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.
There is much more to Hungarian cooking than the stereotypical goulash, porkolt for one. Porkolt is an easy, one-pot, family dish and can be made with cubes of pork shoulder or veal. Just fry off the onion, add in the pork to seal the meat, add in the other ingredients, stir and leave to cook for a few hours on a low heat. Just serve with gnocchi or polenta. Super easy, super delicious!
There is no way to better way to get into the festive spirit than by paying a visit to one of Europe’s many Christmas Markets; and boasting seven markets, each with a different theme, Cologne is easily the premiere winter destination. The city’s imposing gothic cathedral neighbours the most delightful Excelsior Hotel Ernst, the most desirable place to lay one’s head after a long day of festive merriment.
Carl Ernst, the royal restorer of the central station, was also the builder and owner of the Hotel Ernst. In 1871 the hotel was sold to the Kracht family who quickly integrated into the city’s high society and whose descendants remain its owners. During the hotel’s rich history it has hosted guests including the German Emperor William I, who, from his hotel window, observed the completion of Cologne Cathedral. Subsequent to World Wars I and II the hotel was renovated in 1926 and 1946 respectively, and continues to be maintained to a sublime, yet traditional standard. The lobby and spiral staircase is impressive, while the floors, covered with luxurious carpet, also have occasional ornate tiled features which mirror the style and design of the decorative stained glass windows.
This year the hotel has arguably achieved a pinnacle point in its history and success, receiving four notable awards in just three months: ‘Leaders Club Guest Recognition Award of Excellence’ as part of the ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ annual recognition awards; in addition to a treble win at the Busche Gala Awards where the hotel was named Hotel of the Year for Germany, as well as awarded Foreign restaurant of the Year for their Asian cuisine restaurant Taku and Hotelier of the Year for the hotel Managing Director, Mr. Wilhelm Luxem.
The hotel boasts 108 individually furnished single and double rooms, in addition to 34 luxurious suites, each with its own particular atmosphere, something which is sadly lacking in large chain hotels. Rooms are spacious, with dark wood contrasting with sumptuous fabrics.
Many rooms boast a walk-in-wardrobe which a girl could only dream of. While bathrooms, featuring Hans-Grohe fittings and marble in abundance, not to mention the most extraordinary mirrors, are reminiscent of a mythical heaven.
Although many hotels neglect guests’ gastronomic desires, Excelsior Hotel Ernst could not be accused of this. The hotel’s traditional European Hanse Stube restaurant is a cosy yet refined dining space with a menu to match. The menu changes with the seasons and at present the specialty of the cold season is Alsatian goose served with glazed chestnuts, red cabbage, braised raisin apples and Thuringia dumplings. The attentive and knowledgeable staff expertly carve the goose at diners’ tables. Guests are served a plate packed full of festive flavour and then another! The main course is preceded by a traditional amuse bouche with unusual twists. It is a struggle to get past the main course but if one succeeds there is a trolley adorned with rich cheeses, a number of exciting experimental desserts, coffee and truffles of unimaginable flavours to be enjoyed. The latter must not be missed, particularly the truffle with lebkuchen which has a pleasing flavour and spicy aroma.
The hotel’s other award-winning restaurant, Taku, is a world apart. A total contrast to Hanse Stube the décor is light, airy and almost futuristic. Diners walk across a glass river, under which coy carp swim. The kitchen and chefs are on show for guests to observe the delicate techniques required for constructing sushi. However, the Asian inspired menu has been given traditional European twists and even features foie gras. Nevertheless, delectable Beijing Duck, a staple of Chinese culture first recorded in the 12th Century, can also be sampled in an exquisite six courses.
The hotel also boasts a winter garden where food and drinks can be enjoyed, a piano bar and a wine bar; for those who seek a little activity, a fully-equipped health and sauna area located on the sixth floor. If one can somehow work up the inclination to leave this lavish haven of luxury (perhaps to work off one of the restaurants’ feasts) then there are many sights to be seen: the cathedral, the Lindt chocolate museum and factory, and from the end of November to the beginning of January a number of Christmas Markets which encapsulate everything good about winter.
Cologne Christmas Markets:
1. The Christmas Market at Cologne Cathedral is a trademark for the town of Cologne. Chosen by the specialist press as the most beautiful Christmas Market in Europe, millions of visitors descend each year specifically to visit this market. This market includes a Käthe Wohlfahrt which specialises in traditional festive decorations.
2. Angel’s Market at Nemarkt in the heart of the city is well worth a visit. It is one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Germany and immediately carries visitors into a kingdom of angels.
3. In the middle of the historic and idyllic old town stands the rustic Cologne Old Town “Home of Gnomes”. According to famous Cologne legend, this was also the home of the gnomes who were said to be particularly good craftspeople. Therefore, at this Christmas market one can find a particularly large number of handcraft stalls, where goods are still produced in the traditional way.
4. Just ten minutes walk from Neumarkt, the Fairytale Christmas Market is situated at Rudolfplatz. The inspiration of the sixty huts at the Hahnentorburg is the brother’s Grimm tales, making this market ideal for younger visitors.
5. From Europe’s largest floating Christmas market, Cologne Christmas Market Afloat, with over forty stalls, visitors get a truly dream-like view of the Cologne Old Town and the Cathedral.
6. The Medieval Christmas Market at the Chocolate Museum is a lovingly designed, cosy, medieval spectacle located on the Rhine. A totally unique experience, there is an exhibition of traditional handicrafts and a non-stop programme of concerts, theatres, jugglery and live nativity scene.
