Saturday, November 11, 2006

Slava with a friend, and Djuvec recipe

My friend Michelle came over to celebrate Slava with us today, and we cooked and feasted into the late hours. Michelle is fast becoming our Serbian holiday co-celebrant de rigeur -- she's already come for two Serbian Christmases in a row.

November 14 is my family Slava -- a Serbian custom celebrating the patron saint of the family. In my case, we have two, Sveti Kuzman i Damian (Cosmas and Damian). Slava originated way back when the Serbs converted to Christianity; the history is not completely known, but it's thought that they didn't want to abandon their family patron gods. That was the dealbreaker. When offered patron saints to replace their family gods, the pot was, evidently, sufficiently sweetened.

It's not known (as far as I can tell) whether the saints and saint days chosen corresponded in some way to the original gods of the household. Some say the date of a family's Krsna Slava is the anniversary of the day the family was originally baptized into Christianity. At any rate, I'm happy to observe it each year because the lineage reaches back into Serb antiquity even farther back than Serbian Orthodoxy, which is itself, in discourse at least, so often the non plus ultra of Serbian identity and heritage .

Most articles I've found on the Web (here's one) that explain Slava are heavily doctrinaire, and choked with a peculiarly stuffy religiosity that makes it hard for me, at least, to read. I do like this Wikipedia article.

Being an American, too, I made merry on the weekend date closest and most convenient to the authentic date. That's the American way of observance. (Thanksgiving is a notable exception; if it were being established today, it never would be set as a Thursday. And Christmas and New Year's Day wander peskily throughout the week. VIP birthdays and other commemorations, though, may be condensed and corralled with impunity to benefit the business calendar.)

Any get-together is a good reason to make fabulous food, especially a Serbian holiday. We made gibanica, djuvec, pogaca and, of course, kolach. I plan to get recipes for absolutely everything up on the blog eventually. For now, here is a heavenly djuvec. Enjoy!

Djuvec (JOO-vech, with a hard “j” as in “jingle”)
(Meat and vegetable casserole)

Djuvec is a Serbian layered casserole. It falls into the category of one-pot meals that are named after the vessel in which they are prepared. Another example is, in fact, the casserole; it’s the French word for a shallow baking pan.

Djuvec at its best is mellow and succulent, with a complex play of meat and vegetable flavors. It’s meant to be served straight out of the pot. As the top layer of sliced tomatoes roasts and concentrates, it becomes both decorative and delicious

I’m amazed by how much flavor this dish carries, since the seasoning is so minimal. It’s a wonderful tribute to the powerful deliciousness of vegetables. Tasting this dish, I realized I’ve come to rely on herbs, spices and stocks to create the flavor profile of a dish, using vegetables mainly for their volume, texture and color – but not especially for flavor. This djuvec brings home how potent are the tastes of tomato, of eggplant, of bell pepper, of celery. Onion, too, even though it isn’t caramelized, is a big player in this dish.

This recipe is adapted from one that I found in Yugoslav Cookbook (1963, Izdavacki Zavod Jugoslavija). That one calls for green peppers instead of red, and for 3 pounds of fresh, sliced tomatoes, instead of 1 pound fresh and 2 cans of crushed. The book calls for equal parts beef and pork, or, alternately, lamb.

It doesn’t specify what cut of pork (or anything else) to use. I chose country-style ribs – a cheaper cut with a moderately long cooking time and a fairly hefty amount of fat and flavor. Its strong pork presence can be overwhelming, but that’s a strength when you want flavor that will permeate a great big pot of food. Another good choice, I’ll warrant, would be pork belly. I’d love to try this with pork we’ve smoked in the smoker we built this summer, and with other meats as well. By contrast, a bad choice would be something like pork tenderloin – a delicacy that’s marvelous on its own, simply rubbed with salt, pepper and herbs and grilled or flashed cooked to medium rare. But it doesn’t have a lot of flavor to spare, and it would just get lost in a accompanying stew.

