Soup is a common starter in many households and within Bosnian cooking, this is no different.
Every meal always begins with a bowl of hot supa. Even if it would look like a main meal, full of protein, vegetables and noodles, in our house it was a mere slurp to warm the tummy up for the main meal. During the cooler months or when I'm feeling mentally or physically on the down, this bowl is a go-to. Full disclosure, I'm not quite as together when I'm sick, I believe the term is 'needy crybaby', but we all have our quips and there's something about a bowl of mama's chicken soup that has become part of our family and part of my own cooking repertoire even when I'm cooking for just the one at home. Something about these soups makes life feel a little more manageable, an almost natural mood booster that is too good to ignore. I would often laugh at mum who would remedy all my life's problems with her chicken soup. From high-school exam stress and relationship tensions to outfit debacles and that one time when I almost missed my flight, all seemed to yield the same response, 'hajde, evo ti supa'.
In our house, supa was always seen in two lights; a staple and a healer. It would be ladled out and then the pepper and/or a jar of chilli sauce frenzy would take place. Mama used this as her way of introducing flavours and I think my first chilli intro was slurped up through one of her broths. Even if a soup was suitably seasoned, you would always find everyone in our family going in having a taste and then seasoning it some more, even if they weren't the ones actually cooking it. Salt and pepper were mainstays on the table, next to the olive oil, ajvar and bread.
I'm often asked what is Bosnian food? Like many cuisines, it often starts with a bowl of soup, even in the summer. I suppose when thinking about its highlights and flavours, it's clear that it really has been influenced by geographical location and its rich history - a true East meets West representation. It takes much of its culinary influence from the Ottoman Empire, which it was ruled by for over 500 years and is why you see versions of burek, sutlac, manti and baklava as popular options. It is closely related to the Mediterranean with its penchant for seafood and mezze, but it's through the Austrian-Hungarian rule, it also encompasses much of Central Europe's heartiness in its goulash and meat. It’s a cuisine that is comforting and not afraid of flavour or of serving up carb with carb alongside carb – so noodle soup with semolina dumplings served with bread and make a baked rice dish that is built from the leftover chicken stock.
Noodles or tjestenina is a generic and often interchangeable term that covers both pasta and noodle. Even though we neighbour Italy, there were only two pasta-inspired dishes we ate at home. One being a spag bol, mama's intro to 'Australian food' to get rid of the neverending kilos of tomatoes she always seemed to have in the fridge. It also celebrated the cost-effective mince-friendly household we were. The other pasta favourite, was pilav.A sort of fettuccine dish served with hot butter, sour cream and pepper and was unadulterated fun, not quite the cacio e pepe but certainly close to it. Trying to find this dish as an adult proved difficult and I wasn‘t sure if it was one my mother concocted given her resourceful approach to cooking. She would often make ingredients work for her and there was always a story about her life in Bosnia that she would tell while I would twirl the fork on my plate trying to round up all the pasta I could.
However you diced it, mama's soup was hot property in our house and for our immediate neighbours, as they also enjoyed the fruits of her stock-ish labour. Our two family go-to recipes would have to be the tomato-rich tarhana heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine and the always faithful mama’s chicken soup that featured semolina and egg 'dumplings' and sometimes chunks of potato.
Tarhana itself is based on a mixture of fermented yoghurt/milk and cracked wheat which you can buy dried in packets and looks quite fine and granular. This is a great packet to keep on hand in your pantry! I remember on my first trip to Bosnia watching my aunt and her mother-in-law prepare tarhana in the summertime in preparation for the cooler months. Their recipe has been in the family and their Bosnian-style tarhana is made by combining flour, yeast egg and water, then covering it overnight to settle and soften. Some versions leave the starter to ferment over several days and you continue to nurture the dough by adding flour each day until you get the dough to where you prefer it. You divide the dough into hand-sized portions which are then placed onto a sheet to dry out for about a week. Once dried, they are shredded or ground, and in my family's case pushed through a sieve or colander into little granular balls. Then they are stored in jars either in the fridge or in a cool place.
What is great about this soup is the paprika addition (sweet, smoky or both work wonders here), as well as the base of tomatoes, which gives it both a tangy and sweet flavour. I look at this as a tomato soup 2.0 and you can really use any veggies you like, any mincemeat and ramp up the chilli component if you are inclined. This is not what most people would call a noodle soup, but this delicious bowl is very close to my family's heart and what I would call a noodle soup as a child - things that float alongside vegetables that weren't vegetables. Perhaps, a little misguided as an eight-year-old, but I'll own it.
Find the recipe for this sweet and sour bowl of goodness right here.
Packet egg vermicelli noodles swimming in stock alongside handmade semolina and egg dumplings – sold! To say this chicken noodle soup recipe has gotten me out of some curly feelings would be an understatement. If anyone has the science to help me understand it then I am all ears, but for now, I equate it to our equivalent of tiramisu, a pure 'pick-me-up'. Something that needs to be acknowledged right here and now is Vegeta. No, not the Manga character but the packet vegetable/chicken stock powder made up of salt, spices and flavours and was like a secret, not-so-secret weapon in this house. It plays in the 'chicken salt' arena but is flavouring more than salt and is the make or break of many dishes. Consider it is the Vegemite of my childhood and adulthood and it forms the base of this recipe.
This chicken noodle soup with semolina egg dumplings is all comfort and warmth.
Soup transcends many cultures and regions and whether you're feeding two or twenty, I hope these recipes can become part of your family favourites to put a little spring back in your step. 'Hajde, djeco!'
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