Octopus Salad and Croatia

I was going to post this recipe earlier – before the summer holiday season started – and to write about my trip to Croatia in 2017, esp. about Croatian wine…. Oh well, the summer is still going on and the salad is perfect for hot days. As for the wine, which shall follow later on, the information would be of help to the future visitors, anyway.

Dubrovnik, July 2017

Last year on Hvar Island, I had scrumptious salad as I mentioned on Sardine Escabeche and Croatia.

Hvar, July 2017

This is the Salata od Hobotnice, or Dalmatian octopus salad.

Salata od Hobotnice @ Konoba Menego

The restaurant staff wouldn’t tell me the recipe (of course!), so I imitated it adding my own taste.

 

Ingredients

(for 3-4 servings as appetiser)

200 g boiled octopus*, cut into pieces
200 g tinned chickpea, drained and rinsed
160 g cherry tomato, halved or quartered
100 g cucumber, diced
100 g red onion, thinly sliced
1-1½ tbsp caper (preserved in vinegar), drained well and patted dry
1 tsp garlic clove, minced
3 tbsp white wine vinegar (I used acidity 6%)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1-1½ tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 dried bay leaf, crushed into small pieces
¼ tsp dried mint flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

½-1 lemon, cut into wedges
(optional: extra-virgin oil and flat-leaf parsley, to garnish)

Note: * See the bottom of this blog post.

 

Method

  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients (First, add 1 tbsp of the capers and the parsley, and add more if necessary.) except the lemon, and mix well.
  2. Chill in fridge for 30-60 minutes.
  3. Drain well and put in plates with the lemon wedges, and garnish with the parsley. At table, squeeze lemon juice over the salad, and drizzle olive oil over if desired. Bon appétit!

 

my cooking whilst in Dubrovnik: mussels from Gruž Market cooked in Pošip (Croatian white grape variety) wine

I should have paired Pošip wine with the Salata od Hobotnice!

 


How to prepare and cook octopus

How to prepare and make boiled octopus

How to cook a tender octopus

If you preder to make it tender like tako for sushi, massage fresh raw octopus with handfuls of natural sea salt as Jiro mentions in Jiro Dreams of Sushi (c. 1:10-2:00).

 

How to prepare and cook tako sashimi on You Tube

Maybe massaging for 15-30 minutes should be fine, and then rinse well under running water. Boil water in a medium pan, add the octopus with some salt and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Stick skewer through thickest part of a tentacle. When the point goes through without finding rubbery resistance, it’s done. Put the octopus into a bowl of ice-cold water and drain once cool.

 


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Sardine Escabeche and Croatia

The Nanbanzuke recipe I posted earlier this month intended to allude this Sardine Escabeche recipe.

I came across savur, a.k.a. ‘savor’ or ‘saor’, Croatian escabeche when I was making  my ‘To-Eat in Croatia’ list picking out the local dishes from Taste of Croatia. It describes savur that ‘Traditional way of preparing and preserving fish, usually sardines and anchovies, that is very popular in regions where ancient Venetian republic ruled but very similar recipe can be found even in distant Japan’, which attracted my interest on the propagation: the Portuguese  or Spanish dish was passed on eastward – e.g. to the Mediterranean regions, Philippines, Japan etc. as I mentioned on the Nanbanzuke  post (also spread westward to their colonies in the new continent as well, though).

Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to try escabeche in Croatia, so I made it myself referencing a recipe on the web and adding some changes.

Ingredients

(for 2 servings)

6 butterflied sardine fillet
salt and pepper
15 g plain flour
15 g  cornstarch
50 ml olive oil, to shallow fry

[Marinade]
100 ml water
75 ml white wine vinegar (acidity 6%)
60 ml white wine (I used medium bodied Riesling)
½ tsp caster sugar
60 g red onion, finely sliced
30 g carrot, julienned
30 g celery, julienned
3 small sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed and chopped
½ tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1 dried bay leaf
fresh rosemary springs
fresh sage leaves
1 tbsp juice of fresh lemon

extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
sweet paprika, to garnish (optional)
celery leaf or flat leaf parsley, to garnish (optional)

Method

  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper, and lightly dust with a mix of the flour and starch. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry over medium heat, skin-side down until lightly brown and drain excess oil. Set them aside in a wide non-reactive tray.
  2. Place the celery, carrot, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, bay leaf, rosemary, sage, fennel seeds, sugar, vinegar, water and wine in a non-reactive saucepan, bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, and pour over the fish. Set aside to cool completely, and scatter the lemon juice before place in a fridge. Leave for at least 2 hours or overnight to marinate.
  3. On a platter, top with sardines, garnish with the paprika and green leaves, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil when serve.

