A Balkan treat: ćevapčići

I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb by saying that our neighbors to the south, Serbs and Bosnian- Herzegovinians, are some of the best grillers of meat I have come across in Europe. Walk down the streets of Belgrade or Sarajevo and you will easily pick up the scent of charcoal smoke and grilling meats. One of the kings of Balkan street food is ćevapčići, or just ćevapi, which can be best described as a skinless sausage. A mixture of ground beef, lamb, veal and/or pork … well, not so much pork in Sarajevo … is combined with spices then either hand-formed or pushed through a funnel to make ćevapi. Grilled over charcoal, the sausages are served in, or next to, a warm flat-bread (lepinjflatbreadopped onions and ajvar, an equally tasty roasted red pepper and eggplant condiment.

In downtown Belgrade there is “Nišlija” grill, which is basically a window with a grill behind it. You will never see this place without a line of at least three people. I’ve been told by a Belgradian friend that they grill around 1,000 kilograms of meat each day; not too difficult when your Pljeskavica (hamburger) is the size of a small plate. My absolute favorite there is the Niski ćevapi, basically a 30-centimeter-long ćevapi in a hotdog bun. If you find yourself in Belgrade, even for just a few hours, this is the grill to seek out, but honestly, I have never been disappointed by ćevapčići anywhere in the Balkans.

Ingredients

  • 500 g ground pork (30% fat) – ask the butcher to grind some tarja, then deal with the dirty looks when you ask for a second grinding
  • 500 g ground beef – (same, grind twice)
    ****Yes, you can substitute pre-ground pork-beef meat available at Spar/Auchan (I would skip Tesco since it is usually quite “chewy” … not in a good way).
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ onion, finely grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (this will help with the browning)
  • salt

Steps

  • Mix all the dry ingredients
  • Add all the ingredients into a large bowl and combine. Let sit for at least 20-30 minutes.
  • Form meat into pieces as thick as your thumb but as long as your index finger
  • Grill over medium heat until done (will feel firm, yet springy to the touch)
  • Serve with chopped onions and ajvar with nice chewy bread such as ciabatta or sourdough bread.

Bonus

While looking for a great pork-beef recipe I came across one for chicken cevapi from a Croatian site. I was sceptical but since I was already sitting on a package of uncooked boneless chicken thighs I thought I’d give it a try. The family was quite pleased with the results.

Ingredients

  • 0.8 kg boneless. skinless chicken thighs (cleaned of any hard stuff but keep all the fat)
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 3 sprigs finely chopped fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoons dry)
  • Black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Half of a yellow or red onion – grated
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon vegeta
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Steps

  • Clean chicken of the gristle, cartilage and bone. Keep all fat. Cut into smaller chunks that will fit through your grinder. Chill meat in freezer for about 20-30minutes to make it easier to grind.
  • Pass meat through grinder, then mix everything in a bowl. Chill for 30 minutes.
  • Form meat into pieces as thick as your thumb but as long as your index finger.
  • Grill over medium heat until done (will feel firm, yet springy to the touch).
  • Serve with chopped onions and ajvar with nice chewy bread such as ciabatta or sourdough bread.