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Serb-style fast is one to embrace

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Updated: January 6, 2013 9:33AM



St. Nicholas is the patron saint of many things, including bakers and children. His day is celebrated either Dec. 6th or 19th, depending upon whether you follow the Gregorian Calendar (like most everyone) or the Julian Calendar.

The Julian Calendar is used by the Eastern Orthodox Church to determine feast days, like St. Nicholas Day, a day of fast day.

So although Thursday is St. Nicholas Day for much of the world, Chicago’s Eastern Orthodox Serbian community — the nation’s largest — will celebrate on Dec. 19th.

In observance of St. Nicholas Day, you fast, which means you eat much delicious chow (though no meat).

Overseen by Dragan (Danny) Kovacevic and Jelena Mojsilovic, City Fresh Market (at Metra station’s French Market and 3201 W. Devon) prepares many traditional, largely vegetarian, dairy-free dishes for this all-important Serbian holiday.

Zhito — simply boiled wheat and ground nuts — is appropriately austere for this fasting day, though creamy and delicious.

Kovacevic told me “zhito is the first thing that Serbs eat when they visit on St. Nicholas Day. A spoonful is offered as soon as people walk through the door, and it’s eaten in remembrance of family members who’ve passed.” Because wheat dies in the winter and grows again in the summer, it’s a natural metaphor for resurrection. At City Fresh, you can buy small cups of it.

According to Mojsilovic, one of the most popular St. Nicholas dishes is posna sarma, house-pickled cabbage leaves stuffed plump with vegetables, a light meal that packs big flavor.

Beautiful breads, cookies and strudels accompany the St. Nicholas Day fast, appropriate for a patron saint of bakers. No dairy products are used in the baking, but these pastries are so rich, you won’t miss butter.

Wine and slivovitz (plum brandy) also are served, the latter usually warm with sugar.

We’re in the midst of the Serbian fasting season, which started Nov. 29 and ends Jan. 6, the day before Serbians celebrate Christmas. During this time, City Fresh Market offers all the above-mentioned St. Nicholas Day specials. Many of these foods have been traditionally “vegan” centuries before the term was popularized, and they’re much tastier than you’d imagine vegan food could possibly be.

Eating like this is my kind of fast.

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