I say I learned to cook from a Gypsy grandma. It’s sort of true. I already had two kids by that time. I cooked for my family all the time, but I cooked like an American. I hadn’t really learned to cook. I got married and then I cooked. I used recipes. The recipes were ads for ingredients, and so I cooked with crescent rolls and cans of cream of chicken soup.
I used to think food like that was so good. Now I think it’s a little gross. What really happened is that the Gypsy grandma taught me to cook with real food. We made a lot of stews. She said that everyone should eat at least three wet meals a week to stay healthy. Gypsy grandmas have a lot of ideas about health. I can’t say I follow any of her advice.
But, I do cook like her, at least somewhat. I never did really get spinning dough to get it paper thin. I would put holes in it. I can just buy filo dough. But I learned to cook with onions and garlic. I put onions and garlic in everything. Basically everything was onions, garlic, parsley, salt and oil. Just add that to whatever you’re doing.
One dish I learned was a poor man’s soup. Onions, garlic, water, and her secret ingredient Vegeta. Vegeta is a salt and dried vegetables seasoning mix. It accompanied every savory dish. The last step, after boiling all that until it was soft, was to cook flour in oil (about equal parts flour and oil) until it was roasted. You’ll smell it when it’s roasted (I love that smell); plus, it turns brown. You throw that into the pot (stand back). Stir until smooth. And voila! We call it chorba. I think it may be like a chowder. We normally don’t make the poor man’s version. I throw in a chicken leg or two.
I made this on Tuesday. I threw the chicken in the pot with a little oil on high to brown a little while I chopped the onions, then threw the onions in and tried to brown those a little before I decided that was enough and put in a lot of water and three garlic cloves. I don’t measure. I learned from the Gypsy grandma to not measure. A cup of water meant grabbing a glass from the shelf and filling it with water. I don’t usually use three garlic cloves in dishes, but for this soup, I have to. I served it once to a Roma (Gypsy) man, all proud of myself for making the dish. He said it was good, but they made it with more garlic.
(Image: That was in Shutka, in Skopje, Macedonia, probably 2003. That was the daughter-in-law of said grandma. We were the ones actually cooking. The grandma/mother-in-law just gave us orders.)