Yesterday I learned how to make a dish called pura, the Bosnian version of polenta, with its own delicious twist.
Zora Pentic was my “teacher.” Zora belongs to a rural women’s group dedicated to keeping the old food ways, and part of my job while here was to offer a cooking demonstration to this group. I did this yesterday in a room with no running water nor real work surface. It reminded me of being on a television set in the U.S., without the cameras!
I demonstrated some simple dishes using local vegetables and fruits. The idea wasn’t to teach recipes, but to show the women how they can offer cooking demonstrations to visitors in their area. The reason behind that is to keep these women and their families on the farm; tourism is expected to become a big part of this, and cooking demonstrations will become increasingly part of that.
My demonstration led me to interview each woman about her favorite recipe, which led me directly to Zora’s kitchen today. To make pura, Zora’s put four thickly sliced potatoes in a big pot with salted water over medium-high heat. When the potatoes are half cooked and the water is at a lively boil, Zora pours in a pound of cornmeal, around the edges of the boiling water so as it hits the water and sticks together, it forms a ring. Inside the ring is boiling water, which Zora spoons up and over the cornmeal.
The cornmeal cooks for about 45 minutes, with Zora spooning water over it from time to time. When the ring is mostly solid, she removes about two-thirds of the water from inside the “hole”, and sets this aside to stay hot.
While waiting for the cornmeal to cook, she grates some of the locally made smoked cows’ cheese, and minces about six cloves of garlic.
Then, she really goes to work. She adds a stick of butter to the “hole” in the cornmeal ring, then using a long wooden spoon breaks the “ring” and begins to vigorously mix the softened potato, the polenta, and the remaining water together.
She mixes for at least ten minutes, moving the pan around on the woodstove to get the heat just right. When she deems it ready, she spoons out the thick pura in little dumpling shapes onto a platter.
She sautées bacon (from her own pig), and pours this and its fat – there wasn’t much – over the pura, then adds the garlic to the water she’d taken from the pan where the pura was cooking.
All of this, with the grated cheese, goes to the table outside on the porch, along with tiny glasses of prune raki, a distilled alcohol. The protocol: several dumplings of pura in a bowl with the bacon, then the thickened garlic water, then the cheese. A hearty “zivjeli” and we were off on our Bosnian mountain breakfast, fit for kings, queens and the rest of us!