World Cup Cook-off: Serbia and Argentina

Picture: Gigi Gonzalez

Mirjana Skulic-Nikolic and her husband, Dr Nenad Nikolic. Picture: Elaine Whitcher

There are just 19 days left before the Fifa World Cup kicks off in South Africa, and this weekend our World Cup Cook-off on The Global Table blog travels to Serbia and Argentina!

For the past few months we have been featuring delicious and easy recipes from the 32 nations to be represented in the soccer spectacle.

Our guests on the blog today are Mirjana Skulic-Nikolic and her husband, Dr Nenad Nikolic, who are originally from Novisad, a town in the Serbian province of Vojvodina, about 78km from Belgrade on the Danube River in the northern part of the country.

Mirjana is sharing her recipe for a favourite traditional dish called gibanica, a rich cheese pie made with a whopping 10 eggs, as well as cottage cheese, feta and other ingredients.

Don’t forget to scroll down for our second guest on The Global Table – Bay resident Mariela Hargreaves, who is originally from a town called Lincoln in Argentina’s Buenos Aires Province. Mariela has made a batch of empadanas – savoury mince pies that are popular in many Latin countries, including Argentina.

But first, back to the Nikolics, who were tracked down for The Global Table by former Port Elizabeth resident and friend Elaine Whitcher, who chatted to them about their home country and the culinary traditions of Serbia (Elaine also took today’s pics of the Nikolics and their delicious dish).

The civil war in Serbia was a strong motivating factor to move to South Africa – Mirjana and Nenad wanted a place that was safe and where they could raise their children in peace.

Nenad arrived in South Africa in September 1992 in December that year, Mirjana and the couple’s son and daughter joined him in Johannesburg. Mirjana, who is a professor in Yugoslavian languages, had to find a job, as Nenad was not allowed to practice until he had written an exam allowing him, as a foreign doctor, to work in this country.

Mirjana worked at the Sandton Sun as a therapist in the spa there. Both remarked how welcoming South Africa and its people were, and they are still impressed by the willingness of people to share and give of themselves.

The couple moved to the Eastern Cape in 1993 and today Nenad specialises in orthopedic surgery at Frere Hospital in East London.

Mirjana was taught to cook by her mother, who in turn had learnt from her mother.

“I am looking forward to the day that I can teach my grandchildren how to make and paint Easter eggs, as I was taught by my grandmother,” she says.

Serbian food is a mixture of Greek, Mediterranean, Austrian and Hungarian influences. As in South Africa, braaiing is a favourite pastime in summer. Popular dishes include Pljeskavica, which is not unlike a hamburger patty and made with two-thirds pork and one-third beef minced with garlic and onion. Then there’s cevapcici – which again consists of minced pork, beef and peppers.  This is rolled into a sausage about the size of our pork bangers. Both are grilled and served with thinly-sliced or chopped red onion on fresh bread.

A firm winter favourite, Mirjana says, is sarma – sauerkraut leaves stuffed with spiced, minced pork cooked with smoked ribs, bacon and sausages. This is layered in a large pot and covered with sauerkraut juice, water and paprika. Mirjana says it’s even better the next day, just like a potjie or stew.

People also eat a lot of freshwater fish like carp, catfish and sturgeon.

For those with a sweet tooth, Serbian desserts and cakes are mostly influenced by Austria, for instance in the form of layered cakes with fresh fruit, cream and chocolate.

Picture: Elaine Whitcher

Gibanica or Serbian cheese pie. Picture: Elaine Whitcher

Gibanica or Serbian Cheese Pie – The Recipe

This dish is typically served on the Saint’s days and for other celebrations. It can be a starter, a main meal or even served as a savoury tart at tea.


10 eggs separated; 4 x 250g (1kg) smooth cottage cheese; ½ 400g tub feta cheese – if you want your dish to be saltier just add more feta; 1 packet phyllo pastry


Mix the yolk of the eggs and the cottage cheese in a blender or food processor. Ensure that the feta cheese is crushed fine before adding it to the mixture; blend well.