7. Finally, the Christmas Market at Stadtgarten has an idyllic village atmosphere with 60 exhibitors featuring modern creations, traditional handicraft and nostalgic paraphernalia as well as offering visitors culinary specialties.
Prepare yourself for Christmas with a quick trip to Cologne’s Christmas Markets and pre-empt holiday stresses and strains with a luxurious stay at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst!
Excelsior Hotel Ernst
Trankgasse 1-5 / Domplatz
I recently visited Cornwall for a few days as my school friends had rented a large cottage for the week. The kitchen was an absolute delight and I insisted on cooking some good East European fare for my 7 companions.
The best thing about East European cooking is that the recipes are usually not desperately complicated, require just one or two pots and few ingredients, which keeps both washing up and costs down, yet enables you to create a really hearty and tasty meal.
Although this bean stew required smoked pork and a ham bone, I cheated and used pork chops and smoked bacon which added the required smokey flavour. Everyone seemed to enjoy it so I would definitely recommend this recipe!
Ingredients (serves 8 hungry beings)
2 white onions
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 red chilies
1 tbsp Hungarian hot paprika (or to taste)
3 tins of mixed beans
20 black peppercorns
8 pork chops
500g smoked bacon
4 tbsp cornflour
Tomato puree or chili powder for colour if desired
Handful of chopped parsley for garnish
Crusty white bread to serve
Put mixed beans into saucepan
Place pork chops on top of beans
Just cover pork with cold water and add peppercorns
Heat until boiling
Reduce heat, cover pan and leave on gentle simmer for 2 hours
Remove pork chops from pan
Cut off fat and bone and cut into chunks
Return pork to pan
Chop onions and heat in sunflower oil in separate pan until translucent
Add chopped and deseeded chili to onion and cook for 5-10 minutes
Chop smoked bacon and add to onion and chili and cook until crispy
Add paprika to bacon mix, stir and cook for 5 minutes
Add cornflour to bacon mix, stir and cook for 5-10 minutes
Add bacon mix to stew and stir
Cook for further 10 minutes until well mixed
If desire deeper red colour, add tablespoon of tomato puree or chili powder
Serve into bowls, garnish with parsley (I forgot to!) and serve with chunky white bread
I have visited Purger twice now, and on neither occasion have I seen a non-Croat there. One waiter speaks no English and the other only understands the basics which for me, is always a good sign. I tend to believe that if the locals like a restaurant and it is not full of tourists, you are probably guaranteed a good meal. With Purger, this is definitely the case. From the outside one may be hesitant to enter but on negotiating your way through the restaurant one is finally met with a secluded courtyard, the perfect city getaway. The only problem, and it really is not a problem, is that this restaurant’s menu is not merely vast, it is excessive. It is difficult to decide which type of the seemingly endless options of veal, pork, beef, fish, chicken to choose.
The portions at this restaurant are comparable in size to that of the menu. The Vinksi Gulaš, a veal goulash unusually made with white wine and less paprika than the traditional Hungarian or Transylvanian goulash. Served in a large metal bowl, it is easy to think it would be impossible to finish every morsel but, as is the case with the food served at Purger, it is simply too delicious to leave a mouthful. The goulash is served with potatoes but you will want to make use of the dense, cornmeal bread to mop up the excess thin sauce.
The Naravni Samobor is a thin veal escalope doused in garlic and grilled, apparently a tradition associated with the nearby village of Samobor. The veal was beaten incredibly thinly and required very little effort to eat and the meat simply flaked apart on entering my mouth. For a garlic lover, this platter is simply heaven.
The only slight disappointment was the Svinjski Kotlet, a grilled pork cutlet which while was rich in flavour, was unfortunately a little tough. Nevertheless, the great taste made up for the minor disappointment.
Side dishes include potatoes, french fries, rice, croquettes, and a variety of large individual salads which add a useful, refreshing element to one’s meal. The beetroot is fresh and will make one never want to return to that pre-prepared from the supermarket, and the tomatoes are juicy with thick flesh and a truly wonderful taste.
The wine list boasted all the usual local wines including Vinarija Dingač, Pelješac, Kvalitetno vino, Vinogorje Pelješac, 2007. The wine was heady, smooth and velvety, a perfect accompaniment to the rich meal.
I was never a fan of sauerkraut until I tried it in Polish bigos (a meaty stew) at Bar Polski. Since then I have been more open-minded.
This recipe for Pork with Sauerkraut is very surprising and quite frankly, delicious. Although the sauerkraut links this recipe to Central Europe, the presence of chillies provides a South European touch.
This recipe serves four and is great with either rice, baby new potatoes or mashed potato. Serve with a little sour cream and wholegrain mustard for a little cooling and warming treat respectively!
450g lean pork (or veal) diced
60ml vegetable oil
1/2 tsp paprika
400g shredded sauerkraut, drained and well rinsed
2 fresh chillies
90ml pork stock
50ml sour cream
coarse grain mustard
paprika and sage to garnish
In a frying pan cook the pork until it is browned on all sides.
Add the paprika and shredded sauerkraut.
Stir well and transfer to flameproof casserole dish.
Halve the chillies and remove the seeds.
Bury chillies in casserole.
Add stock to the casserole.
Cover tightly and cook over a gentle heat for 1-1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking.
Remove the chillies if desired and season to taste.
Garnish with sage.
Serve with pots of coarse grain mustard, sour cream sprinkled with paprika, and a side of crusty bread.