Thursday, December 13, 2012

Recipes from Croatia

So the answer to your question is, no, you cannot put Pyrex under then broiler. That's what they mean by "no broiler," you know, those words that are stamped on the bottom of every Pyrex dish.

Oh, that wasn't your question? I guess I actually might be the only person dumb enough to try doing that.

So one shattered Pyrex dish, a lacerated thumb and a tetanus shot later, I am ready to tell you about my culinary journey to Croatia.

The second thing I want to say is that Croatian chefs must never leave the kitchen. It takes forever to prepare Croatian food.

Anyway, Croatia is an Eastern European nation, situated in the same general region as Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It spent a lot of time in the news in the early 90s, when the government declared independence from Yugoslavia, resulting in a four year war of independence. The war ended successfully—if you can call 20,000 deaths a success—and Croatia is now recognized by the European Economic Community and the United Nations. Today it is a popular tourist destination, 18th in the world, in fact, with most of the tourism trade taking place along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Croatian cuisine varies from county to county, which actually would make it a good candidate for one of those countries I've been breaking up into regions (like France and the US). So at some point I may move it to the bottom of my list and fill in all the various regions, though this will be after I get to the end of the alphabet, and who knows how bonkers I'll be by that time. My psychologists may be recommending I stay out of the kitchen.

So here are the recipes I chose. First, an appetizer, which I picked almost entirely based on the fact that it contains cheese:

Zagorje Cheese Štrukli
(This recipe comes from Croatia Traveller)

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • 2 1/2 pounds dry curd cottage cheese or ricotta
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
  • 4 cups heavy cream
And for the main dish (also from Croatia Traveller):

Dalmatinska pasticada (Dalmatian Stewed Beef)

(No, this is not stewed Dalmatian, though I know you wouldn't put it past me. Smile Dalmatia is a historical region of Croatia, and as you probably guessed the Dalmatian dog is said to trace its ancestry to that part of the world.)

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef round
  • 6 to 8 slices smoked bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup mustard
  • 3/4 cup cooking oil
  • 3/4 pound soup vegetables, chopped (I used carrots, celery and parsnips)
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 fresh figs, slivered, or dried figs
  • 3 pitted prunes, slivered
  • 1 apple, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
On the side:
(This recipe comes from Lily Elric, a cookbook author who was raised in Canada by Croatian parents. Her recipe was published at Perfect Entertaining.)

Potato Paprika Saute

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 4 tsp paprika
  • 8 red or white potatoes, sliced
  • Salt to taste
And for dessert:
(From, translated from the original Croatian)

Palacinke (Cheese Filled Crepes)

For the crepes:
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sparkling mineral water
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel
  • oil for frying
For the Filling:
  • 1/2 pound farmer's cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
For the Topping:
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
So I started this meal at like 2 in the afternoon, and I think it was probably 7 o'clock by the time I finished. Croatian food is a lot of work. If you want to cut back on the effort a little, maybe just go with the stewed beef and paprika potatoes, and skip the appetizer and the dessert.

OK, starting with the beef:

You are supposed to do this first step the day before you serve it. I, of course, being me, did not do that. Instead I just put it in the fridge for a few hours.

Anyway, cut the meat all over with little half-inch or so pockets, then stuff the pockets with the bacon and garlic. Rub salt and pepper into the meat.

Now mix the mustard with 1/4 cup of cooking oil, and rub that over the meat. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Heat a half cup of cooking oil over a medium high flame and brown the meat all over. Remove and set aside. Add the vegetables to the same pot and cook until soft, then return the meat to the pot.

Now here's where the directions became a little unclear. They say to stew the meat for two hours, "adding water and wine as needed." To me, stew means cover completely with liquid. But the recipe doesn't say how much water to use, and it only calls for a half cup of wine. If I put enough water in the pot to completely cover the meat, this would make for really watered down wine, and that seemed a little pointless. So I didn't cover the meat completely with water. As it turns out, I probably should have (and you probably should, too).

So anyway, stew the meat for two hours. Then add the tomato paste and fruit and keep cooking until the fruit is soft. Then add the rosemary, thyme and bay and cook for another 10 or 15 minutes.

Take the meat out of the pot and let rest, then slice. It will look really funny because of those bits of bacon—spotted, almost like, you know, a Dalmatian.

In this photo you can't really see the bacon, but in person the difference in color was pretty obvious.

Strain the sauce and pour over the meat. In my case, a lot of sauce was necessary because my meat was really dry—a side effect of not having been completely covered by liquid.

OK, while the meat is stewing you can get to work on the appetizer. I originally thought I was making some kind of pastry, but this is really more of a pasta, served in a ridiculously rich sauce. Don't make too many of them, because you won't be able to eat them all—or you will be able to eat them all and will have no room for the main course.

