When people are away from home, sometimes they start doing traditional things that they didn’t use to do at home. You go to another part of the world and by all means have to have some traditional item. For example, I wanted to celebrate this Christmas as proper as possible. A couple of dear people from Balkans, one Estonian, food that reminds of home and Badnjak. The good times.
Orthodox Christmas is on January the 7th. The day before, we fast.
The night before Christmas
It is tradition to have Badnjak, an oak tree branch that is burned on the Christmas day. So, the boys decided to go and get it. In Belgrade, we by the twigs in a bouquet, on the farmers market and the boys decided that we will not have Christmas without it. We haven’t seen oak trees around, but our friend R said there are a few in a small wood near his place. So, my guy went there while I was asleep and took the ax with him. A few hours later he returned carrying a whole branch on the shoulder.
- Why the f* did you bring a whole tree?!
- R says that’s the way to do it. He used to go get Badnjak with his grandfather all the time. He says that bouquets are for the city, and that in the countryside they take the whole branch.
- We barely could find it. Only one oak tree near one house.
- You didn’t take down somebody’s tree?
- Go buy me some beans then.
On the eve of the day before Christmas we always eat Prebranac, Serbian baked beans, sour cabbage salad and homemade bread. Always. I was kind of worried if I could find all the ingredients for both days but when I found out that you can buy pork fat and sour cabbage in almost every supermarket, I knew I’m gonna be fine in Estonia. We only had trouble finding the beans. At home, we use Tetovac, large beans named after Macedonian city Tetovo. Of course, there’s no such beans in Estonia
- I got you the beans.
- No you didn’t! How am I supposed to make Prebranac with Cannelini beans?
- They’ll expand when cooked?
- No they won’t Don’t you know how Tetovac looks?
- Is THIS OK?
- Oh, wow, it’s so big! It’s perfect! Kiss!
The bread came out the best ever. I’ll post the recipe one day :D
Another major concern was sour cabbage. We Serbians are particularly sensitive about our sour cabbage. What I wanted this time was a salad of shredded sour cabbage, seasoned with some sunflower oil and paprika. Luckily, Estonians do have sour cabbage. Not the same as ours, but good enough to make me very happy :D They have regular, with carrots and with red currants. I found the one with the berries especialy interesting and that’s the one we chose. I loved it sooo much!
Christmas dinner was Russian Salad, Česnica and pork.
I wanted to start the evening serving the folks some bacon wrapped prunes, and it was a good choice. The only thing is that, when drinking, you can eat a lot and you don’t even notice you’ve eaten 500 g bacon :D These prunes originate form Medieval times when they were served on the courts of Nemanjić royal family. I wrote about it a couple of years ago, so if you’re interested take a look
There’s no Christmas without the Christmas bread. We call it Česnica and make it with pork fat. We put a coin and some other symbolic items in it and the one to find it will be money-lucky for the next year. You can see the recipe and read the story about the bread on Jelena’s blog, and if you decide to make it yourself, look into MEZZE magazine, flip through the pages 12-24, we made the exact same recipe step-by-step. I think I had too much Bloody Marys that day since I forgot about the bread and it stayed for too long in inside the oven but it was still great and could be eaten even for the next few days.
- Hey, Estonian, how do you like my bread?
- Not so much.
- Is it because I burned it?
- No. It’s the fat. I’m gonna eat the yesterday’s bread.
Seems like I had no luck with the oven that night My idea was, since traditionally we have pork roast for Christmas, to make some pulled pork, but it was too dry. Again, too long in the oven. A few days before, I’ve had some blood sausages on the Christmas market with a delicious berry sauce and loved the sauce so much that I bought some for home. It kind of saved the day. Not too sweet, and perfect to accompany any meat.
And finally, Badnjak should be burned. Not something you can do in an average Belgrade apartment. I was so happy!
Prebranac, Serbian Baked Beans
Cook 500 g large white beans until it boils. Strain and discard the water. Add 4-5 finely diced onions and cook in new batch of water until the beans get soft. Finely slice 1,5-2 kg onions. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the onions until they’re soft. Season with salt, pepper and lots of sweet paprika. You will probably need to do this in a few batches. In a baking dish put a layer of cooked and strained beans, layer of onions, pour some sunflower seed oil, add salt, pepper and paprika. Repeat until you use all the beans and onions. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated oven on 200°C/390°F about half an hour. If you want to, you can remove the foil near the end of baking so the crust forms.
Bacon Wrapped Prunes
You need: deseeded prunes, thin strips of bacon, walnuts, soft goat cheese. Fill each prune with cheese, stick a piece of walnut in the middle, wrap bacon around and bake or grill until you are satisfied with the looks of bacon.