I can’t lie, ćevapčići is probably one of my favourite finds from Eastern Europe. The ground beef sausage shaped burgers are popular across Yugoslavia and are traditionally served with flat breads, kajmak and ajvar (more of my favourites!). The kind people at Cox & Kings recently sent me a jar of ajvar (an aubergine and red pepper condiment) they picked up while in the region, so I thought it was the perfect excuse to whip up my own ćevapi. I like to add a bit of an Ottoman twist with some cumin and coriander. Find out how to recreate memories from your time in the Balkans below…
Ingredients (serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main)
500g mince beef
250g mince pork or veal
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp vegeta (optional)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
25g plain flour
10 tbsp rapeseed oil
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
Mix the mince, spices, garlic and onion together in a bowl
Form into sausage shapes
Roll each sausage in plain flour
Put in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes
Heat the oil in a griddle pan and gently fry each ćevap
Place the ćevapi in an ovenproof dish and heat in the oven for 20 minutes
Serve with flatbreads, sour cream, ajvar, and salad
Of course if you don’t live in a studio flat and have the luxury of outside space (and the sun should appear) you can always barbecue the ćevapi instead!
The ajvar was courtesy of our friends at Cox & Kings who provide fabulous tailor-made holidays all over the world including Serbia and other East European destinations.
The Russians are not commonly famed for their cuisine yet the nation boasts some fantastic dishes. In my opinion, the simple are always the best and I love these Russian beef meatballs braised in sour cream which would make up a zakuski board for guests upon arrival. They are very easy to make, though they do require some time as it is best to chill them thoroughly before cooking to prevent them breaking up.
Here’s my recipe…
500g minced beef
3 tbsp chopped parsley
1 small white onion, grated
20g plain flour
3 tbsp sunflower oil
700ml sour cream
Mix the beef, two tbps of parsley, breadcrumbs and onion
Form the mixture into small balls
Roll the balls in the flour
Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes
Fry each ball in oil and butter
Rest the meatballs until just before serving
When you want to serve them, heat sour cream in a saucepan and add the meatballs
When everything is thoroughly heated serve and sprinkle with remaining parsley
Whenever I discuss what I do for a living, most people say in amazement, “Surely the cuisine of the region is no more exciting than meat and carbohydrates?” I spend hours explaining just how varied the food is across Central and Eastern Europe. When I talk about former USSR countries, such as Georgia, people are truly shocked how fabulous the traditional dishes are. However, there is nothing wrong with some basic meat recipes such as shashlyk skewers of meat. These are popular, in some form, in many countries, Turkey for one, but for me, they will always remind me of a wonderful meal in Ket in St Petersburg. Shashlyk can be served with a variety of sauces but they key is to get the meat tender and charred. Here’s my easy, cheap, recipe, inspired by the people of Georgia…
500g cubed meat (this can be chicken, beef – though make sure it is not stewing steak or it’ll be tough as old boots – or pork)
2 large white onions cut in quarters
4 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
Pinch of salt
100ml white wine vinegar
50ml Georgian white wine
150ml cold water
Put the all the ingredients into a large bowl and leave to marinate for at least 3 hours
Rinse meat under tap to take away any harsh acidic taste of vinegar
Put meat on skewers (metal work best but as you can see from the photographs, wood will work too, just ensure they have been thoroughly soaked in water to prevent them burning)
Either put on a barbecue/hot coals to seal the outside of the meat for a minute on each side
Heat a griddle pan until it’s steaming, add a teaspoon of rapeseed oil (or vegetable oil but NOT olive oil) and seal the meat for a minute each side
Place in a hot oven (at about 180 degrees Centigrade) and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until cooked through but still tender
Serve on a plate with a sauce of your choice, buckwheat kasha and salad
While I was in Istanbul I took a trip to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. Our rather helpful guide took us to a shop whose owner she had known for many years and thus would not over-charge us (and no doubt gave her a small amount of the profits). The Spice Bazaar is truly an overwhelming experience with so many sights, smells and people. Every shop owner is eager for you to try their produce, with with them and enjoy some apple tea. On the whole this is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I would recommend anyone visiting Istanbul to put this on their list of things to do.