Mix the flour, one egg and the oil with "a small amount of salted water," which for me was somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 cups. At this point I was already really not understanding why Croatian recipes seem to all have such vague instructions.

Knead the dough (you can use a bread machine) until smooth, then shape it into a ball. Spray the surface of the ball with cooking spray and let stand covered for 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, mix the cheese with the rest of the eggs, and add salt and a half cup of melted butter. Mix until smooth.

For the next part, you will need a really big work surface, such as a large kitchen table or spacious island area. Sprinkle the surface with flour and then roll the dough until it is paper-thin (Remember the roti from Christmas Island? That thin.) Now spread the cheese mixture evenly over the surface.

Here's another strange instruction: "Brush the dough with 1/2 cup melted butter." How you're supposed to do that after you've already added the filling, I have no idea. I just brushed my dough with butter as I rolled it up.

Which brings us to the next step: Roll up the dough like a jelly-roll, then cut into 20 evenly sized pieces.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and, working in batches, add the pieces to the pot and boil for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and grease an ovenproof dish. Not Pyrex though. Metal. Arrange the štrukle in the dish and pour the cream and the rest of the melted butter over it.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden.

Here's where my mishap began: 30 minutes later my štrukle was nowhere near golden. So I thought, "I'll just put it under the broiler." Which would have been a fine idea, except that my štrukle was in a Pyrex dish. They did brown beautifully and I was able to serve them, but when the dish cooled it became brittle from having been under the broiler. When I went to pick it up to wash it, it cracked and cut my thumb up in about a half dozen different places. So not only did I have to buy a new Pyrex dish, I also had to get a tetanus shot. Fun.

Anyway, here's how to do the dessert:

In a small bowl, mix two eggs with the salt. Slowly add the milk and flour until you get a pretty runny batter, similar to the consistency of heavy cream. Now add the sparkling water and lemon peel.

 Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add the batter, using a ladle. When the pan is about half full, tilt it until the batter fills the pan evenly.

Cook on both sides until a light golden color. It helps if you have a husband who likes to make crepes on Sunday mornings, because turning them over is hard. Martin can flip them, which is something that would result in a lot of kitchen-floor-flavored crepes if I tried to do it.

In case you're wondering, I digitally removed all the dirty dishes. Also, I used Photoshop to clean the window.

Combine the cheese, egg and sugar to make the filling.

Spread some of the cheese filling over each crepe and roll it up into a tube. Four-year-old Natalie did this for us, so between Natalie and Martin I hardly had to do anything.

Line the crepes up in an ovenproof dish.

Mix the last egg with the sour cream and spread that over the top of the crepes. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.

And finally, the potatoes. By this time you will be ready to collapse from exhaustion. Hang in there, the potatoes are the easiest part.

Heat the oil over a medium high flame and add the paprika. Swirl to combine, then immediately add the potatoes. Toss to completely coat.

Cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender. Add salt and serve.

(Note: I had to add a little bit of water to the potatoes to slightly steam them and stop them sticking to the pan.)

So by this point I was almost too exhausted to put the food on plates. But somehow I did, and here's what we thought:

The štrukle was tasty, but just as rich as you probably suspected it would be. They were really just like very rich raviolis, topped with butter and cream. Good, but you can't eat too many of these, especially if you follow them with a meal.

The beef, as I mentioned, came out really dry. If I did this over I would definitely increase the amount of wine called for and I would also add a lot more water to the pot, enough to completely cover the roast. Smothered in the sauce, though, it did taste pretty good. Martin particularly liked the sauce and was actually a little appalled to see me wash the solids down the sink after straining it. They were really just mush at that point, but he thought the sauce would have been much improved if I'd just pureed the whole thing instead of straining it. Martin did not really like the beef, though, but it was more of an objection to the way it looked than anything else. He didn't know about the bacon, so when he sliced it and saw those pink spots he thought something had gone wrong with the cooking process and there were raw spots in it.

The potatoes were nice and basic and went well with everything else. The crepes, though, were probably my favorite part of the meal. They were only mildly sweet, as is typical of non-American desserts, though with the cheese and sour cream they were pretty heavy. I liked them but I was already so full from everything else that I only ate one. My kids devoured them, though. They love crepes of any kind.

I did find the food to be much stodgier than I prefer, though, which I think is pretty typical of Eastern European food in general, at least as I've experienced it. But it was different enough to be fun, despite all that hard work. Regardless, I'm hoping I won't be coming back to Eastern Europe until after the holidays—it's just way too much work.

Next week: Cuba

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. Holy moly!! I came across your blog as I was googling Bhutan cuisine, as I like to experience countries through their food as well. This is one of (if not the) best, thorough resources I've found. I will be back here again and again. Keep up the truly awesome work!

  2. Thank you for the kind words! Glad you're enjoying it, and if you try any of the recipes let me know!


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