Hvala Haul! Bosnian ajvar, Bulgarian cheese, and Bradford beer

The Side/Dishes Family Fridge is stocked for the week!

Yesterday, I took a lunchtime constitutional to soak in the sunlight and lush 68° temperatures that have heralded the month of (S)March here in America’s grain belt. Something’s definitely clicked in my organism…The mind mercury is rising. Days are getting longer, and with the weather as warm as its been – and every eye checking for buds on every tree branch – the dopamine stuff collects in the basin of the soul.

Certain flavors taste better this time of year; sense memory sharpens.

I stopped by a local Bosnian deli to procure some treats for Kellie – a small token of admiration, respect, and support for my partner on International Women’s Day, a holiday generally overlooked in this part of the world.

Back in December 2010, I packed my bags and left Florida for New Jersey to move in with Kel – we had been flying up and down the East Coast once a month for over a year; pricey, that – and make inroads as an ESL teacher and language consultant in New Jersey’s pharma corridor. Kel was about to begin her second year of coursework towards her Ph.D, and was weeks away from flying to Germany to begin the five month spring semester studying abroad at University of Konstanz.

In early April, I flew out to visit Kel in Berlin during her gap week; we rented a flat in Prenzlauer Berg and explored Berlin in some depth before hopping on a bus to Prague for five days – and kicking off a transcontinental transportation regatta, with Kellie taking the slow overnight train back to Konstanz at the Swiss border and me bussing it back to Berlin, U-Bahn to the airport, flight to Schipol (Amsterdam), flight to JFK, AirTrain to LIRR to New Jersey Transit to taxi to home in Plainfield, NJ , which had been in the middle of a blackout, so none of the traffic signals or streetlights worked.

I think we both got home within half an hour of each other.

I fell precipitously into slumber.

Later, that July, I flew out to meet Kel and visit Konstanz at the source of the Rhine. We spent time with her friends and classmates there, drinking prossecco and lounging about on the relaxed strands of the Bodensee, so carefree when not icebound. We had booked a flight to Dubrovnik to visit the Dalmatian coast and had agreed to shoehorn in a sidetrip to Mostar, because Bosnia.


That’s a story for another day, friends. I hope to tell it shortly, here on Side/Dishes.

Suffice to say that I think we’ve both been feeling the tug of summer and the itch of travel. Plans to spend the summer in Europe are advancing, contours and swerves anticipated. The globe’s out again, spinning beneath the curious eyes of our son while we wait for his passport application to process.

Two-thirds of this haul from the Bosnian store is dedicated to the tastes we savored on our trip to Mostar in 2010.

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On to the Bosnian “hvala haul!”

AJVAR

Pictured above – ajver and Bulgarian brined sheep cheese (most likely sirene, mentioned in recipe for sweet potato maduros posted here last week.)

Ajver (or ajvar) shares a root etymology with caviar, perhaps from the Persian خایه  , xâye (“egg”.) The word departs the Iranian plateau with a semantic load of sturgeon roe, pronounced with a voiceless velar fricative – perhaps, at a time, it was voiced; a kkkhhheyye which drubbed gently against the palettes of greengrocers from Samarkand to Isfahan. Moving west, the word softened as cultures mixed – and in the cities whose markets heaved with the pounding, dust, and grind of commerce on the breast of tectonic mother Anatolia, خایه became havyar. Perhaps Ioannis Varvakis, the Greek privateer and caviar merchant sold his myriad grains of havyar to the Italians, who passed their lacquered tin to the French, who rebuilt and redoubled the ancient fortifications of خایه, preferring the hard ‘c’ of caviar  – with these fortifications eventually transforming into glass cases with mirrored backs, and customs barriers.

Through conquest and trade, havyar became the prize of the female sturgeon that somersaulted up the Danube from the Black Sea, abundant, harvested glossy and fresh in the fishweirs of the Duna below Belgrade. Local practice flipped the sounds within the language as the havyar was removed by novice hands, squeamish at just how the sausage was made, per se – the dead fish could not protest the transubstantiation of her egg from havyar to ajvar. There in the 19th century, on the fluid boundary of east and west, one final lenition occurred among the southern Slavs as the price of caviar rose, pegged to social tensions: ajvar, the ironically named red pepper and eggplant salad substitute for once-plentiful sturgeon roe.

