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Savory Bosnian pancakes called 'cousin' bridged a language gap with Grandma

Left: Merjem Mededovic in her hometown of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Right: Kljukusa on a plate.
Merjem Mededovic
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Collage by NPR
Left: Merjem Mededovic in her hometown of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Right: Kljukusa on a plate.

All Things We're Cooking is a series featuring family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We'll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.

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As a young child, Merjem Mededovic spent her first years in Germany before she and her family settled in the United States, having fled war-torn Sarajevo. When they returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2003, Mededovic wasn't fluent in the language. Her grandmother helped bridge that gap.

"With both of my parents working, my grandmother took care of both me and my sister during the day," Mededovic said. "She would pick us up from school. She would make lunch and make sure we do our homework. And oftentimes she would prepare dinner as well."

Mededovic often would join her grandmother in the kitchen as she made dinner and learned the names of different things in Bosnian.

"She was very, very, very patient with teaching me how to make all the foods and how each ingredient is called. We would go to the marketplaces together and she would even show me how to haggle," Mededovic said. "So it was a very natural way for me to kind of absorb all of the culture and all of the language."

One of the dishes that Mededovic watched her grandmother make is kljukusa — a potato and onion dish that she describes as a cross between a "latke and a baked pancake."

Her grandmother was having difficulty describing the dish until she referred to it as the "cousin" to pita, a type of cheese pie that the family eats. It is similar to spanakopita.

"Due to our language barriers, my grandma didn't know how to explain it so she told me 'You know pita? Well, this is pita's cousin.' Ever since that day, we now call kljukusa 'cousin,'" Mededovic said. "This led to fun conversations ... 'I'm having cousin for dinner tonight,' or 'I've really been craving cousin.'"

The unique name has led to lots of laughs, too, Mededovic said, especially when she talks about the dish and has to remember that it's actually called kljukusa by everyone else, not cousin.

The potato pancake is often topped with a garlic yogurt sauce, and Mededovic said her family likes to eat it with quartered raw onions and slices of tomatoes, with salt on the side.

Today, Mededovic is living in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she's working on completing her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. She said she often calls home to Bosnia and talks with her grandmother about recipes and more.

"We chitchat very frequently. She's been a very large supporter," Mededovic said. "So whenever I have issues and difficulties with school ... I call her up and she reminds me to be patient, to be steadfast, to not give up."

Kljukusa

Recipe submitted by Merjem MededovicAnn Arbor, Mich.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of potatoes, grated (about 2 large potatoes)
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup and a splash of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of pepper
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon of Vegeta, which is a spice mix like Herbamare
  • For the yogurt sauce

  • 1 cup of liquid yogurt (similar to kefir, but can water down Greek yogurt)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated
  • Directions

    Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a baking dish (large baking pan with at least 2-inch high sides) by oiling it liberally.

    Grate potatoes and onion in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the oil, milk and eggs together. Add the liquid mixture to the potatoes and mix.

    Slowly add flour, salt and pepper to make a batter. It should have a chunky, thick cake batter consistency. If too thin, add flour; if too thick, add milk.

    Pour batter into the baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

    Mix ingredients for the yogurt sauce, and pour them over the hot kljukusa. Let rest for at least 10-15 minutes.

    Enjoy. We often eat this with a side salad of onion, cucumber and tomato, or with just raw onion or spring onion with some salt.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Wynne Davis