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Simply Serbian: History in a Bowl & A Recipe for a Vegan Soup

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Photo © 2011 Nick F. Carranza, Planet Speck/Used with permission
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By Nick Carranza/Special to LAist

According to the U.S. Census 23.6% of Los Angeles County are known as "some other race." There's no question that Los Angeles is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world. Each culture staking claim to certain areas of Los Angeles, and eventually making it their own. K-town, Chinatown, and Little Ethiopia are just some examples of Los Angeles' colorful identity. Along with the people, of course, comes their food.

The Serbian population may not be the first that comes to mind when thinking of Los Angeles, and you'd be lucky to see a restaurant sign illustrating the words "Serbian cuisine," in fact Serbian food often gets categorized as Mediterranean. Typically cooking in a Serbian household is an all day event, Serbians pride themselves in making everything from scratch. However I find a great appreciation for their simplicity in soup or as they would call it čorba(pronounced Chorba). Although the recipe may be simple, the backstory is much more complicated.

During the 1990's Serbia, then Yugoslavia, was put under U.N. sanctions while Bosnia and Croatia were at war. Smack in the middle of the two countries life was very difficult for Serbians, but it wasn't the first time. Eastern Europe has seen its share of hardships throughout history, and the 90's weren't any different. As inflation rose and resources slimmed, working class families found themselves shopping the black market instead of the neighborhood market for sugar, wheat, gas and other bare essentials.

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Since Serbia is a great climate for growing, many Serbians, as they've done in the past, looked to their own gardens and developed an appreciation for making do with what they had. Whether the circumstances were the silver lining is debatable, but there's no debating the fact that the soup's creativity is in the taste. Serbians had no idea they would be making history in a bowl, not to mention a fantastic vegan-friendly meal. Since most Serbians practice Eastern Orthodox Christianity, fasting calls for Serbians to maintain a vegan diet 10 weeks out of the year.

A single vegetable sets the overall flavor and presentation of the soup. Accompanied by a very modest ingredient list of onions, potatoes, celery and parsley. Although neutral in color, the vibrant taste is nothing less than magical. Somehow the Serbian's managed to draw out every wonderful flavor a vegetable has to offer. My friend Sofija was kind enough to make me a wonderful broccoli corba. Slightly textured from the broccoli but still smooth, the freshness is eminent. I yearned for another bowl. Always accompanied by a warm baguette, dipping is encouraged.

Serbians are welcoming people--leave your modesty at the door. Just remember to eat everything on your plate, lunch is the most important meal of the day, and if you don't eat it with a spoon, it's not healthy for you. So next time you meet a Serbian, do your taste buds a favor, and make a new friend.

Here's a quick broccoli cobra recipe from my "local Serb" Sofija.

Broccoli Corba

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Vegetable Oil
1/2 an onion
2 Yukon Potatoes
1 Parsley Root
3 Celery Hearts
1 Broccoli Head (exchange for anything you prefer (cauliflower, squash, etc.)

Directions:

Coat you pot with vegetable oil. Chop the onions, potatoes, parsley, and celery hearts into small pieces, and put them into your pot with 1/2 cup of water, medium stove top heat, stir often.

Boil the Broccoli head in a separate pot for 10 minutes.

When your parsley root is soft, add two cups of water and stir. Combine with broccoli and puree everything. Less if you like bits of broccoli, more if you prefer a smoother consistency.

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Add salt, pepper and lemon to your liking.

Don't forget the baguette!