Serbian Djuvec Pie


And a few lines about dried red paprika

Although this isn't a good place to discuss etymology, please bear with me as I find it necessary just to tackle it  and give you an idea of what this dish is about and how deep its historic roots are.
And to do so, I'd like refer to a story I found online, which kind of triggered this writing. It goes like this:

My mother's mother got this favourite dish of my entire family between 1920 and 1929, in Cleveland or Chicago, from a Czechoslovakian friend, who called it something that sounded to my mother and aunt when they heard their mother say it like "gujem". I have always spelled it "gujem" based on how it sounds, but my mother's recipe card actually spells it "goojum", which supports thinking it was a foreign word, perhaps one my aunt as a small girl couldn't manage. My aunt claims that years later, she found the same identical recipe in some typed recipe cards at a church rummage sale - only this version allowed the substitution of green peas for green pepper. The recipe card called itself "baked Serbian dish". Research found that the dish is a variation of the popular Serbian dish djuvec. Also spelled dzuvec, gjuvec, and other variations in other Balkan and eastern European languages and in its native Turkish. The word is pronounced juvetch in most languages in which it exists and sometimes in Turkish. Other variations are guvetch, gyuvetch and yuvetch and substitute e for u, and some versions end in ci. The word came from Turkish, where it is guvec or guvecci. It was derived from the term for a large clay cooking pot used to bake savory vegetable meat dishes, and it originally came from a verb meaning to set fire to or burn. The same word and variations of it is found in other Turkish languages such as that of Azerbaijan and "Caucasian dialects". The clay pot, the savory meat and vegetable dish cooked in a large clay pot and the set of words came to the Balkan region with the Ottoman Empire. All lands that were once part of the Balkan empire have a version of the word guvec and a version or versions of the dish guvec.

Back to my family history, for my Nana, djuvec meant diced meat, which varied from season to season but it was usually pork in winter, chicken or other poultry in summers, then onion, potato, peppers and rice. That's was the basis, which she would occasionally enrich with tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, aubergine.. but always, always with a dash of  crushed red dried paprika. 
Now, this post completely unintentionally coincided with my daughter's visit to Budapest, and while we were sitting and flicking through the pictures last night,she turned all of the sudden and asked me- You know the dry paprika you like so much and try to sneak into everything? The Hungarians are even worse,that paprika is literary everywhere, what's the obsession about?
Of course, it's a Hungarian brand and off course,they are trying to make the most of it, but I never thought about it that way, as every autumn we were surrounded by endless chains of threaded long red paprika. It's only now, decades later, that I realised that the nearby villages (pictures below) from my hometown were probably the biggest producers of dried red paprika in Serbia, possibly in the whole region.

Above and below pictures courtesy of Vesti Online / Foto Beta D.V/

And one of the simplest and heartiest winter salads you can make with two ingredient - dried paprika and leeks comes from there. It was another of my Nan's favourites, which I as a child tried to, along with few more things, avoid at any costs - her doughnuts looked much more appealing to me.Today, I am cross with my mother for not jotting down those few recipes of hers. 

I'm not cross about djuvec though. Djuvec is what you make out of the basic recipe and this time I decided to turn it into a meat and vegetable polenta dough pie. Well, I come from the East, but I also lived long enough in the West to learn, love and share the passion for the dishes baked covered with dough and called pies. 
Besides, it's such a simple way to turn almost anything into a special occasion meal.



Serbian Djuvec Pie

2 chicken breasts, diced
1 onion
1/2 leek
3 potatoes, diced
150 g frozen peas
70 to 100 g risotto type rice
about 250 ml vegetable or chicken stock
1 tsp ground paprika (or crushed red dried paprika)
handful of fresh chopped parsley
salt, pepper

 Polenta dough:

90 g flour
110 g polenta, stone ground corn flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
110 g unsalted butter
1 medium egg

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the butter and  mix until finely combined, then add the egg. Knead into a smooth dough, wrap into a clingfilm and refrigerate. 


Brown diced chicken breasts in a large saucepan coated with 2 tbsp oil over medium to high heat for few minutes.Take the meat out, add a bit of oil if needed and put finely chopped onion and leek. Cook until soft and lightly brown, add peeled and diced potatoes, cook for few minutes, then put the rice in, stir and cook until rice becomes glossy. Sprinkle with ground paprika, salt pepper and pour the stock over. Stir and let simmer until about half of the liquid is absorbed. The ingredients should be half cooked and some liquid remained. Stir in the peas and parsley, adjust the seasoning, then transfer to the baking dish. Leave it aside to cool down a bit.

Preheat the oven to  190 C/375F.
Take the dough out and roll it into about 5 to 6 mm thick rectangular. Using 6 -7 cm round cutter, cut 18 to 20 circles. Arrange them on the top of the prepared djuvec, so they slightly overlap and bake for half an hour.

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