Many people assume that Balkan cuisine is simply roast meat in one shape or another and that qebapi is a major food group. People not from the Balkans don’t realize that this region is a plethora of year round vegetables and fruits and that many local traditions embrace this.
One is Sveti Nikola Slava (Saint Nicholas celebration), the Zimska Slava (winter celebration) which is primarily vegan outside of the fish-the only animal product eaten during the festival for Orthodox believers. In Kosovo this is a Serbian celebration, while in Albania there is a large population of Orthodox Albanians who also participate. At these dinners you can really enjoy the winter produce and the creativity that goes into cooking a mostly vegan feast with traditional Balkan flavors. You’ll never see a Balkan celebration without baklava and before I came here I would’ve never thought of Baklava as vegan.
After truly indulging myself at the Kosovo slava I was invited to, I was inspired to try pushing the boat out with a few vegan festive dishes of my own with, of course, local produce.
First I tried a roasted head of cauliflower. I’ve been reading about this but was wary of it since I’m not the biggest cauliflower lover. However, after giving it a few goes, as most things, it depends on how well you season it and that you get a very fresh cauliflower. This is a simple dish to make but functions well as a side or a centerpiece. The key is to boil it or even caramelize it before roasting and not to over roast otherwise it becomes mush.
Second, was an excellent dish straight from the slava: Pitë od Kupus or little cabbage pies. Crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the key here is not to succumb to the temptation of over stuffing each pie. These are small parcels about the size of your palm and not too thick. This an addictive dish made in mere moments which means you’ll be eating a lot of it.
I used Asian flavors for this recipe and I used them liberally. Cauliflower absorbs flavor so once you have the seasonings the way you like it this is very easy to make quickly. This is not so much a recipe as a technique.
Roasted Whole Head of Cauliflower
1 Head of Cauliflower
Season with Oyster sauce, Soy sauce, salt and pepper
1 hot pepper
Fresh chopped ginger
Boil or even caramelize (gently brown on the stove) the cauliflower first. If you choose to boil it make sure not cook it so long it becomes mush. Just let it rise to the boil and cook for a few minutes to soften. Then season with all of the ingredients chopping the hot pepper and fresh ginger and tucking them within the cauliflower. You can even let it sit for a bit to marinate before putting into the oven Roast on 180C for about 45 minutes or until brown on top and soft but not mushy in the middle. Your time will vary with the size of the vegetable you use.
Pitë od Kupus or Cabbage pies
These are small, possibly only three bites of crunch then soft cabbage in the middle. These were made for me with little spice other than a bit of salt. And again, less a recipe than technique.
You can cook your cabbage anyway you like: steamed, boiled, pickled etc… Just make sure the moisture is squeezed out of it before wrapping in filo sheets. Don’t over stuff! just a a small grab full of chopped cabbage so that the pies are more on the skinny than fat side. Your indulgence is when you eat them all not how fat they are. Brush with olive oil, brush the whole pie all around, put into a roasting pan and place in an oven on 200C for 20 minutes or until crisp.