Friday, January 13

Happy Old New Year!

According to the Julian calendar, 14th January is the first day of New Year.

This calendar, in the sixteenth century AD was replaced by the new calendar and named after Pope Gregory-Gregorian calendar. Since the calendar was influenced by a Roman pope, it was immediately adopted in most Roman Catholic nations of Europe. Some German states kept the Julian calendar until 1700. Britain and the American Colonies didn't change it until 1752, but Russia, Serbia and Turkey did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until the early 1900's. But many Orthodox Christian Churches never changed it, so January 7th by the Georgian Calendar would have been December 25th by the old Julian Calendar and is therefore Christmas Day for many Orthodox Christians.

Orthodox Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions vary by region, but are similar in symbolic meanings. In Serbian Orthodox customs, oak tree or branch called "badnjak" (much like a yule log in other European traditions), , is ceremonially cut early on the morning of Christmas Eve. The felling, preparation, bringing it in, and laying it on the fire, are very ritual. The burning of the log is accompanied by prayers for a happiness, love and luck. The log burns on throughout Christmas Day, when the first specially chosen visitor strikes it with a branch to make sparks fly for a good luck. Custom is inherited from the old Slavic traditions. They interpret the "badnjak" as an incarnation of the spirit of vegetation, who dies by burning to be reborn, and its sacrifices and prayers were offered for the fertility of fields, the health and happiness of the family. The burning symbolized sunshine, life power in the coming year. The custom that a family brings a log into the house and burns it on Christmas Eve is attested among other South Slavic peoples, with similar names for the log.

Food traditionally made on those days has a special meaning. In Russia and some other Orthodox nations, twelve meals have to be ritually served, similarly to thirteen for the Provencal Christmas Eve, I have talked about in my last post. Cooked wheat has a special place for these holly days. It is called "кутья" in Russian or "Žito" in Serbian. The bread called "česnica" is baked early Christmas Day with a hidden coin inside, and than broken between family members. Who ever got a coin will have the best year, prosperity, luck and health, according to the old beliefs. Armenians have their special vegan pumpkin dessert and Russians have their beet soup - Borsch, of course.

Many Orthodox nations in Africa have similar traditions, but less known. Eritrean tradition is for mothers or daughters to brew Suwa, homemade beer, and bake Injera, a thin, flat spongy sour bread preferably made of Taff flour and cook Zgni, a hot meat stew. Green straw (Setti) is spread on the floor.

Old New Year has less religious but more symbolic traditions and beliefs.

It is believed to be a bad luck to fall asleep on the New Years Eve. More good food on the table for this day, more prosperous year!

However, these days many of us have made New Year's resolutions thinking about better and healthier diet plan for this year. So I have chosen these fabulous vegan recipes, prepared for Orthodox Christian Holidays around a world, traditionally consumed in a days of fasting. Fasting is still important part of traditions in Ortodox Church. It has a deep meaning in cleansing not only your body but also the mind.
I think you can comfortably include some of these recipes in your new diet plan, family weekly menu or some special events. They are unusual, healthy and very tasty!

I hope you'll enjoy it, and Happy Old New Year!

"Žito" or "кутья" or "кољиво" (Cooked wheat)

(traditional Serbian recipe)

I would call this dish the "origin" of today's cereal. It is much healtier because cooked wheat has its skin preserved and it is made from scratch.  It can be a dessert, or a snack or any time meal. It is prepared for many festivities in traditional celebrations and for fasting Holidays because it is vegan.
Every family has it's own recipe, and definitely it depends on your personal taste.
This recipe is flexible, and you can make it up to your taste. Amount of honey and fruits and nuts can vary and can be adjusted as you make a "žito":

300 g whole wheat kernels
Honey (to the taste)
100 g chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts..)
100 g dried fruits (raisins, apricots, plums..)

Clean wheat, wash in a strainer under running water, drain and put in a pot and pour water to cover the width of the hand. First boiled water trow away and pour in new water. After boiling cook for about 1 hour or untill soft and kernels broken. Then remove from heat. Grind drained wheat (Food Processor) untill you get almost paste-like consistency (as shown on the photo above). Then add honey, choped nuts and dry fruits . Blend well with a hand.

Serve with whipped cream or vanila yogurt if desired.


