IN KSENIJA'S KITCHEN
BOSNIAN SOUL FOOD THE WAR COULDN'T TOUCH
STORY BY Ivy Knight
PHOTOS BY Candace Nyaomi
King | Shaw
NOVEMBER 2017 ISSUE
Ksenija Hotic is changing when I arrive at her apartment at Shaw and King. Her friend Yesha, with 3-month-old Sebastian in her arms, ushers me in as Hotic calls from the back that she’ll be out in a minute. Her apartment – full of crystals, decorative plates, doilies and framed photos surrounded by potted plants and hodgepodge bunches of flowers – is a blur of colour. So is Hotic, who emerges in a dress, a kaleidoscope of purples and pinks. “It’s very Bosnian,” she laughs, offering ginger tea. “I get the ginger juice from Bolt on Queen. When I grate it myself it just isn’t strong enough.”
Her dark brown eyes are large and set in a porcelain face framed by chestnut hair. Hotic is a throwback; she looks like a silent film star, her expressive face quick to smile, laugh and frown.
“Life was great growing up in Ključ,”she says of her childhood in western Bosnia, as she brings out ingredients and begins to prepare dinner. “My parents were academics and were very involved in the arts. We had a lot of land outside of the city and we grew all our own grains, like corn and barley. And then we had another piece of land close to the river. We literally lived off the fish in the river, and that is where we grew all our vegetables, closer to the mountains. We would pick mushrooms and go foraging. We were fishing, curing meat, making plum brandy, making our own tea.”
That was before the fighting started. “I was 11 when the war began, and my memory is slightly faded. I think I repressed a lot of good memories, along with the bad ones.”
Hotic is pulling apart pickled cabbage leaves, preparing to stuff them for cabbage rolls. “My mother gets 80 or so heads of cabbage and pickles them for the year. She vacuum-seals them and shares them around so everyone has cabbage for the winter.” She remembers her grandmother Čama pickling cabbage and storing it in the root cellar in Ključ, where it would ferment. “It stank. I hated it when my grandmother would send me to go get cabbage for her.”
It was Čama who taught her how to roll it, too. “My grandmother had dainty hands, so she made me roll the cabbage leaves. My parents worked a lot and were always out and about. I was with my grandmother quite often.”
Čama served fluffy white bread with her cabbage rolls, while her mom’s mom, Emina, served hearty brown bread “so tough you had to chew it for 20 minutes to get through the crust.”
As Hotic expertly rolls the leaves around the filling – a mix of brown rice (she soaks it beforehand to speed up the cooking time), ground beef and lamb, smoked lamb bacon from her dad “and some parsley, garlic – pretty basic” – she recalls her mother’s recipe.
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