I sometimes get inspiration for the next country from unlikely places. This time it came from a close friend of mine and a rather weird food review that used invoked the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the early 1990s when talking about ćevapi. It was such a bizarre move, that I knew I had to make this meal and find the best country to suit it – which is how Bosnia and Herzegovina ended up in the frame.
After North Macedonia, this is the second former Yugoslav country that I have crossed off for the cooking list. By rights, thanks to friendship ties, the next former Yugoslav country that I cooked for should have been Slovenia – but at least I managed to cook something inspired by the many things we send on Whatsapp.
Anyway, like it’s immediate neighbours – Bosnian cuisine is a meeting of the Mediterranean and of their previous Ottoman occupiers. You can see that with ćevapi, which share a lot in common with Turkish koftes and yet have the spicing and accoutrements of the central European and the Mediterranean. I expect to see a similar clash of influences in varying degrees as I get around to Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro (with Slovenia seeing some more Austro-Hungarian ties), but for now let’s get to the food I made.
After so many complex recipes, it was such a breath of fresh air to come across the deceptively simple recipe for ćevapi from Chasing the Donkey. The only difficulty came when finding lamb mince – which ended up with me mincing my own from some lamb shoulder. Honestly, I think using freshly minced lamb along with some high quality steak mince might have made all the difference in terms of taste.
There is a tendency when seeing recipes like this to only get one type of meat (and more of it) instead of going with the mix as recommended. Always follow the recipe. The mixing of the meat is what makes all the difference and actually means that you don’t always need to use a full palate of spices. No, just salt, pepper and garlic was all you needed. Extra taste can come from the ajvar (thank you to the nearby Eastern European mart for that), applied as liberally as you want.
Traditionally you would have a special type of bread with these, but I gambled (and lost) that the speciality shop would have some of that. I asked my font of Balkan knowledge about a replacement, so went for some pitta bread instead. Good thing too, because that’ll make all the more likely that I make this again. Maybe next time I’ll experiment with a different meat blend – or even make it a beef-lamb-pork mix.
I don’t believe that I have ever poached an apple before, let alone having to partially core one to make a little bowl and then poaching it. However, despite having no apples to spare in case I got a bit zealous with the spoon it all worked out for the best in the end – even if I could have stood to poach them for a few more minutes.
The dish itself, recipe from Balkan Lunchbox – where I have already bookmarked a potential cake for when I tackle Serbia, goes beyond just a poached apple. What you have is an apple bowl poached in a syrup (that tastes like apple crumble) and filled with a sweet walnut paste. Topped with whipped cream and freshly chopped walnuts,
The syrup alone is worth making, especially when you mix leftover syrup with some lemonade and make an apple crumble mocktail. I am already having thoughts about making this for Christmas with the addition of some cinnamon to the syrup. I can just imagine the slight heat from that spice turning my kitchen into a wonderland.
Next time, since I couldn’t make it to Canada, I am going to be bringing Canada to my kitchen. I already have cheese curds in the freezer ready to make myself some poutine and I am on the lookout for a possible quintessential Canadian dessert. Don’t think doing shots of maple syrup counts…