Bosnian Stuffed Peppers

By request of some of my readers, I will try to post more cooking recipes to my blog. One of the most liked Bosnian summer meals are stuffed peppers.

If you’re not familiar with Bosnian cooking, you should know that we like to cook from scratch, use fresh ingredients, seasonal vegetables and we take pride in what we do. Even though the ingredients and spices are simple, preparation and cooking process are lengthy and produce flavorful, hearty and memorable meals.

I usually make stuffed peppers two ways – stuffed with ground beef and cooked in sauce and the vegetarian way, stuffed with potatoes and rice and baked in the oven.

Today I would like to introduce ground meat stuffed peppers. I usually use ground beef for stuffing. Ground pork, or mix of ground beef and pork can be used as well. I have not tried making them with ground chicken or turkey. I also add a potato to the stuffing mixture, but that’s optional. Also the rice doesn’t have to be precooked. I half-cook mine, since I’ve had stuffed peppers where rice was not fully cooked and I want to avoid that. Most common peppers used in Bosnia are white peppers. I suggest not to use green bell peppers for this recipe, except if they are really small. A good substitute in the US are cubanelle peppers. I usually serve my stuffed peppers with mashed potatoes, but they can be served just by it self and with an addition of some good crusty bread to dip into sauce.

Bosnian Stuffed Peppers

Bosnian Stuffed Peppers

{Printable Recipe}

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 white peppers (2.4-2.8 oz OR 70-80 g each)
  • 1 1/3 lb (600 g) ground beef
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) rice
  • 1 large potato (finely chopped)
  • 1 small onion (finely chopped)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley (finely chopped)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp Vegeta spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper (freshly ground)

       + for the sauce

  • 2-3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½  cup (120 ml) tomato puree
  • 4 cups (1 l) water

Preparation:

  1. Wash and dry peppers. Cut open the top and remove all the seeds and membranes. Set aside.
  2. Cook the rice halfway (about 5 minutes) and strain. Set aside.
  3. Finely chop vegetables.
  4. Place ground beef in a medium bowl and sprinkle with all the spices.
  5. Add all vegetables, rice, egg and parsley and mix into a compact mass.
  6. Stuff each pepper and set on a plate next to the stove.
  7. Heat 3 tbsp of cooking oil in a frying pan. Lightly brown peppers on each side (just until fragrant, remove from the pan and place back on the plate.
  8. Pour the oil from frying into a cooking pot. You will make the sauce now.
  9. Lightly heat the oil, add 2 tbsp flour and stir gently until smooth.
  10. Add ground paprika and salt and stir for about 1 minute. Don’t let it burn.
  11. Add tomato puree and water. Stir and let it boil.
  12. When the sauce starts boiling, place all the peppers inside. Turn the temperature down to medium and simmer for about 45-50 minutes in a half covered pot.

*** Sauce will reduce during the cooking and will become thicker.

Serve with a side of mashed potatoes or just with bread.

Long grain rice

White peppers

Ingredients for stuffed peppers

Stuffing mixture for peppers

Stuffed peppers

Browning stuffed peppers

Stuffed pepper sauce

Bosnian Stuffed Peppers

Bosnian Stuffed Peppers

Bosnian Stuffed Peppers

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Cherry Upside Down Cake

Hello dear friends! Here is the history of another childhood cake that I really, really LOVE:

My father’s sister (my favorite aunt) had a wild cherry tree in her backyard. It was growing quite close to the house, it was very tall and surpassing the roof of their two-story home. I loved visiting my aunt! I would often stop by her house to have a glass of juice, a treat and to get some auntie love. She would take my hand, lead me through her bedroom to the open window and she would reach out and grab a cherry branch. I would stand there, holding the branch, picking the sweet, little cherries and stuffing them in my mouth. Didn’t wash them either and I am still alive! Can you believe that? 😉

cherry

In February of 2004 we moved to our first home here in the U. S. Snow and cold prevented me to explore my backyard and see what’s there, but when the spring came, imagine my surprise! Right in the corner, just a few feet from the house there was a wild cherry tree! God sure works in mysterious ways!   Having that wild cherry tree in my yard, almost next to my bedroom window made me feel just a little more at home.

