The full Montenegro: recipes for an Adriatic feast

Posted on September 16, 2015
Archive : September 2015
Category : News
  • The little-known cuisine of Montenegro brings with it flavours more familiar and comforting than you might imagine. Witness these stuffed cabbage leaves, intensely garlicky ajvar sauce and potato and chard blitva.

When we told friends we were going for a summer holiday in Montenegro, at least half of them thought we were off to the Caribbean. You could see them thinking: “Coo, how exotic!” And so it is, though not in a far-flung way. In fact, Montenegro is just across the Adriatic sea from Italy – a tiny Balkan paradise, of mainly Serbian ethnicity. On the land side, it is surrounded by its fellow siblings of the former Yugoslavia – Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo – and Albania.

It is a place of strange and extreme physical beauty. Jagged mountain ranges – the country’s name literally means “black mountain” – plunge perilously down into a crystal clear sea. (The area where we were staying – Kotor Bay – is described by many as the only Mediterranean fjord.) The people are handsome and huge – by some measures the tallest in the world.

But the food is comfortingly familiar. The flavour palate is that of any Mediterranean country. Peppers, deep-dark red and knobbly. Plump aubergines. Sweet purple onions. Garlic. Pungent thyme and rosemary. Tomatoes so much better than anything you can buy in the UK it’s astonishing no one has yet managed to import them. And lots of fish, squid, octopus, and lamb cooked over coals.

There were two less familiar dishes that we had again and again. The first was blitva – a simple but moreish dish of chard and potatoes, melted slowly together with enough garlic to render you unfit for all but the most forgiving company. Use plenty of good olive oil and then some more.

The second is the even more pungent avjar – sometimes known as Serbian caviar. It reminded me of those walnut and pepper sauces you get in the Caucasus, but with aubergine taking the place of walnuts. Sublime served with a tendril of octopus, crispy and charred from the grill.

If the Indian summer we have been promised ever turns up, I’d serve your avjar and blitva with something on the barbie. But since that doesn’t seem likely, we’ve included a stuffed cabbage dish from up in the mountains – something to keep you warm and comforted until next summer’s holiday rolls around.

Stuffed cabbage

1 large savoy cabbage
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
Leaves from 1 sprig thyme
3 garlic cloves, crushed
400g mushrooms, finely chopped
100g basmati rice
150ml hot chicken stock
700g minced pork
2 tbsp dill, chopped
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp grated parmesan (optional)
10-12 prosciutto slices
3 tbsp sauerkraut
Salt and black pepper

For the sauce
150ml tomato passata
150ml chicken stock
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp honey

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3˝. Put on a pot of salted water to boil and prepare a large bowl of cold water with some ice in it. Remove the damaged outer leaves from the cabbage and discard. Slice around the core of the cabbage with a sharp knife and pull off the other leaves. Blanch the leaves in the salted water for just a minute. Remove, drain and refresh by plunging into the iced water. Drain again, pat dry, then cut out the thick part of the central rib of each cabbage leaf and discard it.

2 Fry the onion, leek and thyme in the olive oil over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms, then fry over a high heat, stirring continuously for 5 minutes. Tip in the rice and cook for a minute before adding the hot stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes, or until all the stock has been absorbed. Season and tip into a bowl to cool down.

3 In another bowl, mix the pork with the dill, chilli, mustard and beaten egg. Add the parmesan at this point, if using. Season well. Add the cooled mushroom mix to the pork and massage together till well combined.

4 Blend together the sauce ingredients and season.

5 Lay out the cabbage leaves. Put a piece of prosciutto on each leaf. Press a little pork mix into the middle, then roll up into a parcel. Repeat until all the mix is used up. Shred any leftover cabbage.

6 Sprinkle a large ovenproof dish with the leftover cabbage and sauerkraut. Fit the cabbage parcels into the dish in either one layer or two. Pour over the sauce and bake in a preheated oven for about 1˝ hours.

Blitva (chard and potatoes)

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500g potatoes cut into 1-2cm pieces
3 tbsp olive oil, for frying
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
200g chard, leaves shredded

1 Boil the potatoes in salted water for about 10 minutes, or until just cooked. Drain well.

2 Heat the oil in a large pan and add the garlic. Stir-fry for a minute before adding the potatoes and tossing them in the garlic oil until lightly browned.

3 Add the chard and cook with the potatoes until wilted. Season well.

Ajvar

4 red peppers
1 aubergine
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper

1 Heat a griddle pan (or grill) until hot. Add the peppers and grill on each side until charred all over. Remove and put in a bowl. Cover with clingfilm.

2 Prick the aubergine all over with a fork, and grill on the griddle until charred all over. When the aubergine is soft, remove from the grill.

3 Remove the skin and seeds from the peppers. Skin the aubergine and put its flesh in a food processor with the garlic. Blitz until smooth.

4 Add the peppers to the food processor and pulse until combined, but still a little chunky. Season and stir in the paprika and vinegar to taste.

Kitchen Countdown

3 hours before

  • Make the ajvar

2 hours 30 minutes

  • Boil the cabbage leaves and cook the mushrooms. Allow to cool

2 hours

  • Make cabbage filling and fill the cabbage leaves

1 hour 45 minutes

  • Put in the oven

1 hour

  • Make the blitva

15 minutes

  • Remove the cabbage rolls from the oven and allow to rest

10 minutes

  • Reheat the chard and potatoes gently

The Guardian

and


Henry Dimbleby is co-founder of the natural fast-food restaurant chain Leon @HenryDimbleby. Jane Baxter is a chef and food writer based in Devon @baxcooka



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