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Thursday, 14 November 2013

What's Up With Those Croatian Stuffed Peppers Anyway? (Punjene Paprike)...







Stuffed Peppers are a hearty dish, of mince meat and rice. Typically served with mashed potato or sometimes rice. (Stuffed Peppers are called "Punjene Paprike" in Croatian).






This is just a quick copy/paste from a website I came across recently. Someone asked me the other day that question again......"What is Croatian food like?"  Then I realized I haven't done a Croatian food related post in well over a year. So it's as good a time now as any. Croatian food can't get much more traditional than punjene paprike. (Pronounced: Poon-yen-eh Pop-rikeh)  Everybody's grandmother's great grandmother's cousins grandmother have been making this for ages, since Croatians first discovered fire and had pots and pans. Italians have spaghetti, Poles have perogies, Germans have bratwurst, Russians have their pelmeni, Swedes have their Swedish meatballs, etc and so on. This is the stuff I grew up on, and when you eat it you will automatically and instantly turn into a Croatian soccer/nogomet player. (It will make your dick strong and able to perform all night, then be able to lift weights in the morning using just your dick muscles, you'll be able to hammer nails with your dick all the while eating more heaping forkfuls of punjene paprike at the same time). I highly recommend it come the colder winter months because it hits the spot just right. When it hits about -30 outside then it's especially time to make punjene paprike, although when it's a hot 30 degrees in the shade, that's a good time too. (I have some good punjene paprike stories, here's a tip, don't go play soccer a half hour after eating a bunch of punjene paprike and lots of mashed potatoes)

"Punjenje Paprike" are very common, and popular, and like a lot of the great tasting traditional recipes, originally started out as peasant food, (This is the case with a lot of great recipes and dishes, using just readily available ingredients found nearby)...so you know people way back then on the farms and in villages weren't eating too bad at all. (These days people pay a good price for some authentic home-made style punjene paprike). The ingredients are plentiful and easy to grow or find and the recipe is not complicated at all, and the basic recipe has not changed in centuries. Croatia isn't a big country, but it's known for it's regional gastronomy, as well as topography. Stuffed peppers would be very common over the centuries in the countryside of the more northern continental parts, especially around the capital of Zagreb. Coastal areas will obviously eat more fish, shrimp, (škampi na buzara is popular) crab, mussels, oysters and basically various seafood, also more olives, rice and also pasta, and different local cheeses. (there's not many lobsters or shrimp in the rivers in more northern and eastern parts, referred ta as Pannonian or just Continental Croatia). Back then you would eat more of this kind of stuff, stews, stews, cušpajz, roasted meats (pečenka), gulaš, sausages, (lots of different kinds of sausages) ham, different kinds of cold cuts, various smoked meats, definitely more cabbage and potatoes, various other cheeses etc. Each region is also known for their local baked and pastry creations. Croatia has a long, at least a 1500 year history of maritime cuisine since first arriving to ancient Dalmatia, so naturally some of the dishes will be similar to Italian dishes, catching the same seafood from the same sea, same locally grown ingredients. Also, because we were a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for centuries, there were gastronomical influences there as well, back and forth. Plenty of paprika, pork, lamb and beef used in the northern Slavonia region dishes. (For history buff types who had no clue that we've been eating shrimp and oysters for that long a time, see Here)

