I can still hear my mother instructing me on how to best push onions. Now I pay it forward.
By
Farah Celjo

1 Feb 2021 - 12:42 PM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2021 - 2:21 PM

For the longest time, the food my brother and I ate at home was simply that - 'home food'.

We didn't eat out that much and fast food was often a treat that my brother and I would plead for. Oh, how those tables have turned. Most of our meals, including our school lunches, were straight out of mama's brain and cooked in our family kitchen. There wasn't a cookbook or measuring cup in sight but there were several aprons and cotton sheets ready for filo pastry to be rolled.

Here's one my mama prepared earlier
50 years of baklava: That’s a lot of filo pastry
Almost every family has a baklava story and mine just happens to involve cotton sheets, a cheese grater and a Balkan sass queen.

Growing up in a Bosnian-Australian family and being a first-gen child to migrant parents, I often found myself explaining what and where was.  I didn't mind having to explain, it made me feel extra special to know that my parents came from a place people didn't even know about yet and I could introduce them. Even now, I get an intrigued look when I say 'in Europe' because I can see their minds ticking over to all the more prominent countries that they would frequent on their summer and winter holidays and Bosnia just didn't seem to fit on their itinerary... well, not yet. This would then turn into nods and 'aha!' moments when I would explain that Bosnia was right next to Croatia and Serbia and that we also liked to feast as much as we liked to naturally raise the decibel level every day.

My affiliation for Bosnian food was something that I only began to truly appreciate in my late teens. I enjoyed watching my mother in the kitchen, always working with her hands. I often found myself helping and talking, perhaps it was more in the form of listening to her wisdom and advice, while she was stretching filo pastry or in between pushing onions.

We'd sit across from each other handling whole boiled onions and gently pressing each layer in preparation for them to be stuffed with her mince and rice filling. I have so many memories of watching her at work in the kitchen. She is remarkable, especially when it came to overfeeding the lack of table space we had. Meals didn't come as singular serves, how could they when there were four or five meals on the table with a dessert and fresh fruit to finish. 

We were a household of leftovers and desserts. Stuffed vegetables, pita (stuffed filo pastry) and stews were as good the next day. Drinking strong black coffee meant you needed a sweet sidekick to balance it all out and there would always be something sweet freshly baked or prepared in the house, for coffee time and should one of our neighbours suddenly pop-in unexpectedly.

My mama was always prepared and I've been told the apple doesn't fall too far from being filled in filo pastry. True story.

My first Bosnian cookbook moment came when I was 16 years old. My aunt sent me one that was completely written in Bosnian with some very retro-looking white-plate-on-white-background photos. I suppose she wanted me to brush up on the language I grew up speaking until I started school but I couldn't move past the photography. None of the dishes looked like my 'home food' and they simply didn't look pretty enough to eat. If nothing else, Bosnian food is satisfying and hearty with plenty of flavours and I just didn't see it. From there, I was on a mission to find other Bosnian or Balkan cookbooks and I was coming up short on what I knew to be home. 

So here I am.

A Bosnian-Australian girl, sharing some of my favourite home foods, asking you to try them. 


 

Ajvar (Roast capsicum relish)

To this day, I have to have at least two jars on rotation at home because this capsicum relish goes on everything*. Celebrating capsicum, eggplant, tomato and garlic, this relish is perfect with cevapi (see below), or any grilled meat of your choosing. It also is a dreamboat when it comes to toast, eggs, sandwiches or basically anything that screams for a relish. 

* Not an exaggeration. Simply ask my friends and family. 

case in point
Haloumi with ajvar

Ajvar is a Slavic roasted red capsicum (bell pepper) relish. It is super versatile and pairs brilliantly with any number of dishes including meat, fish and pasta. It also makes a great dip and is often spread in sandwiches.

Bosanski ćevapi sa domaći ajvar (Skinless sausages with a capsicum relish)

Made with both lamb and beef mince, these skinless sausages are perfect hot off the grill. While the bounty of toppings and accompaniments are endless with some fresh bread, chopped fresh onion, kajmak (a clotted cream) and ajvar.

Processed With Darkroom
 

Uštipci (Lightly fried dough)

Think fritule when it comes to that fried doughy goodness, perfect for dipping and scooping. Weekend breakfasts consisted of two uštipci on my plate. One topped with sujuk or eggs and ajvar, the other with sour cream and honey. The best of both worlds. 

Sogan dolma (Stuffed onions)

You've heard of stuffed eggplant, zucchini, capsicum even tomatoes, but have you ever stuffed an onion? This savoury recipe uses the natural sweetness of onions to encase a savoury mince and rice filling. A creamy sour cream finish (make your own here) is the perfect accompaniment to these hearty bites.

Keks torte (Layered biscuit cake)

I remember my aunt making this the first time I met her as a teenager and it was exactly the kind of sweet needed to break the proverbial ice. Made of layered petit beurre biscuits and chocolate cream, this no-bake cake is best enjoyed with a strong cup of coffee or tea. 

 

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @farahceljo. If you try any of the recipes above or have a 'home food' story of your own then please do reach out to Farah Celjo via Instagram. 

Balkan feasts
Plăcintă: the Romanian Easter pie devoured since ancient times
Plăcintă was created hundreds of years ago, but it is so well-loved that it's still eaten today - including at Easter.
The egg and tomato recipe that resurfaced a forgotten Croatian heritage
How flipping through a cookbook threw Margaret River regenerative farmer and educator Cree Monaghan into the arms of her Croatian background.
Feels like home: Roman Urosevski gives potato and mince burek a modern twist
Getting burek pastry paper-thin takes a practised hand, but this baker says you can also get away with stretching it on the kitchen bench.
From Bulgaria to East Asia, the making of Japan's yoghurt culture
Yoghurt has travelled from Bulgaria to Japan and back, channelling national pride as it goes.
This bakery is a shrine to the joy of burek
Discover ricotta and fetta or beef bureks and fluffy lepinja at Liverpool’s Supreme Bakery.
Serbian crepes are just one reason to try this Balkan eatery
Wood-fired breads, hearty stews and warm Slavic hospitality are a few others.
Romanian sponge cake (cozonac)

Traditionally made at Easter, also known in Bulgaria as kozunak, this sweet brioche-like loaf (it’s not really a sponge cake at all!) is similar to those of Italy, Austria and Poland. 

Bakeproof: Bosnian baking
This column is a collaboration with SBS Food Editor, Farah Celjo, a keen home baker who shares some of the love and delight behind her Bosnian heritage, plus a few treasured homespun recipes.
Meat-filled pastries (burek)

In Bosnia, pita is the broad term for this pastry which is made with sweet and savoury fillings. Burek is the meat version, but it is also sometimes filled with soft white cheese. This recipe is a great snack.