I don't like to apply the term "foodie" to myself, but I am interested in food, beyond just pizza, and I'm particularly interested in the foods of different cultures, especially those with which I'm unfamiliar. So when I was recently offered a choice of titles to review from Schiffer Publishing, I quickly chose Serbian Cooking: Popular Recipes from the Balkan Region.
I think my geographical knowledge is better than the average American's (which isn't saying much), and I had a rough idea where Serbia is, but it was a little fuzzy. Serbia is in the Balkan region of southeastern Europe. Hungary lies to the north, Macedonia and Greece to the south. At various times, Serbia has been part of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and more recently, Yugoslavia. So considering all those neighbors, and Serbia's history, I was intrigued by what Serbian food might have to offer.
The book comes in at a relatively modest 104 pages, but it is well written and illustrated, and it's made for thumbing through. Most dishes take up two pages, with the recipe on the right and a color photo on the left.
The recipes, which are arranged in three chapters -- appetizers, entrees and desserts -- do reveal cross-cultural influences. The recipes for chicken paprikash (two versions), baklava, stuffed peppers, and cherry strudel take in culinary influences from Hungary to Greece, Poland and Austria.
The more intriguing recipes, to me, were for dishes with which I was unfamiliar, even if the ingredients were pretty basic, like djuvec (baked pork chops with rice and tomatoes) and cevapi, a hand-formed sausage of ground pork, beef and turkey. Many recipes include interesting ingredient combinations, like the roasted peppers with cheese, balsamic vinegar and capers.
The desserts also encompass unfamiliar but interesting dishes, like bombica, which are basically little chocolate bombs, and tulumbe, a pastry soaked in a vanilla-and-lemon syrup. Again, some familiar-sounding recipes include a twist, like peach pie made with puff pastry.
Some of the recipes were a bit obvious. The recipe for "cold cuts platter" was, literally, "arrange various cold cuts and other foods, including the must-haves of olives, goat cheese, and lettuce." And the recipe for fried potatoes was essentially, slice potatoes, season them with "Vegeta," whatever that is, and fry them.
I would've appreciated a little more narrative from the authors of what makes these recipes particularly Serbian, as well as a glossary. For example, there are recipes for "burek" with meat and with cheese, but only through deductive reasoning could I figure out that "burek" seems to be a kind of pastry.
Nonetheless, I like Serbian Cooking, and I plan to prepare several of its dishes. Serbian cuisine is obviously far broader in scope than Serbia's geographical area, and I'm happy to add Serbian Cooking to my kitchen bookshelf.
Serbian Cooking: Popular Recipes from the Balkan Region
by Danijela Kracun and Charles McFadden
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (March 28, 2015)