Sunday, August 6, 2017

Two Croatian recipes: Ajvar and Blitva

One of the pleasures of a recent trip to Croatia was the delicious food. (See this post for an account of the trip.) I can't recreate the just-caught-that-day fresh fish available at every restaurant, but a couple of side dishes were also great, and I have successfully made them at home.

Ajvar is a beautiful red spread, ubiquitous as a condiment at Croatian restaurants. It's delicious along with meat or fish. I also like to serve it before the meal as a dip or spread with crackers, bread, or small pretzel twists.

(red pepper and eggplant spread), adapted from
serves 12
6 large red bell peppers
1 large eggplant (about 1.5 lbs)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 ounce fresh chives
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespooon white or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Heat oven to 450°F and arrange racks in the upper third. Halve each pepper, discarding stems and seeds. Place peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and drizzle it with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a little salt and place it, cut-side down, on the baking sheet. Roast the peppers and eggplant until they are blackened, blistered, and the eggplant collapses when you press on it, about 60 minutes.

Remove the eggplant and set it aside to cool slightly. Remove the peppers, place them in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until the peppers have slightly cooled, at least 5 minutes. Use a spoon or ice-cream scoop to remove the pulp of the eggplant from the skin, and discard the skin. Chop garlic in food processor.  Add eggplant to the food processor with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the garlic. (Can also mash by hand.) Pulse the eggplant a few times so that it’s roughly chopped.

Once peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them (reserving any juices that collect), discard the peel, and add the peppers and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pepper liquid to the food processor. Add the chives and pulse 5 to 8 times to chop coarsely.

Stir in the lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Taste and add more sugar if it is a bit sour, then add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as desired. Serve warm or room temperature as a spread or condiment.

TIP: Ajvar can be made up to 4 days ahead of time; store refrigerated in an airtight container and bring to room temperature before serving. Taste and stir in more vinegar, sugar, salt, or olive oil as desired.  You can also grill the peppers and eggplant.  You can freeze any leftovers.

The second recipe is on the menu of every Croatian restaurant, and often served as a side dish on a plate when you order a meat or fish dish.  It is simple, but delicious!

BLITVA (Chard and Potatoes)
adapted from
serves 4 

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 1" pieces
3 T. olive oil
5 good-sized cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or chopped
1 large bunch of Swiss chard

Rinse the chard, remove the center stalk, and cut the greens into half-inch strips.

Boil the potato pieces in water until tender, about 6-8 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the drained potatoes and cook, stirring a couple of times, until the potatoes start to turn golden around the edges, about 6 minutes.

Add half of the chard, sprinkle with a little kosher salt, and then toss in the potatoes.  Add the remaining chard and toss.  Cook until the chard has wilted, about 4-6 minutes.  Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.  (It was convenient for me to cook this a couple of hours before serving dinner; it was very good at room temperature, and it saved me from having to be at the stove once the guests had arrived.)

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