or crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons sour cream
Salt and back pepper to taste


Roast  the whole red pepper in the oven. When it is charred and soft remove it from the heat and cool it down. Peel the dark skin, remove seeds and top, and chop finely.

In a bowl crumble the cheese with fork. Add paprika, chili, garlic, chopped red pepper and sour cream and mix it together until you get consistent mixture, or just mix it with a hand blender as I like to do.

Top it with paprika dust when serve.

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