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Recipe: Try these dishes inspired by Croatian cuisine

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 October 2019

Croatian-style cevapi kebabs with ajvar pepper sauce  Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Croatian-style cevapi kebabs with ajvar pepper sauce Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

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Our food and drink editor makes succulent cevapi kebabs with ajvar, a chicken braise filled with honey, wine and dried fruit, and an unusual dip.

A traditional dish of chicken, dried fruits, honey and wine from Dubrovnik  Picture: Charlotte Smith-JarvisA traditional dish of chicken, dried fruits, honey and wine from Dubrovnik Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

I feel sorry for my friends…I really do. When we set off on our annual girly jaunts I inevitably have one thing on my mind - food. By that I mean seeking out the most interesting, most authentic, most 'true' plates of grub I can get my mitts on.

Often it drives them to distraction. But I usually come up trumps and they always (OK mostly) thank me later. The biggest hits so far have to be an indoor food market in Seville alongside the river, and a former theatre in Madrid transformed into probably the biggest tapas bar in the city.

It's often hard to find the 'real thing' on holiday, but a bit of research will take you far. The food in Dubrovnik was to be relished for its versatility. Fresh seafood. Touches of the Med. Savoury, meaty plates typical of nearby Balkan neighbours Bosnia and Macedonia. And decadent hints at a Moorish influence. Wildflower honey. Figs. Oranges. Wine. Here is just a flavour for you to recreate at home.

Dubrovnik 'rooster'

(serves four)

Inspired by a dish eaten at Michelin recommended Kopun in the city. I couldn't get hold of the traditional rooster required so plumped for regular chicken, which is braised separately in stock before bedding into a glossy, sweet/savoury sauce fruit, honey and wine. As we move into the game season this would work perfectly with pheasant or guinea fowl too. We had it served with braised pearl barley…and lashings of local wine.

Ingredients

8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin on

250ml chicken stock

1 small onion and 1 clove garlic finely chopped

300ml white wine (I used Bacchus from Toppesfield Vineyard)

1 small peach de-stoned and chopped

4 dried figs sliced

2tbsps sultanas

1tbsp honey (I used Gt Tilkey)

3tbsps fruity marmalade (I used Wilkin and Sons from Tiptree)

1tsp cornflour

1tbsp butter

Oil to fry

Seasoning

Method

Season the chicken all over and fry in a little oil until golden all over. Transfer to a slow cooker with the stock and cook on high for three hours. Fry the onion and garlic in a touch more oil in the same pan until soft but not coloured. Add the wine and cook out to reduce by half. Add all the fruit, the honey and marmalade. Cook for 10 minutes. Once the chicken is ready strain the juices into the sauce pan. Mix a little of the liquid with the cornflour in a small bowl and add to the pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer to thicken. Season to taste. Take off the heat and stir in the butter. Add the chicken and serve.

Cevapi and ajvar

(serves four to six)

In the evenings the irresistible scent of these ubiquitous kebab/sausages wafts along Dubrovnik's side streets and it's literally mouth-watering. The freeform bites are usually shaped into fat fingers and served with salad, boiled, herby potatoes or fries, and ajvar - a sweet pepper and aubergine dip. A couple of notes. I've added a stock cube to literally beef up the flavour. Don't use lean meat. And don't miss out the bicarb. It sounds odd, but this baking ingredient lends a surprising tenderness to the kebabs and stops them crumbling. A trick worth using for meatballs and burgers too.

Ingredients

For the cevapi

1kg minced beef (12% fat)

1 beef stock crumbled

1 medium onion and 3 cloves garlic very finely chopped

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1tsp bicarbonate of soda

2tsps ground sweet paprika

1 1/4tsp sea salt

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

Method

Simply combine all the ingredients. Fry a little off to check the seasoning. If you're happy pop the mix in a covered bowl in the fridge for an hour. Then form into finger length kebab shapes of about 5cm thick. They can then be chilled again until you're ready to cook. Either pop under the grill, turning regularly until slightly charred all over, fry, or cook in a griddle pan. How long they cook depends on thickness so test one before serving.

Ajvar

(stores in the fridge for two weeks)

5 red peppers, pricked

1 aubergine, pricked

4tbsps olive oil

1 red chilli deseeded

1tsp salt

Black pepper to taste

1tbsp white wine vinegar

1tbsp honey

Method

Pop the peppers and aubergine under a hot grill or over a charcoal barbecue and cook until all sides are charred and blistered and the peppers and aubergine collapse. Allow to cool and remove the skins, seeds and top of the peppers and scoop out the aubergine flesh.

Pop in a food processor with the oil, chilli, salt, pepper, vinegar and honey. Blitz until smooth then transfer to a pan and cook on low, stirring all the time, for 30 minutes to thicken. Taste for seasoning, cool and pop into a tub in the fridge. Lovely with the cevapi, in burgers, with chips, over roast potatoes sprinkled with oregano, and with white fish.

Istrian Pesto

(serves 6)

When my friend and I ordered a charcuterie platter by Dubrovnik's harbour it included this, but when it arrived we were puzzled. Where was the pesto? A short chat with our waiter revealed the garlicky, lemony, salty meat spread we were lavishing on our flatbreads was Istrian pesto. Obviously I had to nag him for the recipe. And so here it is, albeit made with local ham instead of its Dalmatian equivalent. Think of it as a porcine version of smoked mackerel pate. It is addictive.

Ingredients

150g smoked ham (fat included)

50g salted butter

Handful flat leaf parsley

1 clove garlic

Zest 1 lemon

Black pepper to taste

1tbsp olive oil

Method

Blitz to a paste in a food processor. Will keep in a tub in the fridge for a week.



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