Ok, a while ago, almost 8 years ago we went to Croatia for a summer vacation with kids. There were a number of memorable moments, but the very first one was a fast food from this place in Split:
Which I didn’t take the picture of but it’s a pita bread with case-less sausage (sort of like kebob) and Ajvar sauce with fresh onions on top. We of course had to try to make this at home and now 8 years later we have our own version of this dish that I feel is very close to the original. So this recipe makes everything from scratch, including pita and it’s a great for Saturday grill time. I would start the night before though, but it’s ok to do the same day. Here is what you will need:
- 5-6 pounds of Lamb Leg. We usually get ours at Costco
- 5-6 pounds of Pork Belly. Same thing, get yours at Costco. If belly that you get is more fatty than use about 2/3 of 5 pounds.
- 2 Eggs
- 1 tablespoon of Salt
- 2 teaspoons of Ground Cumin
- 2 teaspoons of Smoked Red Hungarian Paprika
- 2 teaspoons of Baking Soda
- 1 teaspoon of Smoked Chili Powder
- 2 medium onions
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of San Pellegrino (or other sparkling water you like)
- 18 Red Peppers. Pick the ones that are dark red, they tend to have more flavor.
- 4 Red Fresno Peppers. They look like Green Chilies but have more smoky flavor.
- 3 Medium Eggplants
- 1/2 cup of Sunflower Oil
- 18 medium garlic cloves. If your cloves are from Giant garlic, reduce the number in half at least
- 1 medium lemon
For Pita Bread:
- 1 lbs of Fage Whole Greek Yogurt
- 1 lbs of White All Purpose Flour
- 1 teaspoon of Salt
- 1 tablespoon of Sunflower Oil
- 1/2 of Sweet Onion
- 1/2 of Cilantro Bunch
Start the night before with the your favorite meat grinder and grind all of your pork belly and lamb, add salt and mix well so it looks evenly distributed:
Next you will grate your onions and add it to the meat:
Followed by garlic:
Next I mix all remaining dry ingredients (cumin, paprika, chili, soda) together and pour that over as well:
And finally crack open two eggs and pour that over as well:
Now mix everything very thoroughly by hand adding sparkling water as you go. The resulted mixture should be smooth and sticky. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge overnight.
Next morning turn on the grill on medium low and put all of your peppers on it and grill them until they look like this:
Take them off to couple of ziploc gallon freezer bags (two should be enough) and let cool for about 30 minutes while you put the Eggplants on the grill. Make sure to cut a hole with a sharp knife in each eggplant otherwise it will/might explode. You will need to grill them on both sides until they are uniformly soft. About 40 minutes or so. Also take them off and put into a ziploc bag and wait until it cools down another 30 minutes. While that is happening, start peeling off skin from already cooled off peppers and removing stalk and seeds. You don’t have to preserve the form, we are going to be putting these into food processor or meat grinder after it’s all done. Couple seeds left over is ok. Make sure you don’t touch your eyes when you remove skin from the Fresno peoppers! After you finished, the eggplants should be cooled down enough, so you can do the same thing, remove the outer skin and only preserve whatever is inside. Some people use spoon to do that, use whatever works for you. Once you done you should have a bowl of ready peppers and eggplants for the trip through the meat grinder or food processor. I prefer the output from the meat grinder vs. food processor because of the texture. You will grind all peppers with eggplants and add 4 cloves of garlic somewhere in between. Put a big stainless steel pan on medium heat add the 1/4 cup of sunflower oil and pour resulting pepper/eggplant and garlic mixture over to the pan, and also add salt to taste:
Cook for about 30-40 minutes constantly mixing to reduce the water content and make the mixture thicker. Somewhere in the middle of cooking process squeeze the juice of one lemon, mix to incorporate and continue cooking until mixture is thick. We usually go through this spread in a week, but if you like to preserve some for later you can seal it in a glass jar and once it’s cooled put it in to the fridge, it will last up-to 3 months:
Now by the time you are done with Ajvar and it’s cooling down on your table you can work on a dough for the pita bread. It’s very easy and straight forward. You mix equal parts by weight of greek yogurt and all purpose flour adding salt and tablespoon of sunflower oil to the mixture. You will need to work with the dough until it’s shaped into a smooth ball. Cover it with plastic and let it rest in the fridge for about 1-2 hours. At this point you are ready with all preliminary preparations!
About one hour before the lunch time pull out the meat mixture from the fridge and set it aside on the counter top. Get the dough for pita as well and cut it into 8 pieces. Using dough roller and a little bit of olive oil (no extra flour, otherwise your pita will be too dry) roll each piece to about 8″-10″ diameter, cover each with plastic wrap and set aside. It’s ok if it’s not perfectly round!
Next you will need to work on your garnish, cut cilantro and sweet onion and mix together in a bowl. This will be used as a garnish later.
Now back to the meat mixture. Turn on your grill to medium and let it warm up to temperature. What you do next with the meat depends on what equipment you like using more. I tried both the pushing out of the plastic bag to make the long sausages or using the ice cream scoop to measure each portion. I prefer the ice cream scoop way and my Cevapcici come out more like meatballs, but they will fit perfect inside of the pita bread that you are about to make!
Find a 12″ pan with a lid, preferably non stick, spray it with a little of olive oil and set on medium low heat. Once it comes up to temperature (about 2 minutes) put the pita that you rolled and have sitting on the counter top and cover with lid. Wait about 4 minutes and open the lid, you should see that it formed a bubble in the middle (or multiple bubbles if you didn’t roll it thin enough). Check if it’s golden brown underneath and flip it on another side and let it sit covered for another 2 minutes. Repeat with 7 other pitas. By the time you are on 4th pita, take your time to go to the grill and put all of your cevapcici on the grill and cover the lid. Because of the fat content in meat mixture (remember we used pork belly) they don’t require extra oil for the creates. They will take about 10 minutes to brown on one side (at least on my grill). By that time you will be on your pita number 6 with 2 more to go. Flip each one on the grill and set the heat to medium low and cover the lid again. In 10 more minutes you will be finishing your last pita and you should see that your grilling is done and you are ready to take them off on a plate and let them rest for about 5 minutes. You are now ready to serve! Unfortunately the picture of ready product didn’t get made, but what you do you slice each pita in half, open it like pocket and put a couple of sliced “meatballs” in, pour over the Ajvar and top it off with onion and cilantro. Croatian street food at your Saturday Grilling Party! And as usual Enjoy!