After a few cloudy days in Nis, the sun finally broke through in Belgrade and brightened Serbia considerably. My couchsurfing host Djordje recommended a flea market across the Sava River where I could buy new pants, more exciting than a typical shopping mall. I had split my jeans a few weeks ago and avoided buying new ones longer than I should have, I’d rather explore castles than shop for pants. It was a long, hot walk to the flea market but very scenic, past the bike repair shops, restaurant boats, and sunken cement ships. At the flea market I asked to try on some pants and I was shown to a small corner partially hidden by a waist-high and incomplete half-door. I remembered a Croatian phrase that my host in Zagreb taught me, “jebi ga” (which means “fuck it”), and tried on the jeans anyways. A few people may have caught me with my pants down but I found a pair so it was worth it.
My vocabulary of useful words in Serbian is slowly growing since it is very similar to Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin and even Slovenian. It was harder in Serbia to pick up words however because the official alphabet is Cyrillic so Belgrade is written as Београд. The person who developed the Latin adaptation from the Cyrillic decided to “write as you speak and read as it is written“, which makes it easier to learn. Plus it has accent marks to indicate how to pronounce certain vowels or consonants, so by the end of my 3 week stay in the Balkans I could order a beer and find my bus like the best of them.
The tastiest part of Serbia was making cookies with Djordje from his mother’s recipe, which originated from her village either in Serbia or Croatia. They were so delicious that I decided to add a new feature for this post, the Kate Has Recipe-Lust blog!
“Zuta Vekna” or Yellow Loaf
100 g (1/2 c) walnuts
100 g (1/2 c) prunes
200 g (3/4 c & 2 tbsp) white granulated sugar
500 g (2 c & 1 tbsp) flour
110 ml (1/2 c) milk
80 g (5 tbsp & 1 tsp) margarine*
5 grams (1 tsp) baking powder
Olive or vegetable oil
*according to Djordje the best oil is pig fat because it gives the cookies a nice crunch. We opted for margarine as pig fat is hard to find and as a vegetarian I’d rather not find it.
1. Place oven rack in middle of the oven.
2. Preheat oven to 220-225 C (428-437 F).
3. Oil a baking pan liberally and sprinkle some flour on top of the oil.
4. Chop walnuts and prunes into medium-small pieces. Put aside.
5. Heat milk on stovetop in a small pan. Dissolve margarine into the warm milk.
6. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and eggs. Add milk-and-margarine mixture to the bowl. Add chopped walnuts and plums. Mix well.
7. Knead the dough in the bowl with your hands. Consistency should be pretty dry so that when it is baked it doesn’t lose its shape. Add more flour if necessary.
8. Separate dough into 4 chunks. On a floured surface, roll each chunk into a log with your hands until it is about 30 cm (12 in) long, 4 cm (1 1/2 in) high, and 8 cm wide (3 in).
9. Lay the logs next to each other on the oiled and floured pan, with about 2 1/2 cm (1 in) between the logs.
10. Bake for about 30 minutes until the top turns golden brown and is cracked. Insert a toothpick and confirm it comes out dry.
11. Turn off the oven and put the pan back in the oven for a few more minutes to dry out the cookies.
12. Take cookies out of the oven and cut them diagonally while still warm. Roll and cover the cookies with powdered sugar.
13. Share with your neighbors and enjoy!