Bites from the Balkans

Opposite the Adriatic Sea from Italy, Croatia’s rich culinary history is often eclipsed by its well-known neighbors. But this small country can hold its own in any cook-off. Its dishes’ rich flavors stem primarily from Balkan and Slavic traditions, where garlic, onions, and black pepper punch up hearty dishes. More familiar to Americans may be its Mediterranean influences, evident in a liberal use of olive oil, oregano, and sage.

Twelve-time Grand Circle travelers Janice and Keith Bowden were impressed by the range of the cuisine they tasted on our Eastern Europe to the Black Sea Cruise Tour, especially during their Home-Hosted meal in Osijek, in the eastern corner of the country near the Serbian border. They shared with us two of their favorite recipes for dinner and dessert from this local meal.


Cevapcici

Cevapcici, (pronounced “chev-ahp-chee-chee” or “chevaps” for short), trace their origins back to the Ottoman Empire. These cylindrical kebabs are a popular dish throughout the Balkans. In Croatia and Serbia, they’re usually a blend of beef, pork, and lamb meat, served alone as an appetizer or tucked into a puffy, eggless pita, called lepinje, as a sandwich.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground lamb
2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup oil
Tarragon, salt, and pepper to taste


Preparation:

  1. Sauté the onions in a little oil until it becomes slightly translucent, and set aside to cool a bit.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together by hand.
  3. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator for one hour.
  4. Section off the meat mixture and roll it into small cylinders, about 1 inch in circumference and 4 inches long. Lay them on wax paper.
  5. In batches, grease a large skillet with the remaining oil. Cook the cylinders in the skillet on high heat, turning to brown all sides, for about 6-8 minutes per batch.

Servings: Yields 35-40 cevapcici


Kolacky

These buttery treats appear in different forms around the Balkans. While they originate from a more cake-like wedding dessert, the kolacky that the Bowdens sampled in Osijek were two-bite cookies wrapped around a gooey fruit filling. The butter and sour cream give the dough a chewy texture and decadently rich flavor—nicely offset by the acidity of the apricot filling.

Ingredients:

1 tsp. white sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 ounce active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup margarine, softened
1 cup sour cream
30 oz. apricot jam or other fruit filling
1/2 cup powdered sugar for dusting


Preparation:

  1. Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and stir in the yeast. Let it stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In another bigger bowl, mix the flour and margarine until well blended. Stir in the egg yolks one at a time with a spatula.
  3. Stir the yeast mixture into the bigger bowl. Add the sour cream and stir. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
  4. Cut the dough into 6 pieces of equal size, and place back into the bowl, or lay on a cookie sheet covered with wax or parchment paper. Cover the bowl or sheet with a cloth, and refrigerate for one hour or more.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Working on a floured surface, roll one of the dough balls into a square about 6x8 inches and 1/8 inch thick. Cut the square into 12 smaller squares, with each side about 2 inches long.
  7. In the center of each square, place about 2 teaspoons of apricot jam or another fruit filling. Fold the 2 opposite corners of each square to meet in the center. Pinch the corners together to partially enclose the filling. Place on a greased baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar after baking.

Servings: Yields about 64 cookies