The days with extreme high temperature are over, yay! Autumn has begun and I love this time of the year when all the leaves change color and the temperatures drop to a point where you can wear cozy vests and sweaters. But when you live in Skopje autumn can last rather long. In the past few years there was not much snow or temperatures below freezing point. But this is in Skopje, in the mountains it’s a whole other story. One thing I’m always looking forward to is the winter food ‘Zimnica’.
People also call it Ajvar Season, simply because it is by far the most popular food prepared in this time of the year. You will find it in all households and it’s made of sweet red peppers. The smell of the peppers being roasted is simply mouth-watering, and you will notice it especially in the towns and villages. There are variations, some like it a bit spicier, some put other vegetables in it, like carrots or onions. According to me, the best way to eat Ajvar is on a piece of fresh bread with crumbles of white cheese (sirenje) on top of it.
Pickles are familiar to a lot of people all over the world. But I wasn’t familiar with pickled vegetables until I visited Macedonia. It is called Turshija and it’s a popular method of preserving vegetables. You can find pickled carrots, cauliflower, tomatoes and of course pickles. But when you chop all the vegetables and put a bit of oil and pepper in it (depends on your taste), it becomes a Ruska Salata. This actually differs from region to region.
Most people know the second variant of Ruska Salata. This variant is made out of finely chopped vegetables/meat and topped with mayonnaise. You can chop carrots, potatoes, eggs, ham, cheese, add the pees and mix with mayonnaise. For this dish there are variations as well, some add cucumber or leave out some ingredients. This salad (not a healthy one!) is very popular on celebrations, like birthday and slava’s. And because of its heavy texture it is considered a winter dish, but available throughout the year.
This time of year is also the start of preparing Kisela Zelka or sour cabbage. The cabbage is put in a barrel filled with water and salt, and from time to time you need to stir it all up so that the cabbage will be sour all the way through. When the cabbage is completely soaked and soured you can eat it as a side dish with dried hot red peppers.
But one of my favorite winter dishes is Sarma. It can be prepared with the soured cabbage, but fresh cabbage or even vine leaves can be used to prepare Sarma. One cabbage leaf is stuffed with rice and meat and rolled up. Also for this dish there are variations. Some add smoked meat, bacon, ham and chopped vegetables to it. Sarma is made in big quantities, so be prepared to eat it for a couple of days in the winter (yay)!
So maybe you can see why I love this time of the year, because of Zimnica! Do you have any favorite winter dish when you are in Macedonia or any other Balkan county, let me know! I would love to hear your experiences and opinions.