It’s summer, and nothing says summer more than meat on the grill. And today’s dish, Ćevapi is just that.
Once again, I dug into the melting pot that is my friends and family, and went straight to the source for meal ideas. For Bosnia, my source was Salad.
I work with Salad, and he’s been christened with this moniker because every day, without fail, he is in the kitchen around 3 pm making himself lunch…a salad. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve seen him eat anything BUT a salad, so it seemed liked the most appropriate title for my Bosnian friend.
I cornered him a few days ago in the midst of his daily salad prep to talk to him about his favorite food from back home, and without a second’s hesitation, he mentioned the ćevapi. I was surprised since these little meat sausages, most often served with a salad (any kind) on a pita with a little sour cream sauce, seemed very…Turkish. In fact, they are, and also an example of the overwhelming influence that each country undeniably has on its neighbor.
Honestly, I was ecstatic at his suggestion, and I saw the ćevapi as perfect for the slow taper necessary to get me off the high of all of the delicious Mediterranean food I’ve been eating and to keep me from going into falafel withdrawal. I’m pretty sure falafel withdrawal is a real thing.
Anyway, unlike Turkish kebabs which tend to take the form of meat shaved from that roasted on a spit, these little fingerlings are more like long, skinny meatballs. Also, popular in Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, the Republic of Macedonia, and throughout the rest of the Balkans, each region twists the recipe by playing with size, shape, meat blends and flavorings. For example, while Bosnian cevapi are short and squat, Croatian ćevapi are slightly longer. As with everything, to each his own.
To dress my ćevapi, I made ajvar, a popular relish in the Balkan area that is sort of like a roasted red pepper baba ganoush. So…in other words, it was perfect for summer and a win overall. Finished off with a spring mix and a simple red onion salad, my plate lacked for nothing. And afterwards, neither did my tummy.
Unfortunately, Salad did not have an actual recipe to pass onto me, so I made what I could find on the interwebs. Despite the fact that it came out very good, Salad said it didn’t really taste that much like what he was used to eating back home. I’ll chalk that up to the fact that every town, every family, every family member makes his or her ćevapi differently, so at the end of the day…is one more authentic than another? I mean, do you know how many plates of veal paprikash I had to eat in Hungary to try and find one that was good as my mom’s? Countless, and mom’s always won.
For the ćevapi
Recipe adapted from Choosy Beggars
1 lb 93% lean ground beef
1 lb lean ground lamb
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
Handful fresh parsley (1/4 cup finely chopped)
¼ cup hot water
½ tsp baking soda
salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tsp each)
1. Finely chop the onion, garlic and parsley it is almost minced (the food processor worked very well for this). Add these to the meat in a mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Mix baking soda with hot water (not boiling, just hot) and pour that into the meat. Gently start to turn the meat with your finger tips, gently working the seasoning through the meat and combining the two varieties. You want the meat to stay fairly loosely packed, airy, and coarse.
3. Refrigerate the meat mixture back in the fridge and let it sit for at least 2 hours, or overnight if possible.
4. After the meat is sufficiently chilled, pinch off a piddly amount that is about the size of a small meatball. Pat and form this into a small sausage, just slightly smaller than a breakfast sausage. I made mine a little fatter, but the same length as, my index finger.
5. Heat your grill to medium high and cook the ćevapi for about 2-3 minutes per side, turning once, until they are cooked through and a gorgeous deep brown color.
For the Ajvar
Makes about 1- 1 ½ cups
Recipe adapted from about.com
2 baby eggplants
1 large red bell pepper
1 large orange bell pepper*
3 cloves garlic
1 lemon, juiced
2 TB olive oil
2 TB fresh parsley
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp oregano
*I took the last red pepper and needed one more. Hence, the orange. You can use two reds.
1. Heat oven to 475 degrees. Place washed eggplants and peppers on a baking sheet with a lip to catch any juices, and roast until their skins blister and turn black, about 30 minutes (Alternatively, you can do what I did and just blacken the skins on a gas grill or broiler).
2. Place roasted vegetables in a heatproof bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let them steam for 10 minutes (or, alternatively, a brown paper bag).
3. Peel off and discard blackened skins, stems and seeds. Throw everything else into a food processor or blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add garlic and lemon juice, and drizzle in oil, stirring constantly. You can make yours thinner or thicker, depending on how much olive oil you prefer to use. I made mine a bit lighter, so my ajvar was a bit more watery.