Recipe: Balkan Ćevapčići Served with Ajvar

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.

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Purger, Zagreb

White Wine Goulash Serving Bowl
White Wine Goulash Serving Bowl

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.

Naravni Samobor
Naravni Samobor

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.

Pork Cutlets
Pork Cutlets

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.


Petrinjska 33


Tel: 4810 713

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Pr’Potic, Stari Trg, Ljubljana


Pr’Potic lies parallel to the bar-lined river in Ljubljana which tends to attract many tourists, particularly in the summer months.  Instead, this restaurant is quieter but enjoyed by locals.  Inside are about twenty tables, dressed in white and red tablewear, and outside there is seating for about 40 people.  The menu is not vast but does boast some wonderful and traditional Slovene dishes and the service makes a meal at this restaurant worth every Euro cent.

The first time I sampled wild boar was at Hotel Toplice on Lake Bled in 2004 while staying there for my sister’s wedding.  I was excited to be given the opportunity to eat wild boar again, this time roasted rather than smoked, at Pr’Potic.  The wild boar was accompanied by a rich, warming, juniper sauce and bread dumpling and the generous portion ensured one is left feeling particularly stuffed!  In addition, the sauce contained a hearty, intensely flavoured cured meat.

Wild Boar in juniper sauce with bread dumpling
Wild Boar

It was also good to see Ljubljanski Krožnik on the menu, a plate consisting of turkey, chicken and veal.  The mixed meat plate was served with a portion of polenta and grilled vegetables.  The vegetables were crunchy and full of flavour and the meats were tender and moist.

Despite being rather large, rich plates of food which one would normally enjoy accompanied by a red wine such as syrah, the Tilia Sivi Pinot, Vipavska Dolina, 13.5% vol., 2007, a white domestic wine, was refreshing, palette cleansing and cut through the intense flavours of the food perfectly.  At present time a meal for two, with wine and water costs roughly 55 Euros.  Both a specials and lunch menu are available.  Booking is recommended.

Ljubljanski Kroznik
Ljubljanski Kroznik


Stari Trg 21




Tel: +386 (0)1 425 43 37

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Restoran Katedralis, Zagreb

Zagreb Cathedral
Zagreb Cathedral

Restoran Katedralis sits on a corner overlooking Zagreb’s beautiful cathedral.  The restaurant offers a vast menu with plenty of Croatian delights to satisfy the hungry tourist looking to indulge in some local specialities and best yet, this restaurant is not a tourist trap.  The large, split-level terrace is filled with tables of Croatians enjoying great food and fantastic wine.  The restaurant staff are attentive and friendly, without being overbearing.

While mulling over the menu, the waiter presents soft white bread, accompanied by a local, soft cheese, mixed with cream and herbs.  The cheese may resemble coleslaw (one food stuff I simply loathe) but it tastes delicious and is worth trying, even if one finds its appearance slightly off-putting.

Kruh, sir i vrhnje
Kruh, sir i vrhnje

The main courses on offer include a selection of typical home-cooked meals, as well as usual restaurant favourites such as Zagrebački Odrezak (veal schnitzel Zagreb).  The schnitzel was served with a garlic dipping sauce, wedge of lemon, thin, fried onions, and some carved carrots and radish.  The schnitzel was thick and wrapped in ham and cheese before covered in breadcrumbs and fried.  The cheese, usually an edam like cheese, oozed out with every cut of the knife.  This plate was quite simply heavenly but incredibly large which made it a little bit of a challenge to eat every morsel!

Zagrebacki Odrezak
Zagrebacki Odrezak

Other traditional main courses included a mixed meat plate, with beef, pork and chicken, served with a herb sauce, and a veal saltimbocca, the latter of which is traditionally Italian but also eaten and enjoyed throughout Croatia.  However, unusually, the veal saltimbocca, a thin veal escalope with sage, prosciutto and dry sherry, was served with a pepper sauce.

Mixed Plate
Mixed Plate

A mixed dish of grilled vegetables, aubergine, courgette and white pepper with cubed potatoes made the perfect side dish.

Veal Saltimbocca
Veal Saltimbocca

The wine list boasted many great Croatian wines and Graševina, Vrhunsko vino, Vinogorje Kutjevo, Berba 2007, 12% vol. seemed like the perfect choice to wash down the meal with.  Not too immature, as many East European wines can be, the taste is smooth, dry and not too floral and its colour was golden.  The wine and meal was followed by a homemade pear schnapps which was quite lethal!

Grilled vegetables & potatoes
Grilled vegetables & potatoes

What to know: 10% discount for cash

Restoran Katedralis

Bakačeva 9

10000 Zagreb

Tel: (01) 48 14 938

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Anything with a breadcrumb…

Veal Escalope!
Veal Escalope!

I am a real advocate of the breadcrumb.  If it wasn’t for the breadcrumb, I’d have never consumed cauliflower.  The first time I tasted cauliflower was in Kranjska Gora.  Mira, the Grandmother, would gently heat florets of cauliflower in some simmering water, then remove them from the water, let them cool, coat them in egg and breadcrumbs and fry.  Perfect!

