As I mentioned in this post from back in May, I ate a lot (A LOT!) of the skinless Balkan sausages called ćevapčići while we journeyed through Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The ćevapčići were a really tasty way to get a protein infusion to balance the wine, beer, and kremšnita (ahem) that I enjoyed on a regular basis.
Throughout our travels, I ate ćevapčići about 8 times, and each serving included 5-10 ćevapčići, which means I ate about 80 or so of these tasty little guys on our trip. Here are all the places I tried them, just in case you find yourself in the Balkans and need some grilled meat:
Restoran Degenija (Rakovica, Croatia): on a giant mixed grill platter that included french fries, grilled pork chop, chicken schnitzel cutlets, bacon, ajvar, onions, and white rice
Pansion Plitvice Hotel Etno (Lila-Senj, Croatia): on another giant mixed grill platter with chicken breast, pork chops, sausages, white rice, and potatoes roasted with carrots
Restoran Pećina (Ploče, Croatia): served with french fries, ajvar
Harambaša (Ljubljana, Slovenia): my favorite! served with fluffy grilled pita bread, raw onions, and kaymak that was so sweet, it was like butter. These were very meaty and flavorful and served as the model for the recipe below.
Šadrvan (Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovnia): on the Nacionalna Plate for 2 which included cabbage rolls, dolmas, boiled potatoes, meat-stuffed onions, white rice, falafel, and ajvar
Luka Lu (Prague, Czech Republic): one of my fave restaurants in Prague; served with kaymak, ajvar, and very tender, yeasty bread
While all the ćevapčići we ate were similar, every chef put his own spin on the seasonings and proportions of meat (lamb, beef, pork) in the recipe. When I got back to my kitchen in Austin, I worked on developing my own version of ćevapčići and the ubiquitous Balkan condiment made from red peppers and eggplant known as ajvar.
Here’s my version of ćevapčići. Note that they’re not super spicy but instead, use just enough garlic and spice to bring out the meaty flavor of the beef and lamb. I like them more without pork, but feel free to change up the proportions of the meats and add pork if you’re feeling it. I’d also like to mention that in Bulgaria, cooks often include cumin (a.k.a., my favorite spice), but I showed restraint (for now) and kept my cumin jar in the cupboard.
Trust me: You’ll be super happy if you also make the ajvar to go along with these.
PREP 15 min | COOK 10 min | SERVES 6-8
3 cloves garlic
1/2 medium onion
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pound ground grass-fed beef
1 pound ground grass-fed lamb
1. Place the garlic, onion, parsley, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and paprika in the bowl of a food processor. In a small bowl, mix the hot water with the cream of tartar and baking soda until the powders are dissolved. Add the baking soda mixture to the food processor and purée everything. If you have large food processor that can handle it, add the meat and process the whole shebang until it’s smooth and all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. If you do not have a large food processor, place the beef and lamb in a large bowl, then add the purée and mix well with your hands.
2. Roll the meat into sausage shapes — they should be about 4 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter. I’m not going to lie to you: this is a pain in the tuches, but it’s worth it because these little suckers are delicious. (For what it’s worth, I tried simply rolling this same meat mixture into meatballs and grilling them — not. the. same. Faster, but not as tasty. You make the call.) As you finish rolling, line up the sausages like little soldiers on a baking sheet. Cover the ćevapčići with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to overnight.
3. Let’s cook ’em! Roast the ćevapčići either on a preheated gas grill or under the broiler. They take about 5 minutes per side to turn a luscious, dark brown on the outside and to cook through in the middle. (In a pinch, you can also pan fry them in a large, non-stick skillet.)
Serve with chopped white onions and ajvar. These would go really nicely with a side of green beans (steamed and tossed with olive oil and garlic) or cauliflower rice.
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