At the Spice Bazaar I decided to stock up on Turkish produce: a variety of tea, Turkish Delight, saffron (albeit from Iran) and a kebab spice mix. The spice mix, which they vacuum-packed for me, was a deep red colour and had a powerful smell. Containing paprika, tumeric, cardamon, cayenne pepper, garlic, cumin, chili, among other spices, this mix makes a perfect rub for şiş kebabs, chicken or beef. With some nice weather, it seemed the perfect time for a barbecue and to experiment with my mystery spice mix.
To make the kebabs, place large chunks of beef or chicken in a bowl and generously sprinkle over spice mix.
Put this in the refrigerator to marinate for 24 hours.
Make sure the pieces of meat are evenly coated in the spices. Place pieces of meat on skewer. I used wooden skewers which must be soaked in water before use (otherwise they burn), however, metal skewers, which conduct the heat of the barbecue better, are actually best.
Barbecue until chicken is cooked through thoroughly. Obviously, in the case of beef, this does not need to be cooked through as long as it has been heated sufficiently.
Serve the skewers with a selection of couscous or bulgar wheat, salad, olives, flat breads and humous. For Western tastes a serving of thick yogurt or sour cream make be appreciated as the meats’ marinade is particularly dry (although the meat is tasty and not dry itself!) and warming. For an extra twist, flavour the yoghurt with some lemon zest and juice and mint. Refreshing!
I love food. I love eating. However, I am also prone toward being rather lazy, and as a poor graduate have to make the most from the little I can afford. As a result, I am all for one pot dishes and am particularly fond of my slow cooker. However, if you do not have a slow cooker, this recipe is still for you as it can be cooked either on the hob or in the oven, which ever you desire!
Goulash is by one of the more familiar dishes from Eastern Europe. Made with sweet paprika, it is typical of many traditional Hungarian dishes. It would normally be cooked in an iron cast pot on top of a fire, but living in a studio flat in London makes this is somewhat impossible. Instead, I opt for cooking either in my casserole dish for at least three hours at 150 °C, or alternatively, in my slow cooker for between four and five hours on high. However, as I said, you could cook this on the hob, but with three jobs, I prefer to not have to keep too much of an eye on things!
You can just chuck everything into the pot and go but I try to make it a little more authentic. Onion, for example, is one ingredient which never quite has the same effect having been put in raw to the slow cooker.
First, prepare the ingredients which can be placed into either the casserole dish or slow cooker. Peel a carrot and parsnip and place into the dish. Leave them whole as they are just for flavour, not for eating. Peel and cut a large white potato into cubes and place this in the dish too. Add a bay leaf (two if they are small) and some parsley tied together so it can be easily removed (if you do not have string, use some foil).
Dice a large white onion and cook in a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Traditionally, goose fat should be used, but I find this can make the sauce too greasy. Cook the onion until it is translucent (not brown!), add in the chopped garlic for one minute, and then add half the paprika. Pour the onion, garlic and paprika into the pot with the carrot etc.
Sprinkle the stewing beef chunks with a little corn flour (though plain flour can also be used) and place into a frying pan over a medium heat. Do not brown this too much, just a little, to seal in the juices. Sprinkle on the rest of the paprika and cook for a further minute and then add this into the pot.
Add two teaspoons of caraway seeds into the frying pan and heat gently for two minutes. Put these into the pot and then rinse out the frying pan with a little of the beef stock. I add this and the remaining stock into the pot.
Cut two medium sized tomatoes and two sweet peppers into chunks and place these into the pot with two or three teaspoons of tomato puree.
Cover and heat either in the oven, in your slow cooker, or on top of a hob.
The stock may need topping up if a lot evapourates/is absorbed.
I serve this with gnocchi and a sprinkle of parsley in a nice large bowl.
Ingredients to feed 2 very hungry people:
500g stewing beef chunks
500 ml beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 large white onion
1 large white potato
2 cloves of garlic
2 medium sized tomatoes
2 sweet red peppers
2-3 tsp tomato puree
4 tsp sweet paprika
2tsp caraway seeds
2 handfuls of parsley
Gnocchi to serve
3 hours on low heat on hob
4 hours 150 °C oven (although, the longer the better!)
4-6 hours on high in slow cooker (again, the longer the better!)
Hard work? Well, I will not lie, any form of cooking requires effort and drive but here is the washing up I was left with – hardly a mountain!
And to prove you do not need a mansion in order to cook for yourself, this is my small kitchen in my studio flat. If I can do it, so can you!