I tried as many dishes as I listed whilst in Croatia this summer and learnt that Croatian cuisine has received influences from neibouring cultures and the countries ruled the territory of Croatia throughout history. It has similarities with Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish etc., but each region has its own distinct culinary traditions. I stayed mostly in Split and Dubrovnik, the coastal Croatia, and enjoyed lots of seafood cooked in traditional Dalmatian way.

Seafood Dishes

Brudet: fish soup served with polenta
Gulaš od Hobotnice: octopus stew
Škampi na Buzaru or ‘Skampi Buzara‘ @ Villa Spiza in Split – this place is getting very popular and takes no reservations. Go earlier to avoid the long queue, prob. by 7.00 pm at latest.
Crni Rižoto: black cuttlefish risotto @ Amfora near Gruž Port in Dubrovnik – loved the wild fennel adittion! Their Miso Fish Soup and Chilled Fennel Cream Soup looked nice.

Meat Dishes

Pašticada, so called ‘Queen of Dalmatian Cuisine’, served with potato gnocchi – meat dish but one of the most popular Dalmatian dishes.

I tried Ćevapčići in Bosnia Herzegovina where it is considered a national dish. Ćevapi or Ćevapčići is well known and eaten in all parts of the former Yugoslavia once under the Ottoman Empire. Next time Dubrovnik, I will try Taj Mahal (funny, it’s not an Indian restaurant!) near Lapad, not in the Old Town, to explore more about Bosnian food. Sofra in Zagreb was pretty good.

‘National Plate’ @ Sadrvan in Mostar – dolma, japrak, ćevapčići, lepinja, ajvar, đuveč, Bosanski Kolacic

Those I mentioned above were all nice, however, what I enjoyed more was the food cooked with bare minimum of seasoning and really brings out the full original flavour of ingredients.

grilled trout @ Plitvice Lakes

The octopus salad at Konoba Menego on Hvar Island is highly recommended. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, especially the caper! They don’t sell their homemade capers, unfortunately…. Instead, they advised me to find ones preserved in vinegar at farmers’ market. Their cheese and dry-cured ham platter looked yum.

octopus salad @ Konoba Menego

In Dalmatia, fresh seafood grilled over open flame is superb. It is simple, but tastes different as it is cooked with fresh olive oil and Mediterranean herbs over olive tree or grapevine wood fire, which gives it deep flavour. So the grilled meat and vegetables are flavourful, too.

grilled sea bass @ Miličić Winery

Lady Pi-Pi, one of MUST places in Dubronik, offers delicious BBQ food at reasonable price considering to the location (within the Wall), a great view over the Old Town and good atmosphere under the grape trellis. They don’t accept reservations, so I avoided dinner time and dropped in just before lunch time (breakfast is served until 11:00). I had to wait a bit for a table to be ready, but there wasn’t a queue.

left: my lunch – grilled squid @ Lady Pi-Pi

You absolutely must try peka while in Dalmatia! Peka is a slowly baked dish with meat or seafood along with vegetables in a pot or tray, but it is actually a method of cooking, and also a dome or bell-shaped ceramic or metal lid. The dish is also called ispod čripnje, or ‘under the bell’ – food cooked under the bell-shaped lid in fireplace.

dome-shaped peka -(souce: Travels with Tricia)

The lid is covered with hot coals while the ingredients are being slowly cooked in their own juices under the ‘bell’. That is why they are moist and flavoursome. It is said that it probably is the oldest way of food preparation in the Adriatic, even Mediterranean area – according to some archaeological researches, the artifacts of peka was found in the layers of Bronze Age.

It may be a primitive way of cooking, but the result is more than satisfying!! Even the potatoes accompanied by were moreish!

fireplace for peka @ Miličić Winery

I wish I could have joined sunset tuk tuk tour followed by dinner at Konoba Dubrava, one of the most popular peka places in Dubrovnik! Unfortunately, it was not available for just one person…. Anyway, I had a chance to try some, which was divine!

peka @ Miličić Winery

Some locals I met while in Dubrovnik dreamily said octopus peka is scrumptious and much tastier than meat one. It was too late to notice some restaurants near Polače Port in Mljet serve octopus peka – little time was left until departure back to Dubrovnik…. Peka usually needs to be ordered in advance and takes some time to be prepared. Stop by and ask restaurant staff before you visit the Mljet National Park if you make a day trip to the island.

octopus peka (source: Croatia Travel Guide & Blog)

In Dubrovnik, I rented a holiday apartment halfway between the Old Town and Gruž Port – less expensive and much quieter than staying inside the Wall. There are very frequent bus services to/from the centre until late, however, it was just about 20 minute walk and very safe even at night. I sometimes walked down for a glass of wine or a scoop of ice cream enjoying cool evening air after dinner at the apartment.

