Cuisine in Serbia is heavily influenced by Balkan, Mediterranean, Turkish, Central European, Austrian and Hungarian traditions. The country's rich, fertile plains and continental climate (except to the south that tends to be hot and dry and quite cold in winter), are ideal for growing grains, fruits and vegetables. Serbia is second in production of raspberries and plums after Russia and China, respectively. Pickled foods, sauerkraut, pogaca (flat bread), ajvar (vegetarian caviar), sausages, soups, roasted meats, lamb, pork and barbecue and rich tortes are all typical of the Serbian diet.
Ajvar - Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper "Caviar" Spread
Pogaca - Serbian yeasted flatbread
Ajvar - Roasted Eggplant-Pepper Caviar Spread (Adapted from aboutfood.com)
2 large eggplant (about 3 pounds)
6 large red bell peppers
salt and black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
Heat oven to 475 degrees. Place eggplants and peppers on a baking sheet with a lip to catch any juices and roast until their skins blister and turn black, about 30 minutes.
Place roasted vegetables in a heatproof bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let them steam for 10 minutes.
Peel off and discard blackened skins, stems and seeds. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse until desired consistency is achieved (I like plenty of texture) Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and lemon juice, and drizzle in olive oil. Pulse once or twice to blend.
Transfer to a glass dish and sprinkle with parsley for garnish. Store covered in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Pogaca (Serbian Flat Bread)
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. yeast
6 cups flour (more if dough is too sticky - I used unbleached white wheat flour)
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
beaten egg for brushing over top
Dissolve yeast in warm water.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a bread hook, add remaining ingredients. Mix to a medium dough.
Knead for 5 minutes.
Divide into thirds. Roll to fit size and shape of 8" or 9" cake pans (lightly greased).
Brush dough with beaten egg and prick dough all over with a fork.
Bake for 20-25 minutes at 425 F until golden brown.
Final Assessment: Whoa! If you've never made roasted Ajar "caviar" before, please do. Not only is it easy, but it's well worth the little of time it takes to roast the eggplant and peppers, which are bountiful in stores and local New England gardens this time of year. The flavor is rich, roasty (yes, that's an adjective, Webster just isn't hip to it yet) and sweet. It's a little like baba genoush, but prettier because of the addition of red peppers. It was so good, we ate it right out of the food processor bowl with spoons. Later on, I made a chicken cutlets and pasta for the dudes in my house, and we spooned it right onto of the hot pasta. The pogaca is kind of like dense pita bread - simple, peasant style bread that is best torn into pieces, warm from the pan. Sprinkled with a little sea salt and dipped in the ajar, it's a lovely appetizer or vegetarian meal. I have some left over, which I'm planning to spread on toasted flat bread for breakfast.
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