Anyway, the below version is pretty standard. Stuffed cabbage/cabbage rolls (sarma) are pretty standard too, and you can even use the same filling. For those you can choose plain cabbage leafs, or the pickled sour kind. I prefer the large sour cabbage leafs because I like them big and with a bit of zing to them. (Those puny store bought meat-like ingredient filled cabbage rolls with the frozen tomato soup on them make me laugh, all perfectly lined up and all looking exactly the same size, shape and colour) My parents would pickle and even make their own sour cabbage specifically for cabbage rolls/saukraut)  Mashed potatoes are pretty standard too with punjene paprike, but there are various ways to change it up, the flavourable sauce (or gravy if you prefer to call it) that is made during the cooking process is what really gives it flavour too. Another good side to go with the stuffed peppers are žganci, or commonly known today as palenta/pura. Throwing in some diced špek/slanina (smoked and cured ham/bacon) into the filling is sometimes done for the non-vegetarian types, or even some shredded cabbage. Heck, you can throw in some diced špek into the potatoes if you want, put some even in your salad or on your dessert if you want, I don't care. You can cheese them up after also. Wine is absolutely mandatory while eating punjene paprike. (Remember to keep a loaded weapon close by while cooking, when people try to come in because they can smell the punjene paprike, a few warning shots at their forehead and whizzing by their ears should be enough to make them change their mind to go home and make their own batch of peppery flavorable meaty goodness). Afterwards, I would recommend having some Knedle sa šljivama (plum dumplings) again, with more wine which is mandatory. You haven't lived yet until you've had some of those that are freshly made and still warm. Now, some people aren't going to like punjene paprike. For instance, vegans are not going to be fans of stuffed peppers, but you can't please everyone, different people have different gastronomical preferences.(Tupac, Biggie and other dead rappers?...they were big anti-punjene paprike people...You know, if they would have ate more home made punjene paprike at home, they'd still probably be here, healthier,.. grillin' the booty bitches, poppin' the fashizzle on the caps at the club more often, dissin' the swaggerin' poopy fucko doop dawgs in the blingin' nikeys in tha southside...etc and so on)  Anyway, if you're not sure about attempting to make a big batch of stuffed peppers just quite yet, especially if you're not familiar around the kitchen and the ingredients, then I highly recommend doing some practice "Punjene Paprike" HERE. Here's more info about Croatian cuisine. Some previous food related posts below also.........






*Btw, Natasha Crnjac, (above) who learned how to cook from her Croatian father, just this past season was runner-up on the American television version series of "Masterchef" on  FOX network. I also updated this post after the fact with an interesting story at the bottom.....



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Stuffed Peppers (Punjene Paprike) Croatian Cooking





Source: www.chasingthedonkey.com

Related: www.coolinarika.com



Today's expat adventures in cooking, is where I tell you to get stuffed… whoops I mean get stuffing. There are loads of stuffed vegetables that you’ll see dished up here in Croatia. Today you’re being served stuffed peppers or for my Aussie readers, stuffed capsicums.





You’ll find stuffed peppers on offer in Croatia as soon as the peppers are ripe 





In our case, the vegetable garden politely made some available for picking early July.

Every Croatian I know has their own variation on this recipe, and they of course all claim that their way is the best way to makes them. Also, I have come to notice of my years of being in a Croat family that, people have different ways of eating them. Here the the 3 ways that I have identified.


Scoop

Scoop out the stuffing and leave behind the pepper. This to me is such a waste as the pepper becomes so soft and sweet during the cooking process.


Slice

You can slice the Pepper into sections as I do, taking turns to add some mashed potato and sauce with each mouthful.


Mash

The most popular way I have seen stuffed peppers eaten is to mash the entire plate, peppers, potatoes, sauce and all into a mushy mess. This way you can shovel the contents much more quickly into your mouth.





Supplementary information  stuffed peppers became especially popular since the 17th century because during the Ottoman Muslim jihads into Europe, many areas near the front lines at times  didn't have anything but peppers available. So early Croatian soldiers food became more popular later in other places. Different kinds of peppers can be used and the filling can also include rice.





I first made stuffed peppers after my Mother-in-Law gave me a cookbook of Croatian Cooking for Christmas, and over the years I have added to and changed up the recipe to my taste.





If you’re going to make them, here are some tips in advance from my kitchen to yours:





These are even better to eat after a few hours or even the next day. I suggest you make these up on a Sunday and then you can enjoy them after a hard day at the office.

If you’re like me and love the flavour of smoked bones, throw some into the pot when you pour in the sauce. Ask your butcher to freshly mince your meat for you – you’ll really taste the difference.

Use a mix of yellow, red or green capsicums. It always looks so nice to see the different colours on the plate. Dig out from the back of your cupboard the largest saucepan you can find. If you don’t have one I suggest you borrow one from your neighbour. In return offer them a pepper and you’ll be friends for life. The wider the pot, the better. That way you won’t need to pile them on top of one another and they’ll be less likely to split and break.