Beat the egg whites and fold them into the cheese mixture.

Now line a large, deep baking tray which has been greased with butter with about 4 layers of phyllo pastry – allow the pastry to overlap at the sides.

Spread butter on the last sheet.

Take one sheet at a time and drop it into the cheese mixture – scrunch it up and put it into baking tray.  Continue doing this but leave about four sheets to cover the top. Use your fingers to spread and pummel the mixture.

Put one layer of pastry on top – break it up slightly with your fingers. Put on a second layer of pastry; then fold over the pieces from the original first layers.

Put on the final layer – pierce it with a sharp knife all over and spread dollops of butter on the top layer.

Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes in an oven which has been pre-heated to 180 degrees Celsius. Use the bottom half of the oven (but not right at the bottom).

When cooked through, turn the pie upside down on a wooden board.  Leave it to cool – it’s ready when knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cut it into squares and serve it with a seasonal salad in summer or pickles in winter.

World Cup Cook-off: Argentina

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Bay chartered accountant Mariela Hargreaves (nee Greco) was born and raised in a town called Lincoln – named after Abraham Lincoln! – in Buenos Aires Province. Her entire family still lives in Argentina, and Mariela and her South African husband, Norman, have already been back several times so Mariela could reconnect with her cultural roots. The couple met while she was an accounting student at the University of Buenos Aires and he on a job contract in the capital. They were married in Argentina but then moved back to South Africa, where they have started a family and established successful careers.

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Empanadas de Carne – The Recipe

An empanada is a stuffed pastry which gets its name from the verb ’empanar’, which means to wrap or coat. An empanada is therefore simply made by folding a piece of dough around a stuffing.

These delicious snacks are popular in Spain and Portugal as well as in South America, where they are usually small and semi-circular. Empanadas in the Americas are likely to have originated in Spain and Portugal, where an empanada is prepared similar to a large pie which is then cut into pieces, making it a portable, filling meal for working people. There are a great many variations on the filling.

Mariela says when she’s in a hurry she simply uses bought ready-made pastry like the Today brand, rolling out the sheets and using a cup to press out the dough circles. Two rolls of pastry should be ample.

Ingredients for the pastry

1 2/3 cup of all-purpose or cake flour; 1 cup of salmuera (hot water in which about about a  ¼ tsp of salt has been dissolved, then set aside until cold); 100g butter. For the glazing: 1 egg, beaten

Method for the pastry

Place the flour into a bowl and mix the butter into the flour using your fingers. Slowly pour in the salmuera, mixing it with your fingers just until the dough comes together and can be formed easily into a ball. Let the dough rest for about half an hour, then divide it into small balls about the size of half an egg. Using a roller, roll each to a thickness of about 1/8-inch, making a rounded shape.

Ingredients for the filling

250g of minced beef; 2  onions, finely chopped; 150g green olives, stuffed with red peppers (finely chopped); 2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped; salt, pepper, cumin and paprika to taste. If the mixture is too dry you can add 1/2 beef stock cube dissolved in a bit of boiling water. (about 100ml or less)

Method for the filling

In a saucepan, fry the onions until transparent. Add the mince, salt, pepper, cumin and paprika and stir with a fork to keep the meat broken up. Pour in the dissolved beef stock and let it cook for about 10 minutes or until meat is completely cooked. Once cooked, place in a bowl, cover it and put it in the fridge for about an hour. Once the mixed is cold, add the hard boiled eggs and olives. Mix through.

Method for the finished empanadas

Spoon some filling into the middle of  each rounded shape of dough. Tap some warm water with your fingers around the edge of the dough, fold in half and press the edges with the tip of a fork – or you can do what in Argentina is called repulge – instead of using the fork to seal the empanadas, you flip the edge upwards and press it with your fingers to make a prettier edge. Place on a non- stick baking tray or add a thin layer of butter or oil to the tray. Brush each empanada on top with the beaten edge. Bake in oven which has been pre-heated to 180 degrees Celcius for about 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

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