Monday, January 21, 2008

Balkan Recipes

Just to go to the other end of the spectrum from FP's delightful versions of 'quickie' French haute cuisine, I thought I'd share how madam Fugit and I used to make the Serbian version of sauerkraut. They use brine, not vinegar, to act as a pickling agent. Here goes:

30 - 35 kilos of firm cabbage heads - preferably those with a reddish/pinkish tinge to the outer leaves.

2 kilos of salt

A couple of very large plastic barrels, preferably with taps near the base, or plastic baby baths

Enough water to cover

First, wait until early November when cabbages are abundant and cheap. Go to the market, purchase said cabbages and lug them by hand from the market (some people use a taxi, but I say there is no substitute for the taste of hand lugged cabbage). Trim away outer damaged leaves and gouge out the stem. Pack the cabbage heads tightly with salt. After making sure your barrels/baths are sterilised with copiuos quantities of boiling water, pack the heads of cabbage tightly in them. Cover with water and add a pinch of salt. Put on the balcony making sure the temperature will drop to minus 5 - 15 degrees centigrade every night for the next 6 weeks. Cover with old duvets and blankets to avoid frost. Leave for 10 days, then drain into a large container and immediately refill with the same brine. Repeat this every 10 days for the next month. By mid-December, you will have the finest pickled cabbage you can imagine. If it is too sour, you can always rinse it.

Serve cold, shredded as a salad to accompany cold meats and cheeses, or nice spicy pork sausages. Or serve sarmas - stuffed cabbage leaves - or podvarak (recipe on request) smothered in sour cream as a main meal. Accompany with rakija - home distilled plum brandy (Slivovicka).

As a side product, the brine - called raso - is often drunk as a cure for hangovers. I can tell you that after a mug at seven in the morning, you will feel the blood pumping through your veins till lunchtime comes around and you're ready for another plate of sarmas. I once spent a Serbian New Year in Belgrade, and at 4 in the morning we were served 'Kise Corba' or sour soup. The stock was raso and the body was veggies, lamb's head and rice. Yum.

Next time, how to make Ajvar from 25 kilos of red paprikas.

Bon apetit!


Frogprincess said...

Eee Tempus hinney. Yuh divvent want us ahl to fill we bathtubs wi' cabbage, bonny lad? Funnily enough we're having choucroute this week. Washed down with some Riesling. No bathtubs involved, though.

TracyK said...

Crikey, that's industrial cookery, surely? Lamb's head...mmmm...