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2015 is going to be hard to beat.  In chronological order, I bought a flat, my boyfriend proposed at Easter, we got married three months later, I quit my job, during the summer, we spent seven weeks on the Croatian island of Brac (where Danko grew up), and a week after our return, I started my adventures in freelancing.  2016: you can put your feet up and drink a cup of cocoa.

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Our local beach in Bol, Brac where we spent the summer

I could have written about a lot of these milestones, especially the marriage bit.  I thought, pondered, and racked my brain to say something original about getting married.  Then I gave up.  I could have written about the joy and peace I felt about marrying Danko, my heart quadrupling in size because of it.  I could have written about the simple wedding we threw together at my parents’ home with our nearest and dearest there to celebrate with us.  I could have written about how i cherished being able to wear my mother’s wedding sari, forty-four years after she wore it to marry my father, a stranger to her then, unlike me, who married the person who probably knows me better than I know myself.  I could have written about all these things and more. While all these moments are extraordinary to me, they aren’t what continues to resonate with me six months later.  When someone asks me ‘how’s married life?’, I shrug and smile and reply ‘same same but different’.  The ‘different’ is that my world has become bigger and richer.

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The spread of Croatian/Bosnian and Indian food at our wedding lunch

Getting married to a man from another culture (Danko is half Bosnian, half Croatian), and gaining in-laws give me opportunities to see,  understand and participate in a whole new kaleidoscopic set of traditions and customs.  From different ways of communicating and learning a different history, to (and definately not least), new foods to eat and cook;  2015 has opened up another box of family charms to explore and capture.

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An ordinary lunch in Bol. Fresh sardines, getting ready to meet the grill

I want to start 2016 with a family charm from my Croatian family.  I haven’t heard of a traditional New Year’s Day food in the UK as in all likelihood it consists of bottomless Bloody Mary’s and a full English breakfast to absorb the excesses of new year’s eve festivities.  However, as with Bengalis where food is a constant, Croatians mark the first day of the new year with a feast featuring a whole roast piglet, Russian or beetroot salad, and sarma, stuffed cabbage rolls.

Sarma was one of things Danko was cooking up in the background when we first started skyping, he in Zagreb, me in London.  When I finally tasted the real thing last Easter, lets just say I had another good reason to marry him.  It’s highly unlikely that either he or I will be making this tomorrow, due to said festivities but at least I will know where to begin on the 2nd or maybe the 3rd.

HAPPY NEW YEAR folks!!

Recipe for Sarma

Sarme-Meat-rolls-with-sour-cabbage

 

You’ll find many country variations on how to make sarma, from Turkish, Bulgarian all the way to Central Europe.  This version of sarma blends Bosnian and Dalmatian influences reflecting Danko’s family background.  His family also usually make a big pot of this, and freeze a bunch of it so the following quantities can be reduced if you want to make fewer rolls.

Ingredients for the cabbage rolls:

  • 1 kg ground beef
  • 2.5kg whole head of sauerkraut (you’ll need to use about 15 for the rolls, shred some and keep 3-5 leaves for the broth)
  • 1.5 fistfuls of orzo that has been soaked in water for 2 hours
  • 1 big carrot, finely grated
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped or blitzed in food processor
  • Bunch of parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

For the broth

  • 300 g dried, smoked bacon
  • 500g pork ribs (smoked and dried) OR kielbasa sausage will do just fine too
  • Generous squeeze of tomato paste
  • A bit of paprika powder, to your taste
  • Boiling water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1tbsp of sage

Method

  • Mix the beef, orzo, carrot, onion, parsley and seasoning together.  Leave for 30 mins
  • Take one leaf of the cabbage head.  Put a heaped table spoon of the meat mixture on the leaf and make a small package.  Tuck the ends in so the mixture is secure.  Repeat for 15-20 rolls.
  • Set aside 3-5 leaves for the broth
  • Shred any remaining leaves
  • In a large pot, put a layer of the shredded sauerkaut
  • Pack the cabbage rolls tightly around the edges of the pot, gradually moving into the centre until the pot is completely filled with the cabbage rolls
  • Place the bacon, ribs (or sausages) over the rolls
  • Squeeze over the tomato paste and sprinkle some paprika
  • Place final layer of sauerkraut leaves over the rolls
  • Pour enough boiling water to cover everything plus another 2 cm
  • Put an upside down plate inside the pot, over the rolls so everything stays in place. Place tight fitting lid over the pot and bring to boil.
  • Once boiling, lower the heat to simmer for about 1 hour

Serve with either mashed or boiled potatoes.

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Chicken soupIt’s a truth universally acknowledged and perhaps even scientifically proven, that chicken soup can help to heal a common cold.  However, instead of opening a sad can of store-bought soup or even making your own (in that case, are you even that sick?), the chicken soup that really feeds my soul is the one that is made by my mother.