Kranjska Gora was also the first place I ever tried veal.  Being thirteen the first time I visited (in 1999) I was actually a bit confused as to what veal was.  I am not ashamed to say this.  However, once I tasted it, I knew I would always be a veal lover.  It is not as unkind as most people think due to media campaigns from previous decades.  British veal in particular is very humane and, I’ll have you meat eaters know (cannot argue with the vegetarians and vegans among you, you have morals, I do not) that when you tuck into some lamb, it is actually killed at a younger age than veal.

A popular dish in Slovenia and Croatia, and no doubt other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, is veal escalope in a breadcrumb crust.  This is such an easy dish to make!


Veal escalopes

Plain flour (with seasoning: salt and black pepper)

Beaten eggs

White breadcrumbs


Olive oil


Put plain flour on a plate

Beat eggs and put in bowl

Put breadcrumbs on plate

Make sure veal is sufficiently flat, if not, beat with a meat hammer

Coat veal in plain flour

Dip veal into beaten egg

Dip veal into breadcrumbs

(For best results: double dip!  No nothing to do with British MPs’ expenses!)

Re-dip into beaten egg

Re-dip into breadcrumbs

Heat olive oil and butter in frying pan

Put veal into pan


Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on one side



Cook for 2 to 3 minutes maximum

Serve on a bed of watercress, spinach and rocket, drizzled in olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and black pepper

Add a wedge of lemon for perfect taste!


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Khutorok is one of my favourite restaurants in Kiev.  A wooden paddle-steamer, moored on the Dnipro, the restaurant is cosy and decked out in a Carpathian-style interior.  The deck provides the perfect place for a summer dining experience and quickly one can forget the big roads, traffic chaos and general bustle of the city.  In the winter the restaurant’s fires provide ample heating.  Shasklyk, green borshch and khrushchenky (beef roulades) are all on offer.

Although a bit of a walk from the city centre, the food is absolutely fantastic and the staff are much less surly than found in other restaurants (for a non-Ukrainian/non-Russian speaking person, as I was the time of my visit).  The veal with wild mushrooms and veal with berries were particularly tempting, however, due to the way mushrooms and berries absorb radiation (though I wish to cast no doubts over the source of the restaurant’s food) I thought best to avoid them.  Instead, I opted for some pan-fried veal with a wild rice side and portion of grilled vegetables, the latter of which was presented in tower.


Naturally, all three portions were served up with a large quantity of dill which I must say, I am not a huge fan of.  However, the food here is truly yummy and the restaurant is packed full with locals, albeit generally those who are wealthier than your average Ukrainian.  If like me you want to opt for no dill, remember this simple phrase: vsyo bez ukropa.  This is actually a Russian phrase but Ukrainians will understand what you want, though they will probably think you are insane.

A cheaper meal can definitely be found in Ukraine, but if you want to push the boat out one evening and enjoy the beautiful surroundings, then a visit to Khutorok is worth it.  A bottle of water will cost 27 Ukrainian Hryvna, a main course will cost about 122 Hryvna and side dishes cost about 25 Hryvna.  A meal for two, without wine or vodka, will cost about 352 Hryvna, about £29.

Booking is recommended.

Khutorok, Berth 1, vul Naberezhno-Khreshchatyska

Tel: 460 7019

Nearest Metro Kontraktova Pl

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Naravni Odrezak

Veal Escalope & Saffron Rice
Veal Escalope & Saffron Rice

This is my take on a popular Croatian veal recipe.  I had something similar during a holiday a few years ago in Split at a large restaurant at the end of the Riva, toward the bus station.  The large restaurant/cafe/bar has different sections depending on what you want.  The waiters were very friendly and helpful and the food, whether it be ice cream, pizza, or something more substantial, was fantastic.

The veal is quickly pan-fried and then a wine and citrus sauce is made and poured over the meat. Served with some Milanese rice (saffron-infused risotto) it is just delicious with really fresh flavours.


Thin veal escalopes

A cup (about 100ml) of chicken stock

2 tbsp dry white wine

3 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Juice and zest of half a lemon

2 tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice

Zest of half an orange

Olive oil for pan-frying

Plain flour for coating the veal


Coat veal in plain flour


Heat olive oil in frying pan until quite hot

Put veal in frying pan

Cook for two to three minutes on one side, then turn

Cook for another two minutes

Veal cooking

Remove veal from pan and place on plate to rest

Put white wine in pan

Add lemon and orange juice to pan

Add stock to pan

Veal sauce

Heat until thickens slightly to consistency of a syrup

Add in parsley and stir

Plate up veal, pour over sauce and serve with saffron rice

Veal done!

(To make saffron rice: Heat risotto rice in olive oil/butter, pour on splash of white wine, stir.  Add stock, chicken or vegetable, and saffron, slowly to pan and stir, as if making risotto.  Keep adding liquid and stirring constantly for 20 minutes.  Add a few tablespoons of parmesan and serve.)

It is also nice to serve a side dish of gently wilted spinach with the veal and rice.

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