If you are anything like me, you probably can’t name one Croatian dish. At least, I couldn’t before this trip… The reason you most likely don’t have a Croatian restaurant in your neighborhood is because they make up less than .5% of the US population (about 400,000). Surprisingly, the American Greek population is only four times that and yet it doesn’t take much thought to imagine Greek food: Dolmas, Moussaka , grape feeding toga-clad women (wait! that’s for a different blog…)
After discovering many Croatian specialties over the course of two months, I feel obligated to inspire you the next time you say “what shall I cook for dinner tonight”. Below, I’ve included a few classic Croatian dishes whose ingredients are readily available in the US and a few delights that are indigenous to Croatia that you’ll need to seek out on your next trip.
Croatian Recipe Ideas For Your Home
Crni Rižoto– Who isn’t impressed by black food? This black risotto gets its color from either squid or cuttlefish ink and is prepared, traditionally, with the sliced cuttlefish. I would suggest making it with squid since most US markets don’t offer cuttlefish. Sauteé sliced cuttlefish/squid, set aside once cooked and continue to prepare the risotto like you would normally. Here is a good recipe. Get the pan nice and hot before adding the cuttlefish and sear quickly (cooking time varies on the size). There is no forgiveness in this dish for overcooked cuttlefish or squid as it will become a chewy mess. The rule is very hot and fast or very low and slow with squid.
Blitva with Potatoes– Literally translated “Swiss Chard” is a classic side dish that I mentioned in my Montengro post. All that is involved is boiling Yukon potatoes then add them in thick chunks to sautéed chard with a generous amount of garlic (thinly sliced) and extra virgin olive oil.
Octopus Salad Dalmatian Style– Toss the cooked octopus (chopped) with boiled Yukon potatoes (sliced after cooking), chopped parsley and diced tomato. I’ve eaten it with chickpeas which is also a nice addition. The dressing is a simple garlic, red wine and lemon vinegar emulsified with olive oil. Here’s the recipe. If you are lucky enough to have a sous-vide I would go that route for the octopus. Again, it is key to not let the octopus get rubbery during cooking. If you haven’t done it before here are excellent tips to cooking and cleaning octopus.
Brudet– This is a simple tomato-based seafood stew. Here’s the recipe I recommend.
Ajvar– This is a red pepper paste similar to harissa (minus the coriander/caraway seeds, add an eggplant). Recipe here. It works on everything: red meat, chicken, sandwiches, pasta salads…you name it!
You are probably catching on by now that Croatian food is seafood-centric and no frills. Its core is built on using fresh ingredients that are cooked in a way that highlights the natural flavors. The common ingredients used over and over are: parsley, lemon, paprika peppers, garlic, olive oil, potatoes, wines, fish, shellfish and tomato.
Treats To Seek Out In Croatia
Paški sir- Sheep’s milk cheese that comes from the island of Pag. It’s a harder cheese whose taste and texture is similar to parmesan. Make sure to asked for the aged type or you’ll end up with a soft cheese. The best time of year to get it is September when the sheep have grazed on the fragrant Summer herbs but it is sold year-round in both casual and upscale markets.
Rožata– This creme caramel dessert is a specialty of Dubrovnik that’s a spin off of the Catalan dessert ‘crema Catalana’. It’s often immersed in a sweet brandy or liquor (cherry is my favorite). Doing this to perfection is an art form. I would only order it at a restaurant (konoba) that has won me over on my meal first before ordering.
Pršut– Croatian’s prosciutto. The ham is treated and cured similar to the Italian style and equally delicious. It is usually served thinly sliced on a charcuterie platter.
Mladi Sir– This translates to “young cheese”. It is technically Bosnian but its unpasturised cottage-cheese like curds are found all over Croatia. The taste is slightly sour. It can be eaten stuffed in red peppers, in Burek or eaten on bread.