Thursday, January 6, 2005

Badnje Vece: Serbian Christmas Eve

It was Serbian Christmas Eve in 2002 when we first decided, "We should have a baby. Why not?" Two years later, we got to spend a Serbian Christmas Eve with our little one for the first time.

The Serbian Orthodox holy days calendar is calculated according to the Julian calendar The Gregorian calendar used on the West came later, with Pope Gregory. It is more accurate, astronomically. Orthodox = no pope, so no calendar change.

As the centuries passed, the calendars drifted apart. By the early 20th century, Julian Dec. 25 fell on Gregorian Jan. 6. Today it falls on Gregorian Jan. 7.

This all has nothing directly to do with Epiphany or the three kings, although you will read explanations that say it does, some quite. authoritative-looking. The Epiphany thing is a coincidence, in the strict sense of the word.

Serb Xmas entails a fasting, or "posno" menu. No meat, poultry, eggs, dairy. Don and I call it "The Dinner of the Little Dishes," because (at least the way we have it) everything is served on little plates or little bowls. It's an incredibly filling meal. Fish is de riguer. This year, we had shrimp with avocado oil, garlic, mushrooms.

Rezantsi c makom: A little bowl of ground poppy seed heaped over noodles, then drizzled with honey.

Chorba od patligian, or tomato soup. This year, for the first time, I made it from scratch. Used a recipe from the Joy of Cooking. "Quick Tomato Soup." The meaning of quick has shifted over the years, apparently. The soup is well beyond what today's typical American would consider quick, I think. Really delicious. It involves a butter roux. I used it by accident -- forgot to substitute olive oil because of the posno thing. Oops. It sure was delicious.

Kidney bean salad. My mother's recipe. One can light red in their juice, 2 T olive oil, 1/2 T vinegar, 1/2 T lemon juice, 1/8 t salt, grindngs of pepper.Chill at least 3 hours before serving. Wonderful.

Suvo voce. Dried fruit. Stew prunes, raisins, and what have you for at least 45 min. in water or juice. You never knew sweet could be this sweet. The single most filling item of the meal, per cubic inch. Over the years I've learned to scale the serving size way back. Just three or four prunes and maybe 10 raisins a person is plenty. It's easy to eat more, because it's so sweet and good. But eat more and you can't finish the rest of the meal.

Once, back in my Baltimore days, I ate a lot of dried fruit right out of the bag on an empty stomach. How much? My fill, I guess. Maybe 1/2 cup or 3/4 cup. Then the fruit filled with liquid inside me. I thought I might die.

Posno pogacha, or lenten flatbread. A yeast-raised quickbread. Heavenly dipped in tomato soup.

This pic is the most Serbian-looking I've ever seen Ulysses.