cherry

Auntie’s cherry upside down cake is mouth-watering good, moist, lightly sweet and served with vanilla whipped cream on top. Since my wild cherries are not ripe yet, I used bing cherries this time. Nonetheless, it was GOOD, and I mean really, really GOOD! I hope you give it a try while cherries are in season.

 cherry upside down cake

Cherry Upside Down Cake

[print recipe]

Ingredients:

  • 900 g (2 lbs) cherries  + 5-10 cherries for the decoration
  • 5 TBSP sugar
  • 1 vanilla sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 TBSP hot water
  • 100 g sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 1 vanilla sugar (or 1 TSP vanilla extract)
  • 125 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
    • 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa (OPTIONAL)
  • 500 ml (about 2 cups) heavy whipping cream
  • sugar and vanilla to taste

Also needed:

  • 1 medium cake pan (about 8-9 inch or 20-23 cm)
  • Circular piece of parchment paper, 1 -2 inches larger than the pan circumference.

Method:

  1. Wash and pit the cherries.
  2. Line the cake pan with parchment paper. You should have about 1-2 inches extra which will line the walls of the pan.
  3. Place the cherries on the parchment paper and sprinkle with sugar and vanilla sugar. Paper will keep all the cherry juice from running out of the pan and cake will be nice and moist.
  4. Crack the eggs into the mixer bowl and add 3 TBSP of hot water. Mix at high speed for a minute or two.
  5. Add sugar and vanilla and mix for two more minutes.
  6. Combine flour and baking powder, reduce the mixing speed to slow and add the flour to eggs until just combined.
  7. At this point you can take 1/3 of batter and add 2 TBSP cocoa to it.
  8. Pour the yellow batter onto cherries, then pour the cocoa batter on the top of it and swirl around a bit with a fork.
  9. Bake at 365 F (185 C) for about 30 – 35 minutes. Cool completely and then leave in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.
  10. Whip the heavy cream until dense; add sugar and vanilla after your own taste.
  11. Invert the cake onto the serving plate, spread with whipped cream and decorate with fresh cherries.

Bing cherries

Cake preparation
Cake preparation

Cherry upside down cake

Cherry upside down cake

Šape…or…Bear Paws shortbread cookies

Šape are one of the most loved, traditional Bosnian treats. When translated to English, šapa (sing.) simply means a “paw”. The old tins were shaped like bear paws, hence the name. I remember playing with my grandmother’s šape tins when I was a little girl. They had that gray and brownish patina from years of use and I wish I had somehow saved them…Today the tins come in all different shapes and can be purchased here. A madeleine tin can also be used to make šape.

Bear paws are made from simple ingredients, readily available in every household. Biting into a šapa can instantly take me back to my grandmother’s little kitchen, with wooden floors, green credenza and an old tin box she kept them in. Šape are made for birthdays, feasts, weddings, christenings, Christmas and almost every other special occasion. They are sort of a shortbread cookie, originally made with lard, but are just as good made with butter. Traditionally, walnuts are used in the cookie, but I’ve seen them made with shredded coconut, poppy seeds or spiced with cinnamon. The crumbly dough is pressed into tin forms, placed onto a cookie sheet, baked and tossed in powdered sugar. They simply melt in your mouth!