Here is my recipe:

Take 8-10 medium sized peppers, and carefully cut out the top and set aside the as you’ll use this as a lid for the pepper later. Scoop out the insides be sure to remove all of the seeds and any stringy pieces. Wash the lids and peppers and allow them to dry upside down on paper towel while you make the stuffing.

To make the stuffing, add the following ingredients into a large bowl, and use your hands to lightly mix until combined. Make sure the bowl is big enough for you to be able to use your hands to mix it well without spilling it all over the floor (trust me, it happens).



  • 1kg of mince. I prefer 1/2 veal and 1/2 beef
  • A generous pinch of salt and as much pepper as you like
  • 1 tablespoon of smoked ground paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of hot ground paprika (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of mixed dried herbs (optional)
  • 1 cup of uncooked rice
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons of soda water or a pinch of bicarbonate soda
  • 2 large cloves of chopped fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup of freshly chopped parsley (I sometimes finely dice up the smaller stems too)
  • 200 grams of any finely diced speck. You can cut this back if you do not like too much of a smokey flavour.



Flip the peppers over and fill them with the stuffing until they are almost full. But do not over fill them. The rice expands during cooking and they’ll burst leaving you a hideous mess in your saucepan. Leave the lids off for the moment.

Arrange the stuffed peppers in the saucepan. It’s better if they are gently packed in so they don’t flip over and don’t squeeze them in so tight, as they’ll bust open when they expand. This may take you you several minutes to do, but trust me it is well worth it at the end when your peppers are not split open.

Add in 2 bay leaves and a stick of celery. No need to chop this, as it’s just for flavour. Set aside, while you make the sauce.


In a separate saucepan on medium heat add

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • And fry 1 finely diced medium onion

Once onions are transparent, add in

  • 2 tablespoons of flour and fry until light brown.

 Add into the pan

  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 2 litres of home made stock (or water) along with a
  • Pinch of Vegeta and add salt and pepper to your taste



Stir continuously, until the sauce comes to the boil. Turn off and slowly pour over your peppers. Be sure to pour the sauce over each pepper as well as around each one. The sauce should cover the peppers. If it doesn’t, and this can happen, just add in a little more stock or water. If you are adding in smoked bones, pop them in now.

Place the top of the pepper back on, it acts like a mini lid. If you didn’t keep it, it’s okay, nothing bad will happen.

Shake the saucepan just a little, you want to be sure that the sauce is evenly spread. Bring to the boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer. Cook for approx 2 hours, occasionally shaking the saucepan. This is important to keep the sauce evenly spread and to stop the peppers from sticking and burning. Add in more water as they cook if you need.

Once ready, allow them to cool a little. They’ll taste better if you can resist temptation. Serve with mashed potato or rice – and if you don’t manage to eat them all in one sitting, you can keep these in the refrigerator for a few days. I can’t say how many days, as they never last that long in my house.

Here are some other wonderful Croatian cooking recipes you may like.





Another recipe with a similar filling but using zucchini instead. The background music makes you want to play drums with your spoons while stirring, mixing and dicing. Feel free to do so.






These are just typical touristy food related vids, but they give a sneak peak of some other traditional Croatian foods.















Croatian Food on the Menu for Eurocrats




Stuffed peppers a big hit in Brussels





Sources: www.croatiaweek.com

www.vecernji.hr



European Union bureaucrats this week have been enjoying Croatian cuisine this week in the canteen of the European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels…

So what was on the menu for Barroso, Van Rompuy and the rest of the EU staff?

Tuesday: Meat, cabbage

Wednesday: Stuffed peppers (Punjene paprike)

Thursday: Soup, seafood risotto, Fish and blitva (chard), pancakes with chocolate

The stuffed peppers were such a hit that the canteen ran out at 13:00, reports daily Vecernji list.





The Eurocrats in Brussels couldn't get enough of the peppery meaty goodness of them lip-smacking good punjene paprike. (the fucking bastards probably don't even have to even pay for them)






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