Stirring memories and pirijan

When I got ready to make pirijan, one of my favorite Bosnian dishes, for a trip-around-the-world party, it took me back to when I watched Fuada make it at her mother's home. That's where I wrote down the recipe. In Bosnia.

Fuada cooks with electricity at home in Iowa, but in rural Bosnia they still use woodstoves for cooking. Her mother, whom I had been visiting in Bosnia with Fuada and her family, has an electric stove, but electricity is still not dependable. The woodstove is in a separate room at the entrance to the house.

As a volunteer teacher of English as a Second Language, I had met Fuada and Hasan when they'd arrived at the Des Moines airport as refugees. Fuada's husband has siblings in America now, but all of Fuada's family still lives in Bosnia.

Fuada and Hasan, a soldier, married during the war. They became refugees and were living along a road when she was expecting their first child. They were able to get into Germany for their daughter Jasna's birth. They lived there as refugees for two more years.

Her parents' house, where Fuada was fixing dinner, had been gutted by soldiers. The soldiers had lived in it during the war, after forcing out her parents, sister, and brother and his family. The soldiers had built a fire in it and stolen everything. Fuada's mother said that not even a spoon had been left. They returned after the war, making the house livable again. One window is still covered with nylon supplied by the United Nations instead of glass.

Fuada's two older brothers were killed during the war. Both had been married and have two children. One of the widows lives with her children nearby, up the hill behind Fuada's mother's house. The other family lives in a town an hour away.

Both of Fuada's parents have jobs in Austria. A surviving brother works in Slovenia, sending cash to his wife and sons who live here.

The family still lives zadruga-style, where the sons stay at home or in houses nearby even after they are married. Their wives are assigned chores by their mothers-in-law. Fuada has unmarried siblings at home, Suada and Suad (both in their 20s), as well as a sister-in-law, Zumra, who milks the cow and takes care of the lamb and chickens. She also does the laundry, which means carrying it up a steep embankment to hang outside, as well as gardening, cooking, and scrubbing. Suada helps her. So does their mother, when she's home.

On this particular day, Fuada's parents are in Austria and the others are working in the hayfield, including Fuada's young daughter Jasna. Fuada is in charge of dinner. I mostly watch.

Eighteen-month-old Kenan, who was born in Iowa, wakes up from a nap and shuffles into the kitchen, rubbing an eye. Pulling the duda from his mouth, he asks for a drink.

Fuada puts water in Kenan's bottle. He totes it to a big stuffed chair, where he pulls off his socks.

Fuada carries the pirijan out to the hot oven near the entry. Then she sits down by Kenan and plays "itsi pitsi pits" with his toes until he giggles. By the time the hands come in for dinner, Fuada has also made a salad of ripe red tomatoes, pale yellow peppers, vinegar, and salt. The chicken comes out of the wood-burning stove brown and crispy, the rice plump, the potatoes soft and wonderful.

My pirijan for the party turned out fine, but somehow it tasted even better straight out of Fuada's mother's oven.

Note: Names have been changed, as the family did not want to be identified.

Bosnian pirijan

It's pronounced 'PEER-ee-yahn.' The special spice is what makes this dish unique.
1/3 cup rice
8 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium chicken, cut into serving pieces (our tester used 1-1/2 lbs. of chicken breasts)
3 tablespoons Vegeta, a European seasoning with salt and dried herbs (see note below)
1/4 cup cooking oil
3 cups water, more or less

In a large baking pan, layer the uncooked rice, potato chunks, and chicken. Sprinkle with Vegeta, then the oil. Add water or chicken broth to nearly cover the potatoes. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F. and bake about an hour longer. Season to taste.

Note: A European market is likely to have Vegeta. It's also available for sale online. You can substitute salt, pepper, and paprika, or a chicken seasoning that contains dehydrated vegetables, salt, pepper, and onion.

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