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Šape or Bear Paws

[print recipe]

Yields about 30-35 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 120 g /4.2 oz lard (or 140 g /4.9 oz butter)
  • 120 g / 4.2 oz sugar
  • 1 vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 egg
  • 120 g / 4.2 oz ground walnuts
  • 300 g / 10.5 oz / 2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 13 g / about 1 tsp baking powder
  • A few tsp of milk (if needed)
  • 1 – 2  tbsp honey (optional)

+

  • Powdered sugar
  • Baking tins
  • Butter (melted) to brush the tins

Preparation:

  1. Beat lard (or butter), sugar and vanilla for about 3-4 minutes, then add egg and lemon zest and mix for couple of more minutes.
  2. Add ground walnuts.
  3. Combine flour and baking powder; add to the lard mixture.
  4. The dough will be crumbly. If too dry, add a tbsp or two milk
  5. Brush the tins with melted butter, fill them about 2/3 with dough.
  6. Place the tins on a cookie sheet and bake at 180 C / 355 F for about 15 minutes or until golden-brown color.
  7. Let them cool down for a minute or two, remove from tins and liberally dust with powdered sugar.

Enjoy with a cup of coffee, tea or dip in milk! 🙂

Sape preparation

Šape forms

Šape

Šape

Šape

Chicken Soup with Farina Dumplings

As per request of one of my dear readers, I wanted to introduce this much loved soup of our grandmothers. I am not sure where the soup originates from (Austria perhaps), but it is well known all over the old continent. It is delicious, easily made and filling.

The base for the soup can be chicken or veal stock and dumplings are made from farina flour. This flour is coarse and resembles grits, but unlike grits, it is made from wheat. Apparently for many years I was confusing the name for semolina and farina flour. I recently learned that semolina is mainly used for making pasta and gnocchi and farina is used as cereal (cream of wheat). In Bosnia farina is called griz and in Germany grieß. We mainly use farina for dumplings and desserts. If you happen to go through my recipe index, my Semolina Pudding should actually read farina pudding (I promise I will change that).

chicken soup with farina dumplings

Chicken Soup with Farina Dumplings

{print recipe}

Chicken stock:

  • 1. 5 – 2 l (1.5 – 2 quarts) water
  • 100-200 g (3.5 – 7 oz) chicken (I usually use breast without skin, but dark meat can be used as well) or veal
  • 2 medium carrots (cut once lengthwise and once across)
  • 1 parsnip (cut once lengthwise and once across)
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 parsley twigs
  • Vegeta
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Parsley (finely chopped)

Farina dumplings:

  • 100 g (3.5 oz) farina flour
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 1 pinch of fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 50 g butter (1.7 oz)- at room temperature
  • 1 egg

Preparation:

  1. In a stock pot filled with water add chicken and all the vegetables. Bring it to a boil and then lower the temperature and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  2. Strain the stock and set aside all that’s left in the sieve.
  3. Return the clear stock into the pot. Finely chop chicken, carrots and parsnip and put back into the stock.  Onion, celery, and parsley can be discarded. Spice with vegeta, salt and pepper. Let it simmer lightly.
  4. Dumplings need to be prepared immediately before you want to add them to the soup. Do not let the dumpling mixture sit and wait, because they will not turn out good.
  5. For the dumplings combine farina with salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl. Add softened butter and egg and make a mixture gently mixing with a fork. Do not use electric mixer. Do not over mix.
  6. Take a small spoon and grab some of the mixture. With another spoon help shape the mixture into a nice oval and put it into simmering soup. Work fast. Dumplings will start expanding and coming to the surface.
  7. When they are about triple in size, turn off the stove, add chopped parsley to the soup and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving. If dumplings are made right they will have a soft consistency, somewhat grainy texture and will not be hard or fall apart.

*** I suggest not to make these dumplings with hands as you may squeeze and press the mixture too much and then they will be too hard after they are done.

