Monday Meal Review: Montenegro

I’m at the grocery store, eyeing shelf upon shelf of neatly stacked packages of noodles. There are about 25 brands – each boasting some variation of regular, whole wheat, gluten-free, or loaded-with-spinach pasta. Three feet over there’s another 5 brands sitting pretty in the chiller. These are the fresh pastas. The ones that taste like you made them yourself. The ones that cost $10 for two servings.

Hello.

I feel my anxiety mounting. Deep breath. It’s just pasta. It’s just pasta.

How difficult can it be?

But it is difficult. So. many. choices.

And yet, between these 30 brands of pasta, I cannot find anything labeled buckwheat – the noodles I need for my Montenegrin Global Table.

I inquire and a kind grocery clerk leads me over to the international aisle, where I find another 15 brands of pasta. Rice noodles and squiggly ramen fill most of the shelves. The clerk gestures on the bottom row, just by my ankle. There it is – three brands of buckwheat noodles.

The clerk casually adds that there is buckwheat flour as well, if I’d like to try my hand at making the noodles from scratch.

This store is swimming with pasta.

Has the number of choices in the supermarket ever stressed you out? What about in other areas of your life? Has picking out the perfect agenda given you chest pains? Does finding the right couch send you into a cold sweat? We have so many choices at our disposal in American culture. While this certainly is part of the fun when it comes to cooking the world, it’s often downright disconcerting.

Lately, I’ve been yearning for the simple life. To walk into the store and see just one of something, so I don’t have to go through the agonizing selection process.

Oh, how refreshing that would be, even just once in a while.

Can you imagine?

“Need a pen? Here ya go! It’s blue. Enjoy!”

What a dream that would be. With just one choice, I could move on and begin actually writing – creating – with that pen, instead of just standing in a store agonizing over what color and style I wanted.

In Montenegro (and all over the Balkans), there is a musical instrument called the gusle. It has just one string. There’s no choice but to strum that one string if you want to make music on the gusle. Now, perhaps such an instrument doesn’t sound very interesting, but the folk songs created with the gusle are fascinating.

Even with just one string, the music is full of power. Variation. Intensity.

At the end of the day, I buy the soba noodles and the buckwheat flour. I eat the pre-packaged stuff and I make it from scratch. I simply can’t choose.

I give up.

But while I cook, I listen to the gusle. The music makes me happy.

In that moment, the joy bubbles up from within. I have no choice but to smile.

What a grand thing, sometimes, to have no choice.

THE FOOD

Ajvar, Roasted Pepper Spread [Recipe]

What I love most about this dish:

The flavors of ajvar are stunning. The background note of eggplant is subtle, adding a complexity you couldn’t obtain with just regular peppers. I love that there are just a few ingredients, yet roasting them on the grill makes the recipe seems so, so much more complex. Ava had a little doubt regarding this dip, but it seemed to help when I told her it was like tomato sauce made from peppers. Mr Picky  really enjoyed it and slathered it all over his burger, as I hoped he would. Who needs ketchup when there’s ajvar?!

What I love least about this dish:

I was a little nervous that the sauce would ooze out of my food processor, but it wasn’t quite wet enough (thankfully). Just be sure to drain off all the liquid from the roasted peppers so it isn’t too soupy. Otherwise you might be better off using a blender. If you can, make this with fresh paprika peppers – I sure wish I had access to them in Tulsa.

Balkan Burger [Recipe]

What I love most about this dish:

This is a homey, richly flavored burger patty. The three meats combine to make something which seems straight off the rugged mountainside. Mr Picky and Ava ate away happily and Ava, suprisingly, gobbled down some raw white onion for the first time. It just goes to show that if you keep putting the food on the kid’s plate, they’ll eventually try it.

What I love least about this dish:

Be sure you don’t overcook the burgers. The first batch we made were pretty dry since we forgot about them on the grill. :)

Chilled Buckwheat Noodle Salad with Feta & Cracked Black Pepper [Recipe]

What I love most about this dish:

This is a fantastic chilled pasta salad. I almost can’t believe how much I love this. The buckwheat pasta goes perfect with the salty cheese, the cracked pepper and the hit of olive oil. I was even more surprised that Ava and Mr Picky gobbled it up. I thought for sure I’d be on my own with this dish. What can I say… Ava loves pasta and Keith loves cheese (and black pepper). We’ve already made this twice (the second time I added baby arugula, just for fun and it was major yum), and it’ll definitely be on the menu all summer long.

What I love least about this dish:

I think I’ll buy soba so I can make this more often, just for fun :) Also, with no prompting, Ava called this pasta “worm pasta,” not that that stopped her from eating it.

Ava’s Corner:

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Comments

  1. Jessica Bennett says:

    The buckwheat and feta with arugula sounds great! I’ll have to try that soon. By the way, the Salvadoran Quesadillas I finally made the other week were a big hit. So, thanks again :)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Oh, that’s fantastic! Thanks for letting me know … I’m so glad everyone enjoyed them :)

  2. Brian S. says:

    The most famous fictional gourmet ever to come from Montenegro, Nero Wolfe, would approve.

  3. Everything was delightful this week. Even the gray noodle, worm things were completely edible! Unbelievable that something that’s such a drab color can still be tasty. :)

  4. As you say above, “you certainly have a way with words”! And I totally agree with the comments on too many choices; especially since having just returned to the US from our life/work in Kuwait this week…as much as I appreciate Trader Joe’s (my only store plus farmer’s market weekly) and missed it in all our overseas homes – Saudi, China, Indonesia, Costa Rica, England – I hate the decisions & over-stocked, over-priced, over-everything of stores here! Contrast to my 2 favorite vendors in Kuwait, just a 15 minute walk from our apt: one sold cooked beans (yes, there were 5 kinds, but at least that never varied, was simply cooked & ladled up into a plastic tub – I’m sure he’d have used my own kettle, had I brought one. The best part was our conversation each time: he like practicing his English & was a delightful guy from Afghanistan.) and the other made Iranian-style bread – continuously kneading & stretching dough to stick to the sides of a huge clay oven & into my hands all within a few minutes. There was the basis for a meal: just added feta & tomatoes…Oh, how I already miss the simple life!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Beans, bread, feta, and tomatoes. Sounds like the perfect meal. It’s funny how we miss the selection when we’re gone from home, but overwhelmed by it when we come back…. I suppose that’s just a normal effect of travel. The good news is we can create the simple life from wherever we are. We just have to be determined to filter out all the marketing and temptations that constantly come our way. Not always easy!

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