Me and the hubby recently took a trip to Serbia. We didn’t pack any bags, or spend hours in an airplane crossing the Atlantic. In fact, we didn’t even have to leave the kitchen or start the car… Ok, we didn’t go to Serbia, but we had a beautiful cultural experience after one of my husband’s co worker and friend drew out a recipe to share with us. Musaka!
My love for food increased shortly after arriving to Florida. I worked from home as a language translator during the day, but during the night I had an insatiable hunger for exotic flavors. Every Friday we would spend endless hours in the kitchen concocting complicated dishes from Africa, China, and so many other far away lands. At first it was once a week, but soon we were tasting a different culture every night. I closed my eyes and was immediately transported to the vast African continent as I crushed toasted coriander in my mortal and pestle. The sizzle of garlic frying in the golden extra virgin olive oil and it’s pungent aroma would educe images of quaint Italian towns tucked away deep within the Tuscan mountains, sitting there patiently waiting for me to make my way across the pond and visit them. Cooking became a window to the world. A way for me to learn why certain cultures where eating what it was they were eating. Getting classicaly trained in culinary school taught me how to respect each culture and its cuisine. And so our Friday tradition continued… I eagerly searched for new recipes that could take me farther and farther away from that tiny kitchen in central Florida.
So, you can imagine how excited I was when the hubby walked in with the musaka recipe. We posted the hand drawn recipe on the refrigerator door and stared at it intensely as we mis en placed the cooking game plan in our heads. I send him to the market with a list in hand and I sat down to learn more about the traditional foods of Eastern Europe. I always need cultural context, it makes my “traveling” much more fun!
Despite Serbia’s turbulent and often violent past, I discovered that it remains a region where food brings people together. It has a rich history that can be seen in the types of foods prepared and eaten. For example, Mussaka, the dish we prepared, is originally a Turkish dish made with eggplant and a white bechamel sauce. A lot of Serbian cuisine was influenced by the various groups of people that populated the region throughout the centuries, including the Greek, Ottoman, and Roman empires which extended into much of today’s Serbia and left a notable influence in its culture. This is a also a region where milk and cheese are abundant. Although meat is now eaten in abundance, (they say Serbia is not a good place for a vegetarian to visit … Eeek) historically poultry was used in cooking and cattle were kept for agricultural purposes. Like Ireland and Russia, Serbia enjoys the benefits of the humble potato, which was introduced into this region during the Columbian Exchange, which was the exchange of crops, animals, and disease between the Americas, Eurasia and Africa after Columbus traveled to the America’s for the first time. The potato helped spark a growth in European population which helped shape events such as the industrial revolution. But I am getting ahead of myself, back to the potato, which is abundant in Serbia, and for this reason is widely used in many dishes like Musaka. I was pleasantly surprised to see this was a pretty well balanced dish nutritiously. It called for ground pork, golden potatoes, garlic, onion, small amount of butter, milk and eggs and small amount of cheese. it is very similar to a potato au gratin or scalloped potatoes and the ingredients are layered like a lasagna; potato layer, meat layer, potato layer, meat layer, potato layer, then a milk and egg top layer which is topped with cheese. it is all bakes together until the potatoes are soft. Below is the original hand drawn recipe…
Before and after baking
It is very true what is said about American culture, it is a melting pot made up of the flavors of the world. We all come here and share a little about our corner of the world with friends. The easiest way of doing this is by sharing our soul food! If you travel to Serbia with this dish, enjoy!!