Chicken stock

Making Farina Dumplings
Making Farina Dumplings
Farina Dumplings Mixture
Farina Dumplings Mixture
Make Farina dumplings using two spoons and shaping them into an oval
Make Farina dumplings using two spoons and shaping them into an oval

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Chicken Soup with Farina Dumplings

Chicken Soup with Farina Dumplings

Bosnian Bean Soup {Grah}

Just when I thought the winter has lost its grip on us, it’s snowing again and it’s bitter cold outside. I guess I’ll have to patiently wait for the spring.. In the meantime I decided to cure the winter blues with a cup of familiar, good Bosnian Bean Soup. In Bosnia and the regions of Balkan, this soup has been around for hundreds of years. It is simply called “beans” (grah) and when you say “grah” everyone knows what you’re talking about. Most families have their own, family recipe which they swear to be the best one around. I think my recipe is pretty darn good too! 🙂 This flavorful, hearty soup is made from dried beans, so it takes a while to be done, but I’ll tell you the wait is absolutely worth it. If you would find yourself in a conversation with an older Bosnian lady and if you (God forbid) mentioned that you have used canned beans to make grah, she would be seriously mad (if not offended) and she would use all of her powers of persuasion to change your mind and to point you in the right direction when it comes to preparing grah. 🙂

Although I am not going to be mad if you use canned beans, I would strongly suggest – don’t. I am speaking from my own experience here. Take the time and make this soup the proper way and you will be rewarded with a best cup of bean soup you ever had.

Since I don’t have a way to get the real Bosnian beans here in the US, I tried substituting them with pinto beans, black eyed peas and kidney beans. None of these have worked too well. Recently I found peruano beans which are just perfect for this soup and if not the same, then they are very similar to my favorite Bosnian beans.

As we (Bosnians) are pretty serious meat eaters, we like to add some nice smoked meat to the soup. I usually add authentic Bosnian smoked beef, but smoked pork ribs or similar will also give it a great flavor. Smoked meat from Balkans would require a whole new post, so I will just say that if you would really like to have some, try any store with products from Balkan. Serve the soup with some good, crusty bread. This is essential because you will be dipping that bread into soup and using it to pick up the last drops from your cup! In the winter time we also might serve this soup with pickled vegetables such as pickles, pickled peppers, sarena salata (a mix of various pickled veggies), pickled peppers stuffed with sauerkraut, etc.)

Bosnian Bean Soup (Grah)

Bosnian Bean Soup (Grah)

{print recipe}

Ingredients:

  • 500 g (17 oz) dry peruano beans
  • 1-2 l water
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1/4 of a green bell pepper
  • 250 g (9 oz) smoked beef (cubed)
  • 1 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP vegeta
  • 1/4  TSP fresh ground black pepper
  • Bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 2 TBSP cooking oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 1 TSP ground paprika

Preparation:

*** Soaking the beans in cold water over night will reduce the cooking time.

  • If you have pre-soaked the beans, rinse them, place in a large cooking pot and go to number 1.
  • If you didn’t soak the beans, place them in a cooking pot, add water and let it boil for a few minutes, rinse and add fresh water.
  1. Finely chop onion, carrot and the bell pepper. Add it to the beans and let it boil. Reduce the temperature to medium, cover the pot slightly and let it cook for about 1 hour. Occasionally check if water level has decreased, add additional water to always keep the same level of liquid in the pot.
  2. After 1 hour add all spices and cubed smoked meat (polish sausage or similar can be used too, but then you will add them at the last half hour of cooking time). Cook for another 1 to 1.5 hours. To check if beans are ready take a few out of the pot and squeeze them between your thumb and index finger. If they are soft and creamy, and the peel comes off they are ready. The soup will look thick and it will smell wonderfully.
  3. Now add tomato paste and let it incorporate well into the soup.
  4. It is time now to make the roux to thicken the soup.
  5. Peel and finely chop 3-4 garlic cloves. Using medium setting, heat 2 TBSP oil in a small frying pan. Toss the chopped garlic in oil just until fragrant.
  6. Add flour and mix it with a wooden spoon until all crumbs disappear and flour starts changing its color to a very light brown. Now add paprika and again mix well. Pour the roux into the soup. This might produce a lively reaction. Give it a nice stir, reduce the heat and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  7. Serve warm with a slice of a nice, crusty bread.
  8. This soup freezes well and keeps well in the fridge for at least 3-4 days.
Smoked beef meat
Smoked beef meat
Steps of making roux
Steps of making roux