(traditional Russian recipe)


6 cups water or 3 cups water to 3 cups stock(I use vegetable)
¾ tablespoon salt
1 carrot, finely chopped
½ cup bell pepper, finely chopped and divided
1 stalk celery, peeled and chopped
2-3 medium beets
½ cup canned diced tomatoes
3 potatoes, quartered
1/3 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 cups canned tomatoes
3 cups finely shredded cabbage, divided
¼ cup heavy cream
¾ cup diced potatoes
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place water, salt, carrots, ½ of the bell pepper, celery, beets, tomatoes, and quartered potatoes in a large stock pot over high heat. Bring to a boil. Melt 1/3 cup butter in a separate skillet over medium heat. Saute onions in butter until tender, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove ½ cup of sauce from skillet, and set aside. Stir half of the cabbage into the skillet with remaining sauce, and continue simmering 5 minutes more, or until tender. Remove beets from boiling liquid. Allow to cool and either dice or julienne. Remove potatoes with a slotted spoon or tongs, and place in a bowl with remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and the cream. You can either mash together until smooth or cube. The original recipe suggests the potatoes should be mashed. Return the ½ cup of reserved onion-tomato sauce to the stock pot. Stir in diced potatoes, and either diced or julienned beets and simmer until just tender but still firm, approximately 5 minutes. Increase heat to a low boil, and stir in remaining cabbage, tomato sauce, and mashed potatoes. Reduce heat and simmer a few minutes more.

Stir in remaining bell peppers, season with black pepper, and serve.

Prebranac (refried beans)

1/2 kg (1lb) white beans (big lima type),
1 kg (2lb) onions,
1 tbs sweet red paprika,
1 tsp salt,
black pepper
1,5 l water,
0.1 l vegetable oil

Cook beans on slow temperature, half way cooked, throw away water. Again return to stove, and cook until beans are almost cooked.
Chop onions into thin slices. Heat oil in a big frying pan. Add onions, black pepper, salt and red paprika. Cook untill onions look crystal and soft. Preheat oven to 250 C. In a deep oiled casserole, preferable clay, add first one layer of cooked beans (1/3 of beans). Next layer: cooked onions; again add the layer of beans etc. End with onions. Put a covered dish in the oven for about 45 minutes, till you get nice crust on it and most of water evaporates.

Similar, but more spicy "prebranac" is made in Macedonia and called "Gravče na tavče".

(traditional Armenian recipe)

This spectacular Armenian specialty is strictly vegan because it is prepared for the Christmas Eve fasting. But if you want to prepare it for some other special occasion, my suggestion is to cook rice in milk instead of water with a few tbsp of sugar. That way after baking it in the oven, subtle pumpkin flavour infiltrates the rice pudding and with few chopped sweetened pieces of ginger and cinnamon, takes this dish to the higher culinary level. I made it for the first time this year and took a few pictures (shown above). It is a one funky looking dish!

1.5 kg pumpkin
70g rice (2.5oz)
70g butter (2.5oz)
70g dried plums, apricots, peaches (no seeds) (2.5oz)
25g honey (or sugar) (1oz)
30g raisins (1oz)
200g apples (diced/cubed) (7oz)
1g cinnamon powder

Salt to taste.

Wash pumpkin, cut off top, remove guts and wash again. In bowl, mix half-cooked rice, washed raisins, dried prunes/apricots/peaches, small cubed apples, and cinnamon. Mix all well. Cover inside of the pumpkin with honey and than put the stuffing in the pumpkin.
Put top of pumpkin back on and bake at 150c until soft.

Suwa (Eritrean Beer)

This beer is made from special type of grain and as my neighbour Alazar said it is very popular around Christmas time, mostly in Eritrea's rural area.

Yield: 6 quarts

Gesho is a kind of buckthorn shrub with bitter leaves that have a taste similar to hops. One ounce (about 1 cup) of hopes cones, available in beer-making stores, can be substituted for the gesho leaves. Making suwa and allowing it to ferment takes thirteen days..

½ pound gesho leaves
1 pound wheat berries (whole-wheat kernels)
8 cups of barley flour

Grind the gesho leaves in a blender or a food processor and put them into 8 cups of water and boil for about 15 minutes. Pour the boiled mixture into a large earthenware or glass container and add 16 cups (1 gallon) of water. Cover the container and let it stand for 6 days at room temperature, while you prepare the wheat berries. Put the wheat berries in a covered container and add enough water to cover them. In about 3 days they will start to germinate. At that time, take them out of the water and place them in an empty container, cover it, and let them continue germinating at room temperature for 3 more days. Remove the germinating wheat, spread it out on a baking sheet, and dry it in a 150°F oven for 1 hour, until they are crisp. Grind in a food processor, and add to the soaking leaves and water. Mix the barley flour with 3 cups of water to make a dough. Spread it out on a baking sheet and bake it for about 10 minutes, until it browns on top. Let it cool. Then break it into pieces and add it to the gesho leaves and wheat berry mixture n the container. Let the container stand for an additional 7 days at room temperature. At the end of that time, you will have a slightly alcoholic beverage. Before it can be served, it must be strained several times through a clean cloth.

Keep the suwa in the refrigerator or bottle it. It will keep for several weeks.

Russian Spice Tea -
Christmas Holiday favorite

3 lemons
2 quarts weak tea (your preference)
3 oranges
2 tbsp whole cloves
1 pt. pineapple juice
 sugar to taste (1 cup)

Preparation: Squeeze juice from the lemons and oranges. Pour some boiling water over the cloves and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain the juice and cloves. Add sugar and mix well. Add the tea and heat to boiling. Serve hot.

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