Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Micro-Blitva Recipe: How to Cook Vegetables Dalmatian-Style

On Croatia's Dalmatia Coast, it seems nearly all vegetables are cooked in the exact same way.

Step #1. Skin & chop potatoes into bite-sized chunks
Step #2. Put into pot with the "main" vegetable you are cooking, along with some salted water.
Step #4. Boil until done.
Step #5. Then, boil some more.
Step #6. Stir in fresh chopped garlic and dollops of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Yes, the potatoes are added NO MATTER WHAT VEGETABLE YOU ARE ACTUALLY COOKING. Peas, cabbage, small artichokes, you name it. The cooking time is then determined by how long it takes for the potatoes to get mushy. Or possibly longer. If you are someone who likes fresh vegetables, especially picked ripe from a Dalmatian's home garden (and everybody with a tiny plot of land has a veggie garden), this cooking style can be a crushing blow when you first encounter it.

Everything is mushy, everything tastes the same, and really it could have come from a can.

There's just one vegetable that shines given this treatment, and that is blitva. In the US blitva is called Swiss Chard and is often sold, for astounding prices, in the "gourmet veggies" section of your grocer with red stems. In Dalmatia, a white-stemmed version is in everyone's garden. You can grow it year-round, even in the chilly winter months, and harvest it by snipping off leaf by leaf as needed, leaving the main plant to carry on until it finally sprouts loads of seeds for the next generation. When planted, the seeds sprout very quickly and even idiots can grow them.

Blitva tastes unbelievably good when prepared the Dalmatian way, although being a feckless American I boil it for about 1/10th of the time my Dalmatian mother-in-law does. And last night I discovered, quite by accident, a way to make it taste even better. Micro-blitva! This does not involve the microwave, but rather little, tiny, baby blitva plants. You wind up with buckets of these when your husband seeds enormous expanses of your home garden with blitva, using far more seed than is needed because there's such a huge jar left from last year's plants and he can't bear to see any go to waste. So, two weeks later, you go out and get a nice suntan while pricking out all the extra seedlings so as to give the rest room to grow properly.

Baby blitva cooks in about 20 seconds, so you'll want to boil your potatoes (I cut them into teensy chunks for this) ahead of time and then just slip the blitva in at the end. Instead of olive oil I seasoned with butter along with finely chopped garlic. Incredible. I can see the future in my crystal ball -- lots and lots of baby blitva growing in our sunny windows and coldframes for picking fresh all winter long!


Lisa Petrarca said...

I'll have to try it! I guess my heritage comes through in my cooking because this is how I cook everything too, with the exception of asparagus.

I drizzle olive oil, add salt & pepper & bake @ 350 degrees for 20-30 min. My family goes crazy for it!

Anonymous said...

I agree, there's nothing like beautiful fresh zucchini boiled beyond recognition - and I truly love blitva prepared Dalmatian-style. But the olive oil where I am in Dalmatia is so amazing, it would be a crime to use butter!