Bosnian Bean Soup (Grah)

Best Wishes for the New Year and a finished soft pastel painting

As we are counting the last hours of the old year and looking forward to the new one, I just want to reflect on the past year and say that it went pretty well for me. I tried to focus on doing things I love. I’ve baked a lot, trying to be inventive and try new things. I’ve tried to take better photos of my food and my surroundings. I tried to spend more time painting. I have actually finished several paintings out of which two were sold in a charity event helping needy Bosnian families and one got an award and it is still displayed in our local museum gallery. I tried to spend more time with my kids, be a better parent, be a good friend and a listener. I tried to keep an open mind and an open heart to the new things that came along. Have I succeeded? Not sure. I am sure of one thing though: I will not stop trying and hoping that this new year will be better in every way not only for me, but also for all of you that are reading this post and for the whole world.

peace on earth

This is my latest painting. The original photo comes from a Croatian photographer Boris Stromar and can be seen at Boris’ website. With Boris’ permission I have used this photo as a reference. The painting depicts river Una, one of the most beautiful rivers of Bosnia and Europe.

This is how I started:

Remembering Bosnia_first drawing

Completed painting:

River Una

Choco-Coconut Squares (Cupavci)

Coconut! You either love it or you hate it! Some of my friends who hate coconut say it’s because of the texture… My daughter used to hate coconut, never wanted to even try anything that had a slightest hint of it, until one day she worked up the courage to try these and fell in love with them.

These choco-coconut squares are a frequent guest at the table of many Bosnian families. If you like chocolate – coconut combination, I can guarantee you these will knock your socks off! 🙂 Now, in Bosnian language these have a specific name. It is weird and funny and quite unappetizing (the name I mean). That’s why I didn’t try translating it into English. Despite the weird name, this desserts is very popular, it is easily made and super delicious!

Choco-Coconut Squares (Čupavci)

[printable recipe]

For the batter:

  • 5 eggs (divided)
  • 125 g (4.4 oz) sugar
  • 1 pack vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp.  vanilla extract)
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) self –rising flour
  • 50 g (1.7 oz) plain bread crumbs
  • 160 ml (2/3 cup) milk

For the chocolate – coconut dip:

  • 150 g (5.3 oz) semi-sweet or dark chocolate
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) butter
  • 100 g (3.5 oz)sugar
  • 150 ml  (about 2/3 cup) milk
  • 150-200 g (5 – 7 oz) coconut (unsweetened, organic, finely shredded)
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) heated raspberry jam (or your favorite jam)

Also needed:

  •          28 X 22 cm (9 X 11 inch) rectangular cake pan,
  •          parchment paper,
  •          cooling rack,
  •          small cooking pot and a stainless steel bowl (for the hot water bath)

Preparation:

1. For the batter divide the eggs. Beat the egg whites with a smidgen of salt until firm, set aside. Beat the egg yolks with sugar and vanilla until pale yellow and all the sugar has dissolved (about 5 minutes).

2. Add milk and mix slowly for another minute. Now start adding flour combined with bread crumbs mixing at a low speed. At the end fold in the egg whites by hand until just combined.

3. Pour the batter into the cake pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 195 C (385 F) until the top starts getting golden yellow color. Remove from the oven and from the pan  and place it on a cooling rack.

4. When the cake has cooled down completely, cut it horizontally into two halves. Lightly heat the jam and spread over the first half, lay the second half on the top. Now cut the whole cake into squares. If you make three cuts to the longer- and 5 to the shorter side you will get 24 squares.

5. Heat the water in a small cooking pot. Melt the chocolate and butter over hot water bath. Add sugar (if desired), mix it smooth and add milk at the end.

6. Dip each cake square into chocolate. Make sure every side is well coated and then dip in coconut.  Let them rest for about an hour. They are best served at the room temperature!

ENJOY!

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