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Balkan Grill & Market

Try the hearty soups and stews at this fancy new Bosnian restaurant, or just hang out and drink Turkish-style coffee

When I first tasted sarma, I immediately felt an affinity for Bosnian food. But as I learned more, I realized that the Bosnians are far more advanced in making dolmas (stuffed things) than the bunch of peasants I am descended from.

Stuffed vegetables are the shining glory of Bosnian cuisine. They stuff cabbage leaves, grape leaves, tomatoes, eggplant, onions and anything else they can think of. My Bosnian friend described an original creation of hers in which a roasted eggplant is hollowed out and then a stuffed onion is set inside of it. It sounded like the Bosnian version of a ­turducken.

Stuffing most vegetables is pretty easy, she said, except for onions. Sogan dolma is the Ph.D exam for Bosnian vegetable stuffers. It's extremely difficult to cook the onion to the perfect point — flexible enough to stuff, but not so soft that it falls apart after being cooked again. As I cut one in half, I tried to pause to admire the craftsmanship before I shoved it in my mouth. Mostly, I just liked the way it tasted.
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The "Balkan mixed plate" serves more than the recommended two people.
Troy Fields
The "Balkan mixed plate" serves more than the recommended two people.

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Mixed grill for two: $16.99

Beef and cauliflower

soup: $4.99

Stuffed onions: $7.99

Stuffed cabbage: $7.99

Bosnian coffee: $3.20

14045 Westheimer, 281-759-9961.

"I'll have a Bosnian coffee," my friend told the waitress.

"I'll have one too," I said. Having a Bosnian coffee is not like knocking back a quick cup of joe — it's a social occasion.

Coffee first arrived in Bosnia with the Turks, and during the 450 years of Ottoman rule, the coffeehouse became the center of the ­neighborhood.

The preparation of Turkish-style coffee is very complex. The powdery coffee grounds are slowly cooked with cold water over a gentle heat source in a ­single-­serving copper ewer until the highly desirable foam forms on top and the fine grounds sink to the bottom. There are various methodologies; some call for double or triple heating.

Our coffees arrived on two ornate copper platters. On each platter, there was a teaspoon and a saucer with a small, white cup with no handle. Inside the cup were two sugar cubes. There was also a long-handled copper ewer full of foamy hot coffee. On another small plate was a cube of the candy called lokum, or Turkish delight.

You pick up the ewer and pour your hot coffee over the sugar cubes and stir with the teaspoon to dissolve them. The unfiltered coffee is hellaciously strong. You're supposed to sip it slowly, pausing for sips of water to cleanse the palate. The rosewater-and-lemon-flavored lokum is like a big sweet jelly cube, and it makes a nice dessert.

"Are you supposed to drink this sludge?" I asked my Bosnian friend, looking at the thick layer of grounds in the bottom of the cup.

"No, you are supposed to turn the cup over onto the saucer so I can read your fortune," she said. I followed her ­instructions.

"Is this part of the Bosnian coffee ritual?" I asked.

"Absolutely," she said. "Among Bosnian women, anyway." After a couple of minutes, she picked up my cup. There were some rounded shapes on the saucer that matched the curve of the cup. "See the lips?" she said. "There are lots of kisses in your future."

She pointed to a glob of grounds inside the cup that bore an uncanny resemblance to a turtle head and said, "Something good is coming to you, but it is coming very slowly."

A little tasseomancy, as the witchcraft of coffee grounds is known, can turn a cup of coffee into a dreamy afternoon.

Share the grilled meat platter at the Balkan Grill with a few friends. Or visit on a cold winter day and try some of the terrific soups and stews. But if you're going to have a Bosnian coffee, be prepared to sit a spell.

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