Saturday, November 17, 2007

Slava 2007

Slava! I described this Serbian family holiday in this post from last year.

This year we ended up moving the celebration to the Saturday after Nov. 14, and our friend Gigi (formerly called Michelle in these pages) came and feasted with us. This time I started cooking when I got up at 7 am, so by the time I went to pick her up at 6:30, everything was ready. I was actually able to sit and enjoy a meal with a guest, instead of cooking through the courses. What a concept.

On-the-vine were, mercifully, on sale. Sliced, with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I made my family kolach as described in the recipe I published in Isthmus several years ago. For the first time ever, I dared to made a change: 2 cups whole wheat flour and 5 cups AP, instead of 8 AP. It turned out quite different: more fluffy and grainy, a lighter, less densely cake-like texture. Very nice. Slava and Christmas use bread, but the Slava kolach is undecorated. This recipe makes two crockpot-liner-filling loaves.

I made the same fantastic djuvec as last year (recipe and explanation in the link above), with one variation. Instead of 4 pounds country-style ribs, I used 2.25 pounds pork belly and nearly 3 pounds country-style ribs. I asked Gigi what she thought of this djuvec versus last year's. She said she liked this year's better; that it seemed "meatier." No wonder! At five pounds instead of four, that's a 25% increase in the amount of pork in the pot!

On Wednesday, I had purchased over four pounds of pork belly at the Angkor Thom Market, the Cambodian grocery where I like to buy less mainstream cuts of meat. Pork belly sounds awful to the delicate ears of most modern Americans who for some reason don't mind eating meat products that really are revolting, like anything containing "mechanically separated chicken." It's the part of the hog that's used to make bacon, and it's a slow-cooking, full-flavored cut that keeps good body even after it's cooked tender. That last feature makes it forgiving in dishes like this one; it won't disintegrate into the pot. I think. I haven't used it much, so I was eager to try.

What I didn't realize was that it's sold with the tough, thick skin still on. That amounted to nearly half of it by weight! So I ran out to Pierce's (closer) for more pork. No pork belly there, of course. Hence the country-style rib.

Anyway, the extra meat helped improve the ratio of starchy carbs (from the rice) in the dish. I toyed briefly with the idea of leaving the rice out entirely, but then it wouldn't be djuvec anymore; just oven-cooked stew.

The most miraculous thing about this dish, to me, is how you don't need to add a drop of water to cook the rice. All those vegetables have enough locked up in their cell walls. It all expresses while cooking, and the rice is ready to absorb and transform, using the flavored veg liquid to soften and puff. It's a beautiful, complementary alchemy.

A baked pastry casserole filled with a savory feta blend and served at room temperature. I'll give a fuller description and a recipe in a separate post.

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