Culture and Nostalgia: Serbian Chicken Stew

I realised recently, that although myself and my sisters are only second generation Australians, my children will have next to no knowledge about my Dad’s Serbian/Croatian culture and background due to his perfect assimilation into Australia.

Upon arriving in this rugged land, he quickly found it was better to adopt the practices of the students around him if he was to ever advance or fit in. His birth name ‘Branislav’ became the more colloquial ‘Barney’ and he threw himself into mastering the language- even to the point of being escorted home by an outwardly stern policeman when he and his brother were found in the empty school library ‘illegally’ reading one weekend. To this day, Dad describes how perplexed and annoyed he was at being thwarted from his noble pursuit of learning!

Now, just over 50 years later, he is a successful Electrical Engineer with a perfect Australian accent and is even about to publish a book later this year. Any hint of the doe-eyed Slavic boy who wanted to be a woodcutter has now vanished.

When we visit my Baba and Deda in Sydney, I’m always fascinated by the meals that she prepares and the cooking style that she employs in her hospitality. From my limited exposure, Serbian food seems to involve either a lot of frying- schnitzels, rissoles, potatoes, eggplants or a layering cooking method for casseroles- beef goulash and chicken stew. The desserts and sweets on the other hand, are unlike any Australian type of confection- sour cherry cake, crepes, rolled pastry with walnut filling (kiflice), walnut cake, jelly and apple cake… the list goes on!

Recently, I’ve been trying to incorporate a lot more of Baba’s style of cooking into my repertoire, reminiscing with the kids about my memories of eating these meals when I was a child. I find the method of cooking so therapeutic in its’ comfortable, flowing rhythms and when you add the nostalgia of a buried culture, the experience becomes almost mystical.

As the savoury flavours waft into the air and I stand over the bubbling pot, I imagine my grandmother when she was my age, and wonder about her mother and the mothers before that, each cooking a similar dish.

Last night it was Serbian Chicken Stew with Dumplings. It is such a simple recipe, but the hearty flavours of the sauce are so warming and complex, and incredible when absorbed into crusty fresh bread.

Serbian Chicken Stew with Dumplings

1 onion
5 potatoes
400gm chicken thighs
1 tbsp Canola oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Vegeta
1 tbsp sweet Paprika
Pinch hot Paprika/chilli
1 cup water
Fresh parsley

3/4 cup plain flour
1 egg
100 ml water

For Dumplings
Place flour in bowl, stir in egg and slowly pour in water until dough comes together. Mix until well combined and dough is elastic. Leave to rest while you prepare the stew.

For Stew
Chop onion and place in pan on low heat with the oil.
While onion is cooking, peel and chop potatoes into bite sized pieces and place on top of onions.
Cut up chicken in pieces and place on top of potatoes.
Sprinkle salt, Vegeta and paprika over chicken.
Pour over water and cook on low heat for 1 hour.
When potatoes are cooked, drop teaspoons of dumpling mixture into the broth. Leave cooking for a further 15 minutes.
Let stand for a few minutes before serving. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.
Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

This recipe is based upon this recipe and slightly modified and translated for metric measurements.

Apologies for my amateur food photography- I’m trying to learn and practice in the brief period of time before a hungry family demands it to be plated up and on the table!

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