There are fish and green markets near the port, where I popped in almost every day to get some fresh fruits for breakfast, and vegetables etc. for my cooking. I cannot recall well, but I think the mussels were about 15-20 kunas per 1kg.

my cooking: mussels cooked in Pošip (Croatian white grape variety) wine
Also made my lemony pasta with ricotta filled raviori instead of adding the cheese (click here for the recipe)

Dalmatian cheese and dry-cured ham also are a must, which I shall mention when I write about Croatian wines.

Croatia 2017 – Digest

I had never travelled to any seaside resorts during the peak season, so I was really amazed!! and learnt how Europeans (and others) spend their vacance, which was a good anthropological study 😀

Although fed up with the crowds (and prices!), I had a wonderful time in Croatia – enjoyed stunning views, encounters, swimming, sunbathing… and food + wine, of course!!

Before departure, I had asked one of my blogger friends for some tips.
Thank you, Martina on Crunch Crunch Away! !

 

Plitvice Lakes National Park

I advise you to take Entrance 2, not 1 if you visit the park in the high season, otherwise you would waste more than one hour to go through the entrance like I did.

 

Split

I recommend the views over Split from the Marjan Park rather than from the Bell Tower of Saint Domnius – I am fearful of heights!!

View from Marjan Hill

Trogir

Half day trip from Split by boat and local bus on my way back

Omiš

Half day trip from Split by local bus (I’d love to try rafting in the river next time. )

Three island hopping by speedboat:

I was really looking forward to seeing the Blue and Green Caves. I waited for the tour while in Split, however, all were cancelled because of strong winds. As a Marphy’s Law, it went back to normal on the very day I left the city  😦

Heading to Milna for morning coffee – Brač Island (Try Milna Pekara for nice local bread.)
Paklinski Islands or Devil’s Islands
One of the highlights of my trip – Hvar Habour and Paklinski Islands from Spanjola Fortress

 

Dubrovnik

Lots of unexpected things happened in Split almost ruined my holiday but, thank goodness, Dubrovnik saved me!

To avoid (human) traffic jam on the Ancient City Walls and the long queue for the cable car, stroll early in the morning, then head to the top of Srđ Mountain!

Mostar 

Joined a tour group from Dubrovnik and visited Mostar.

‘The historic town of Mostar, spanning a deep valley of the Neretva River, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town and during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mostar has long been known for its old Turkish houses and Old Bridge, Stari Most, after which it is named. In the 1990s conflict, however, most of the historic town and the Old Bridge, designed by the renowned architect Sinan, was destroyed. The Old Bridge was recently rebuilt and many of the edifices in the Old Town have been restored or rebuilt with the contribution of an international scientific committee established by UNESCO. The Old Bridge area, with its pre-Ottoman, eastern Ottoman, Mediterranean and western European architectural features, is an outstanding example of a multicultural urban settlement. The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar is a symbol of reconciliation, international co-operation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.’    (source: UNESCO website)

View from the Minaret of Koski Mehmed Pašha Mosque –  Stari Most after reconstruction completed in 2008. On the way to Mostar, I saw some remains of buildings destroyed during the Bosnian War.
He is collecting 25 euros from passersby to jump…
into the river from the Old Bridge, about 25 metres high above water level.

If you plan to visit this pretty old town or Montenegro with a guided tour from Dubrovnik, choose one in a mini van or/on weekdays, otherwise it would take really long – 6 hours in the high season – to clear the border(s).

Mljet 

Last but not least, Mljet is the best highlight of my trip. I didn’t see Odysseus Cave, but the national park was marvelous enough to satisfy me. Walking around the salt lakes, dived into the water whenever/wherever I wanted. I highly recommend the small lake where the waves were calmer, the water looked more emerald green and there were few tourists. I loved the tranquility and calmness floating on the gentle waves. It was so peaceful and soothing, which brought me back to childhood as I brought up by the sea, that I almost fell asleep!!

Benedictine monastery on the Isle of St Mary in the middle of Veliko Jezero (the Great Lake)

My photos cannot describe the beauty enough, so I uploaded below:

About 1.5 hour ferry boat trip from Gruž Port, Dubrovnik to Polače, Mljet (140 kn for return). The entrance fee to the  Mljet National Park is 125 kn (incl. bus and boat fares in the park), but worthwhile paying.

Mljet National Park
Timetable: Gruz – Mljet

 

Lessons learned :

Next time on, I will avoid travelling in high season (and the places Game of Thrones were filmed – is it the reason why Isle of Skye was full of tourists last year? Nay, it’s not the filming location, isn’t it?). And next time in Dalmatia, to keep away from the major towns/cities and stay in a smaller and quieter village or island.

 

Anyway, my culinary adventure stories shall follow.