Cross-cultural cooking… I didn’t think this blog would begin in the kitchen. Not exactly my environment, suffice to say I’m not a fan of MasterChef. But today, I’m rolling up the sleeves, checking out recipes and trying to remember to switch the oven ON. My brief culinary conversion must be due to divine intervention, for this miracle occurs four times a year and coincides with the festivals my family celebrate: two Muslim (Bajram, as Eid is called in Bosnia) and two Christian (Christmas and Easter). Today marks the end of Ramadan and we’ve just returned from Bosnia where, even amid the bustle of Sarajevo, the serenity of the month of fasting was tangible.
To be honest, my inter-faith family isn’t too much into self-denial. Be it Ramadan or Lent, we’re rather lax. Also, living in present-day Ireland, the cultural norms are different and attitudes towards religious observance have changed in recent years. Gone are the days of my childhood, when to eat a sweet between Ash Wednesday and Easter was to risk eternal damnation. Throat lozenges, being ‘medicinal’, escaped doctrinal bans and suddenly became delicious – though I’m not sure if fake coughing was a sin! But celebrations have always been important. And for my children, the chance to experience some of the common ground between their parents’ religions is something that might help them grow up more tolerant.
So back to the cooking. Assembling all the necessary ingredients, I know my attempts will be paltry compared to traditional Bajram spreads that run to many courses. I’ll keep it simple, though, with a little bit of fusion. And some cheating – shop-bought filo pastry! We’ll have burek (proper spirals) and sirnica (filled with a mix of cottage cheese and Philadelphia) along with improvised salads.
Dessert poses the biggest challenge: my pièce de résistance – Bosnian cakes known as hurmašice. To be made from a recipe printed in Kuhar (Svjetlost 1965), a dubious gift from my mother-in-law shortly after my wedding. Unfortunately, I haven’t put this hallowed tome to a lot of use, but it comes out of the cupboard biannually for Bajram… with its measurements in dekagrams and vague tips for seasoned cooks who can judge correct amounts odoka. Still, it somehow works. I may never get them quite right, but my hurmašice go down well with the kids. Even hubbie, the connoisseur from Sarajevo, is impressed.
However, being Irish, I’ve slightly amended the instructions. When it comes to making the syrup, I’ve halved the sugar content. Hence, we’ve ‘hurmašice light’. Either gourmet heresy or how cultures blend and evolve… Anyhow, it’s a recipe I’ll pass on to my daughters. Taken from their grandmother’s cook-book, adapted with my pencilled-in suggestions. They can adjust it, as they like, to their own tastes.
Wishing all who celebrate today, in Bosnia and across the world, Bajram Šerif Mubarak Olsun!