A family of 3 gulped down the džuveč with joy, just like this.
What does the word »džuveč« even represent; the meaning is shrouded in mist for most people. The sound of the word ringing in your ears doesn’t really feel homely, when speaking it out the tongue needs to be tightly pressed against the teeth, making a forceful whip-move when trying to conjure up the right way to say the sound “dž”, as it should of course. When saying the word “jota*” (* a type of Slovenian stew) for instance, the sound is completely different – 2 syllables and 2 vowels that are spoken so softly, like the words mama. Not like this raspy, hard “džuveč”, which suspiciously remind us of foreign countries, whatever it may mean.
Those of you who had lunch in Slovenian schools or later on ate in different worker canteens know exactly what this word represents. Džuveč is nothing more than a meal made out of rice, vegetables, and optionally, meat. Even the Slovene dictionary has this word explained in it, although it is not a Slovenian word, and describes this dish as a “dish made out of pork or lamb meat, vegetables and rice”.
Our hearing draws us a picture, a picture that the dishes such as džuveč, čorba, pirniča and šerebet have something in common in the way they are spoken out. What exactly that is, is really hard to explain, all 4 described dishes are more of a Turkish word-base, but in the Slovenian language they still exist in everyday life.
Now we will focus only on our main word. It is a Slovene-written word of the Bosnian word “đuveč” (letter đ can be found on our keyboards, but you have to look at least 4 time to find it), đuveč as such is a south Slavic abbreviation of the Turkish word “güveç”. The Turkish word represents a round pot made out of claw with a lid, which is used to prepare meals.
When searching this on the web we can see that the preparation of džuveč is a very different preparation of rice, known from Turkey to the Balkan region, and represents the one and same dish in all those countries. “Türlü güveç” for instance, is a vegetable džuveč without meat, “patlıcan güveç” is a sort of džuveč with pieces of eggplants in it, “kuzu güveç” is with lamb, but doesn’t appear in the Slovenian dictionary page, for some reason.
As we can see, the dish came to Slovenia primarily from the Ottoman Empire to the Balkan region, through Bosnia. It needed quite some time to find itself in the menu for school children here and into practically every type of kitchen cookbooks, which were issued in the late Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
But the speed of the known dish was mostly connected with the delivery of rice. The cultivated plant needs a lot of fertile flatlands, vast supplies of water and the heat of the Mediterranean summer. In Bosnia you can’t find these, I am sure of that, and in Yugoslavia the only place remotely familiar with these key points would be Kočani on the west side of Macedonia.
I deliberately told this story of rice, because in these days, even in the small supermarkets with limited supplies, we can still find at least 5 different sorts of rice and the search of the perfect ingredients for a meal can become a real detective story of its own.
I fell in love with the research of the rice delivery to our parts of the world, especially through the growth and progress of the Ottoman Empire. Rice was a main ingredient of the sultans dished only after they have conquered Egypt and Syria. These were the main lands with a highly evolved cultivation and irrigational cultures, because of the most important rivers of the time, such as Nile, Orontes and Euphrates.
The Ottoman administration took the rice as a strategic raw material and led active politics of the expansion of these cultivations to the biggest regions of the Empire itself. The engineers designed rice patties near the Black sea, in Greece and the flatlands of the before mentioned Kočani.
And in our story the rice from Kočani will play a very big role. It tells us what kind of rice-sort we are going to use for this džuveč dish. Because in the history, the main sort of rice growing on Macedonian fields comes from the sub-sort of Oryz Japonica, we aren’t going to use long-grain rice or any Indian sort of rice, we will focus on the nearest sort of rice, sorts from our neighboring country Italia. There, they grow the nearest family members of the sorts grown in Macedonia before, which have very round grains and a pearly-kind of shimmering grain in the middle.
Now we chose the rice sort. But how do we prepare it? We will again have to go back to the historic writing of the old days. The Turkish/Ottoman kitchen leans in a lot on the Persian culture. Even the work for rice “pirinç” (pirnicha) tells us that the Persian influence was strong – the word hence from the Persian word “berenj”.
Persians tend to wash the rice grains very neatly under running water and wash away the starch left on it. Stewed rice won’t therefore stick and every grain will stand on its own. Sticky rice is harder to ear with hands, which is still customary in many cultures in Central Asia. The word “pilav” (Persian “polow”) talks just about this fact. It describes a soft ball of rice, which can be taken with a hand or a thin piece of bread, out of the bowl and carried to the mouth.
So, we will cook the džuveč in a clay pol (if we have one, else in a normal metal pot with a lid), baked in the oven (with the clay pot it can’t be done differently anyway), we will buy the Italian round-grain rice, which we are going to thourghly rinse under running water. What do we need more for our story to end? Vegetables.
Because we are in the middle of the generously-giving summer, we will choose seasonal vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, paprika. We won’t be using meat this time; I would rather use it in autumn and winter, when one will need more hardy meals for energy. The summer dishes can be light, playful and vibrant, and we won’t miss it that way in the least.
Well then let’s make our SUMMER DŽUVEČ already.
For 4 people (or a bigger bowl) we need following ingredients:
2 big tomatoes
2 middle-big onions
5 garlic cloves
½ kg round-grained rice
About 5 dcl hot water
All the necessary ingredients for džuveč can be found in your local marketplace.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, move the oven grill to the lowest grid. Pull out the old and dusty clay pot (if we don’t have one, use a metal pot with a lid that you can put into the oven) and put in in the oven to heat up.
Chop the vegetables in bigger pieces; we aren’t too neat for this dish – chop the eggplant, squash into blocks, and slice the onion, garlic and tomatoes into slices.
Rinse the rice under running water so long, till the water is clean and free of residue.
Take the heated clay pot out of the oven. Fill the bottom of the pot with about half a dcl of olive oil; add the chopped-up vegetables and the neatly-washed rice. Salt and pepper the ingredients and stir altogether. Pour in hot water, about the same amount as the volume of the rice. The idea behind every džuveč is that the vegetables release their natural juices when baking and the rice absorbs those, which makes the rice even more flavorful.
Close the pot and put it into the hot oven. Bake for about 1 hour and a half, and make sure not to open the lid at any time, so the steam doesn’t evaporate. The beauty of baking is that you don’t bother yourself with it anymore once it is baking, so you can read a book, maw the tall grass or take a relaxing walk outside.
After 1 and a half hours of baking, take the pot out of the oven and leave it to rest for about 20 more minutes at room temperature, to let it cool off and leave the flavors to manifest themselves. We distribute the džuveč on to plates and offer some cucumber salad along with it and, of course, a good glass of wine.
I am a star-eyed observer; I watch the world unfold before me and I am amazed at everything I see. The human person is always my main focus, even when I chop up carrots or write down my recipes. I like to talk to people that work with their own hands and with the earths soil itself. At home I crouch down before my computer and type down every impression and every note form the last 5 years and I publish this at the very end in a book for everybody to read. Throughout this whole process I always stay a father, sometimes a little grumpy, other times cheerful and high in spirit.