Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Meal 60. Bosnian krompiruša and stuffed peppers

Goran
Sara squeezing grated potatoes
Goran was relatively easily talked into providing a Bosnian meal for this blog and is cooking up a storm with his younger sister Sara and our mutual friend Imogen when I arrive in his south London houseshare. Sara is squeezing out the liquid from some grated potatoes, as expressly instructed by their mother, who is on phone standby during this evening. She has very elegant fingers with long manicured nails, and as I am snapping away, I joke that if grated potatoes were my particular turn on, I would definitely choose her hands to do the squeezing! Luckily for us both, I appreciate potatoes purely for their culinary value. We are all amazed at how much liquid she is managing to remove, all to make sure the krompiruša, rolls of filo pastry with a potato and onion filling, does not turn out too wet. Goran says his mother would be delighted to see them cooking Bosnian food together, and he himself tells me later he is happy to spend more time with his sister like this. Though she is nine years younger, they are now both adults, graduated from university, and can uniquely understand each other's upbringing. The family had to flee Bosnia when the war started in 1992, and after spending some months with a family in Croatia and five years in Germany, arrived in London. It did take a while to fully settle in, as the first five years in the UK, Goran's parents (both
Stuffed peppers
economists) were not allowed to work, because they were classed as asylum seekers and waiting for their residency status to be confirmed. Goran is now a clinical psychologist and speaks with a beautiful 'BBC accent' but says the first few years, when he still had a thick German accent, were a challenge. As a ten year old, pulled away from his childhood friends in Germany, he was picked on in London for foreign accent and was not that happy to be here. Over time, he did start identifying as a Londoner. Almost all of his friends are British, and though many have 'dual heritage', hardly any have roots from the region he and his parents were born. One of them, Janja, is here tonight. She has a Slovenian background, and it is amusing to see how excited Goran and Sara are by the bottle of rakija she brings along (a kind of schnapps), sniffing it rapturously. They also clearly bond over the typical brand of parental advice they would all receive as teenagers, and still as adults on occasion!

Goran calling mum for final guidance
The stuffed peppers contain a lightly spiced with of minced beef (vegan for Imogen), onions, carrot, paprika and chili, covered with a tomato sauce just before serving. These seem to be made quite confidently, but for the krompiruša a bit of last-minute phone advice from mum is needed to guarantee authenticity and success. I hear Goran animatedly chatting away in Bosnian, interspersed with the occasional English word ('filling', 'fine, fine', 'bye!'). He and Sara then give it a go, folding the first third of the filo pastry before arranging the filling and rolling the sheets carefully into long cylinders. They are then arranged in an oven tray, and brushed with oil half way through to achieve that delicious crunchy/flaky filo consistency. No special adjustment is needed to make them vegan, which is why Imogen was already a big fan after a trip to the region.
Rolling the krompiruša
Once the peppers and the krompiruša are in the oven, Goran can relax a bit more as he was struggling with combining the cooking, delegating and answering questions at the same time. It turns out to be a pretty big dinner party for seven in all, with his two flatmates joining as well, one rushing over straight from the airport to make it home in time for the food.
As the krompiruša leaves the oven and the stuffed peppers are being dished up, I literally start salivating. We all tuck in and I start to understand Imogen's adoration of krompiruša, looking forward to trying some of the variations of this dish with cheese or meat fillings as well. Though Goran and Sara's mum would make her own filo pastry, with the store bought kind it is still exquisitely flaky, and looks easy enough to make for me to create an approximation at home.
Ladling up the peppers
To top it all off, we have some 'Yugoslav' coffee and Bajadera chocolates (made in Croatia) plus some 'hairy friendship cakes' as my contribution. I made them after googling 'Bosnian desserts'. The hairiness is due to the coating with desiccated coconut. Though initially a bit wary, once Sara bites into them, she exclaims that they do seem familiar, the type of thing you might be served at a Bosnian wedding.
After everyone else has left, to catch their trains or to go and meditate, Goran and I end up chatting further about his background. We touch on the sacrifices his parents made for his and Sara's education, and how much it pleases him that they can now relax in their chosen seaside retirement in Croatia. I am curious to why they would not return to Bosnia. 'It's complicated' covers some of it. Goran explains some of the historical factors, both internal and external, that led to the war in Bosnia, and mentions that the country still seems to be stuck in an impasse, very divided along religious/ethnic lines (the Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Christan Serbs, and Catholic Croats). The country is not doing that well politically or economically, and many young people have been leaving as they don't see a future there. However, as a lot of the former Yugoslav countries do share a very similar history, culture and language, Goran explains that much of what his parents might miss from Bosnia, can be found in Croatia too. We touch on some of the aspects he appreciates specifically of his 'dual heritage'. He highlights the British sense of humour which feels like home to him, but also the warmth and generous hospitality he associates with his Bosnian friends and family. He recalls summer visits with outside barbecue parties. For special occasions, an entire spit roast lamb or a piglet would be brought out. As the time comes for me to head home, I promise to invite him over to mine for a return dinner party, thinking the half drunk bottle of bourbon I brought with me as a gift might not quite cover the generous spirit he has just described so evocatively!

The krompiruša, stuffed pepper and Goran's special 'fuckoff' salad