This dish is assembled in layers. Use a heavy pot with a big footprint. This recipe will fill two standard Dutch ovens. Halve the recipe for a single Dutch oven. I used a massive French oven casserole, which is similar to a Dutch oven, but its oval shape makes it suitable for use as a roaster as well. Ours is made by Club, and it’s a beauty in white-enameled cast iron with a black enamel interior. We got it at a Goodwill in the early 1990s for 10 bucks. What a fabulous deal.

1 large eggplant, cubed
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Handful parsely, chopped
1 1/2 pounds onions, quartered
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound fresh tomatoes, sliced
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 t black pepper, approx.
4 pounds country-style pork ribs, cut off the bone and cut in 1" cubes
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/3 cup uncooked white rice, or 1 cup day-old cooked rice

In a mixing bowl, toss together all the vegetables (except tomatoes and crushed tomatoes) with the salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the olive oil.

In a heavy skillet over highest heat, sear the pork until nicely browned. (Sear pork in batches small enough that they don’t crowd the pan, so that there is enough space for evaporation. Otherwise, they’ll start to boil without browning.)

Put down layers in this order:
1 can crushed tomatoes
Half of the veggies
Remaining veggies
1 can crushed tomatoes
Sliced tomatoes
1 cup olive oil

Bake at 350 F for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and the rice is thoroughly cooked. Remove the lid for the second hour, to get the tomatoes to form a nice crust.


  1. Interesting! I was married to a Serb for 20 years and my ex's father always made Djuvec. He claimed his was a "peasant" version that he learned from his mother. He grew up in the mountains outside of Bosnia. He usually made his Djuvec with chicken thighs, various veggies, rice, tomatoes and cubed potatoes. Seasoning was minimal...just salt, pepper and sweet paprika. That was some good stuff though! I still make Gibanica, palacinke, Sarma, Pogaca and many other dishes that I learned from my late mother-in-law. It's good food!!

  2. BTW... I was taught that Slava was the day the first member of a particular family was baptized into Christianity but my in-laws may have just been passing on what was told to them and didn't know the true answer any more than anyone else..LOL As a young newly wed and raised in a southern baptist background...I was a bit taken aback at my first Slava in our household (we all lived in the same house). The Orthodox Priest looked like a throw back from the middle ages with his cassock, long beard and booming loud voice with which he walked the 22 rooms of our house chanting and swinging his insense to and fro. I was 19 years old and absolutely terrified that I might be breaking some unwritten Baptist law by participating in this event..LOL. Over the years, it became common place though and a time that was always anticipated with much joy in our household.

  3. What wonderful stories! THANK YOU for your comments, JillyAn. I just visited your Homegrown Gourmet site -- love it.

    There will be lots more Serbian recipes on my new site, -- hope you will come and visit!

  4. Wonderful recipes and stories! I am first generation here in the States and am married to a Serb from Novi Sad. We celebrate Archangel Mihajlo and are looking for something different this year...well I have found it with you making Djuvec and Gibanica! I am tired of making pork, lamb, sarma...etc :) Thanks for the great ideas!!!

  5. THANK YOU for commenting, Daniella! I hope the recipes worked out well for you. Please let me know. I'm putting more Serbian recipes on my website at as well, so I hope you will visit there.

  6. Well, I am Slovenian, living in Cleveland Ohio now for 5th year. We have this foodie group of 8 and every time we pick different country or region to cook from and learn about customs. So this time we are going for Serbian. All of us pretty much represent a melting pot of "bivsa Juga", lol. It was not that easy to find you, but let me tell you Djuvec brings back childhood memories. Come to find out, I was growing up on Serbian food that my mom was making on occasions. And as a tribute to wonderful Serbian cuisine, I will use your recipe to present this dish tonight - with your story. Thank you Vesna!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I hope you enjoyed the djuvec you made. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Prijatelj iz Youngstown OhioFriday, January 15, 2016 at 7:53:00 AM CST

    Love your spirit and energy in your writing especially about Slava.
    Djuvec that I remembered was with smoked meat. Don't remember trying any other recipe.
    Pozdrav I bog te blagoslovio.

  8. Hvala lepo! What a lovely note. This year my husband cured a pork shoulder and added a little liquid smoke. It was the best ever!