I am lucky enough to live a short train ride away from my parents’ so instead of being home alone while my boyfriend is away, I decided to take myself, with my runny nose, teary eyes, non-stop sneezing, and tissues busting forth from my coat pockets, home for a bit of unadulterated tlc and my mum’s chicken soup.  Sure, I am 33 but as my wise 11-year old niece, Anoushka Aurora, very eloquently wrote, I also have all my other ages stuck inside me.  So this weekend, my 10-year old self was the dominant one.

Now this soup (recipe below) is not extraordinary and doesn’t have any secret ingredient.  It is incredibly simple but it does have two things that make it a magical elixir for me.  Firstly, it is not a watery broth but instead, it has golden baubles of butter bouncing on the surface and a small splash of indulgent single cream that makes the soup both healing and luxurious.  Secondly, my mum makes it.

Ingredients (for 2 servings)

  • 1 chicken breast or 4 mini fillets – dice small
  • 1 shallot – finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove – finely chopped
  • 2tsp butter
  • 1tsp plain flour
  • 4 mugs boiling water
  • 1 Knorr chicken stock pot
  • Half mug of milk or quarter mug of single cream

Method

  • In a thick bottomed saucepan, over a low heat, sauté the 1tsp of butter, the chopped shallots and garlic  until transparent
  • Add the diced chicken and stir a few times before adding the plain flour
  • Add the mugs of boiling water, stirring constantly so that the flour doesn’t go lumpy.  Then add the Knorr stock pot and simmer for 2-3 mins
  • Taste and if needed, add another half a stock pot
  • Bring to the boil and then simmer on low heat until the soup thickens slightly
  • Before taking off the stove, stir in the milk or single cream
  • Serve with black pepper

On this occasion, my taste buds could barely register much, so I couldn’t taste the flavour of the soup.   But from the combination being back home for 24 hours, eating multiple helpings of the chicken soup, and watching back-to-back episodes of House of Cards, season two, I emerged kleenex free.

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Shukto is probably one of the less glamourous dishes in Bengali cuisine but I’ve always loved it.  It has such a distinctive flavour and I like how the spices used in the dish create a very gentle and subtle taste.  Now, there are a lot of purists out there who will tell you what vegetables should and should be in a Shukto (has to include bitter gourd) and when to eat it (lunch time only apparently).  There are some great recipes out there if interested about what a ‘typical shukto’ should be but this blog is about how my family rocks it.  Firstly, and most shockingly for the said purists, my mother doesn’t add kerela (bitter gourd) to her shukto because for her this dish is all about the spice combo.   The bitter gourd would overpower it all.  It’s also important how the shukto looks so she doesn’t cook the vegetables to death, she chops them in similar shapes and sizes and adds carrots to give it some colour.  The colour balance is also the reason why she doesn’t include plantain as when cooked, it becomes black.

Vegetables (chopped in similar shape and size)

Aubergine

Potatoes

White radish

Carrots

Flat beans

Cauliflower

Dried lentil dumplings (boris)

Spices

Tempering:

1 tsp celery seeds (radhuni)

1 bay leaf

1 green chilli

1 tsp mustard seeds

2.5 tsp ground aniseed

2 tsp mustard (my mother uses Colman’s mustard)

1 inch ginger, grated

2-3 tbsp milk or single cream

Instructions

  1. Parboil the potatoes, radish, and carrots.  At the same time shallow fry the aubergine to give it colour and flavour.
  2. After the aubergine is done, set aside in a dish and then in the same pan, quickly fry the dried lentil dumplings.  They’ll only need about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Any longer, they’ll taste bitter.  Set aside.
  3. Once the potatoes, radish, and carrots are parboiled, blanche the cauliflower and flat beans for 5 mins.
  4. You can start the tempering now too.  In hot oil, first add the bayleaf, followed by the green chilli.  Next add the celery seeds and mustard seeds.  Stir around for 30 seconds while the seeds splutter
  5. Add the potatoes and radish to the tempering.  Sautee for 2-3 minutes until they get some colour
  6. When the cauliflower and beans are nicely al dente, add to the mixture.  After 2-3 minutes of frying, add the ground aniseed
  7. Add a medium size splash of boiled water to the pan and then add salt
  8. Next, add the aubergine and cover with lid.  Let it simmer for approximately 5-10 minutes or until the vegetables are ready.  Ideally they should still have a crunch!
  9. Mix together the mustard, grated ginger and milk.  Add to the vegetables and give it a good stir.  Shukto is unique because usually mustard and ginger are not mixed together in other Bengali dishes.
  10. Lastly, throw in the dumplings and as a final flourish, drizzle some ghee over the dish.

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