My Mom is from Montenegro, which is a tiny country that sits on the Adriatic Coast, south of Croatia, and north of Albania. It has a Mediterranean climate, but up in the mountains and further inland the spices and flavors are influenced less by the Mediterranean Sea, and more by Ottoman/Turkish/Eastern European flavors. A few flavors and foods that make me think of Montenegro and the Balkans are brined feta cheese, ajvar, and the all mighty Vegeta seasoning. Ajvar is a roasted pepper spread that has spices and sometimes eggplant or tomatoes. It is slightly bitter and smoky, and in my my memory the flavor tends to vary quite a bit from brand to brand.
Let's talk feta. I don't mean the small squares that are shrink wrapped, and sitting in neat little packages on the cheese shelf. I'm talking about giant blocks of feta that sit in brine, patiently waiting to bought by haggling babushkas so they can feed their giant families. You can find such feta at international groceries, and it is well worth the trip. Furthermore, there are several types of feta: Greek, Bulgarian, and French are the ones that I've seen. Bulgarian is the strongest and saltiest, whereas French is milder, but still creamy and salty. Greek feta tends to crumble easier, and has a sharper tang than French.
Vegeta is an all-purpose seasoning that was invented in Croatia, and is very popular in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Check the label because there is a version with MSG, however there is one without. It reminds me of my childhood- my mom would mix this in her chicken and rice dishes, over roasted potatoes, in soups... the possibilities are really endless. Also, Vegeta is vegan.
BALKAN BUDDHA BOWL
1 can chickpeas, drained
steamed spinach, or steamed veggies of choice
cooked wild rice, or grain of choice*
*Wild rice takes about 50 minutes to make, so if you prepare a batch of that, the rest of the meal will come together in less than 20 minutes.
1. Heat a pan of oil, and add vegeta seasoning and chickpeas. Sautee the chickpeas over medium-high heat for ten minutes, until crispy and browned. Set aside. In a medium sized pot, steam vegetables of choice. Load up each plate with steamed veggies, crispy chickpeas, a few scoops of wild rice, a wedge of feta, and ajvar.
Photo credit: Vegeta: Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kattis_j/8985554277/">Katarina Jardenberg</a> via <a href="http://foter.com/">Foter.com</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY</a> Ajvar: Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kattis_j/8985554277/">Katarina Jardenberg</a> via <a href="http://foter.com/">Foter.com</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY</a>