Meanwhile, havyar eggs multiplied in the sturgeon which swam the northeasterly currents in the benthic zones of the Black Sea. Tatars of the Crimea Khanate, dwellers of the double littoral of steppe and sea, ate the ubiquitous havyar until surrounded on three sides by steppe, sea, and Russian cannon, in the gut of the Crimean Peninsula. There, the Russians removed their precious ikra from the wonderful steppe-sea fish, dismantling its remains as it did along the lower Volga over a century before.

So that’s the story of ajvar – the Balkan caviar which Kellie and I spread on fresh bread and consumed with sterling clear shots of rakia in the humid valleys of Herzegovina one summer. I hadn’t conceived of ajvar as a spicy pepper and eggplant ‘caviar’ until now. The description is apt, the flavor is subtle (not so much salty as savory-sweet,) the texture is fullbodied, and retelling this anecdote could have the unintended consequence of boring the hell out of your audience making you sound like a boozhy Bosnian.

That’s just fine, too. Here are some recipes to whet your appetite for ajvar.

  • Kitchen Witchcraft has a fine little recipe for homemade “absolutely not” ajvar, though I haven’t attempted it myself.
  • Culinaria Eugenius features a lovely recipe for late summer ajvar, with red peppers picked fresh from the fields of the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
  • NPR’s Kitchen Window blog offers their own ajvariation on homemade ajvar here, too.

BULGARIAN BRINED SHEEP CHEESE

Bulgarian sheep cheese, a cousin to feta, lends itself well to a variety of cold and hot dishes. I’ve encountered it in salads, where may serve as a foil to sweet, resiny fruit; in baked goods like traditional Bulgarian banitsa (on first blush, this looks like a cross between french toast and borek) the Turkish su böreği, and striated between shredded spinach and phyllo in bosnak boregi; paired with watermelon for a summery play between lip-puckering and mouthwatering; and soups, for which a namesake recipe exists – though I can’t crack Bulgarian beyond the script and a couple of cognates and false friends…which also describes my experience with the television show “Friends.”

It’s incredibly versatile. The brand pictured above is one of the softer, creamier makes I’ve tried. I think it would be perfect in a baked good (any number of courses come to mind) but less so in a soup. Pureed, though…I may have to add some to my ayran recipe or try my hand at preparing tarator instead of my go-to cacik to snap the swelter of late summer.

Be sure to save some of the briney juices for a nervy salad dressing!

THE BEER

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Puff piece.
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RTFM.

Erstwhile owner of the means of production; LANDLORD, another fine Yorkshire-brewed ale from Timothy Taylor’s.

Last weekend, we took a ride out to Omaha to satisfy a family yen for Indian buffet. Having succeeded, we puttered around town in search of a playground for Cyrus. Eventually, we made it up to Beertopia on 36th and Farnam, a modest shopfront that quite accurately bills itself as the premier craft beer emporium in Omaha. Nebraska, really. I hopped out of the car leaving Cyrus drifting off to napworld, and Kel arranging plans for caucusing in Lincoln later that evening. Beertopia yielded some new finds – which, at the price points I’m looking for, can be difficult for me, having documented ~980 beers from around the world on my Facebook page.

First one to sample from the haul: Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, which Beer Advocate tells me is formerly known as Taylor’s Best Bitter (Boltmaker being a much flashier sobriquet for export, as well as to settle other distinctions.) Gets decent reviews, it does.

I’ll say this about Boltmaker: it’s got an apple-clear fragrance to it, but plunge below the head and it’s got a brawn, a indoor suntan with torn shirtsleeves, a momentary blindness from the cadmium arc of Progress. These are beers that obey the spectrum of the superheated. For miners, Landlord is a chance to taste the yellowblack of burning coals. For the steelworker of Sheffield, it’s a pint of induction-melted steel, fresh faced and unoxidized – to finally afford to consume your own elan.

Or, in spite of the label art, given Bradford’s history as “wool city,” would the eponymous worker be carding and spinning wool instead of tapping slag? More Settlers than Steelers?

Landlord (pictured directly above), earned of me this statement of praise in 2014, when I first located the beer at Ball Square Fine Wines in Somerville, MA:

“This beer, Landlord, is an asshole. Pipes broken? Drives you to drink. Broke as a joke? Drives up the rent. A West Yorkshire beer brewed for miners, nothing quite spells out the material gains behind hard times as a pint of this championship bitter. Awesome, asshole awesome. “

Boltmaker, like its proletarian sister Landlord, hails from the hinterland of Bradford, West Yorkshire. A place I know from song. Does Timothy Taylor’s have a beer for the napalm-makers of Bradford, or is this all we have to slake our widening thirsts out here in corn country?

 

And that’s all I’ve got today.

Hvala – thank you!

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