Grah – Balkan Bean Stew

Grah - Balkan Bean Stew - Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian - The Lotus and the Artichoke

When two of my good friends announced they’d be moving to Herceg Novi, Montenegro for several months this year, I was excited for them and thrilled at the opportunity to visit them in a new part of world. After they settled in, started with the language, and began making local friends, I booked my flight to Dubrovnik. I ordered a Serbo-Croatian phrasebook and I started reading about cultural and culinary traditions, politics, and the history of the region. My friends arranged for me to rent a studio apartment in their building, with a balcony overlooking the Bay of Kotor and the Adriatic Sea. For our visit to Dubrovnik, they booked a furnished flat with Rock Palace Apartments, and we got a kitschy and fun Jimi Hendrix themed place for a few days on the hillside overlooking the old city.

My biggest supporter of The Lotus and the Artichoke – Vegan Cookbook Kickstarter project made an amazing contribution which made the entire trip possible! For the reward, I’d signed up to visit a new place and bring back recipes based on the food there, plus lots of photography and artwork. So, along with briefly exploring two new countries with my location independent friends Ryan and Angela (of Jets Like Taxis), I got to sample and learn about traditional Balkan food. This included Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian, and Bosnian culinary customs. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the local food is considerably influenced by neighboring cuisines: Mediterranean, Turkish, Greek, Italian, as well as Central and Eastern European cooking.

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Carrot Ginger Zucchini Soup

Carrot Ginger Zucchini Soup - The Lotus and the Artichoke vegan cookbook

I’ve been making variations of this vegan Carrot Ginger soup recipe for over ten years. The inspiration came from a former co-worker from South Africa that I met while working as an English teacher with Berlitz Language School in my early years in Berlin. The recipe she gave me after a dinner party was for Carrot Ginger Pumpkin soup. I’ve modified it over the years to include potato (for a vegan creamy texture) and use soy milk instead of cream. I often use other vegetables (in this case zucchini) instead of pumpkin.

I love to cook with what I have in the kitchen, and I change up this soup accordingly all the time. This is an all-year soup that you can vary in thickness and spice according to weather and whim. Like thicker soups? Easy: add less water. Not in the mood for thick wintery soup? No trouble: increase the water and/or soy milk slightly. It’s also easy to make a more Indian version by increasing the appropriate spices, and I’ve even turned this into a sort of dal (lentil) fusion soup using a cup or two of boiled red lentils along with the vegetables before puréeing. If you want a more European and less Asian soup, replace the cumin and coriander with fresh thyme, basil, rosemary and add some tomato paste or 1 chopped tomato.

This soup works great as a starter served along with a healthy salad (such as my Arugula Pear Walnut salad favorite) warming up to a nice, hearty meal. It impresses guests every time and everyone always asks for more. You can double the soup and have enough for several days (you won’t get bored of it, especially if you have plenty of good bread, tasty crackers, or your own tasty croutons.) It can also be frozen and kept for a quick, delicious future meal when you’re too lazy to cook.

Do you have any other suggestions or ideas? Share your thoughts and experiences!

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