The Essential Fairy is the latest tale from Anna Kenna, about a young girl…
It began with an old family recipe book, the fading ink holding on to history. The pages are filled with recipes that have travelled from one side of the world to the other. My Croatian Kitchen is not only a cookbook filled with fresh and wholesome recipes (such as the zingy and summery fried capsicum salad featured below), but celebrates family, and nourishment for the soul which transcends oceans and generations.
There is a small village, on the tip of an island, surrounded by the Adriatic. On the other side of the island, is a tourist haven, beachside bars scattered everywhere, super yachts loom in the harbour. But where I’m standing- on my end- is peace and quiet. A murmur of a village, the slow and lingering breaking of water on pebbles and the smell of lunch being prepared. Quite the opposite really.
I lug my suitcases off the Jadrolinija (Croatian ferry) weaving through cars so tightly packed bumper to bumper. I step off the boat, welcomed by the array of kiosks selling the same things as they did three years ago, familiar faces taking a minute to recognise me.
Like I have lived here my whole life, I take the back alleys of the village to a gravel track that leads straight home. The wheels of my suitcase act as a doorbell as I come through the gates.
I don’t know why I was surprised to find not only my grandparents, but my great aunty and uncle, another uncle, a cousin and the neighbours pop out from behind the grape vines on the deck. Like I said earlier, it may be the less tourist riddled side of the island, but my family alone certainly does not make it any quieter.
I’m welcomed by fresh Krafne (jam or chocolate filled donuts) that Baba had beat the morning rush to pick up, and coffee so strong it could wake the dead. Breakfast, or doručak, is never rushed; a takeaway coffee cup would be a sin. Instead we sit and talk, taking in the first flavours of the morning.
Lunch is prepared straight after the dishes are done from breakfast. The sweet smell of freshly made olive oil as it warms lingering throughout the kitchen, signaling our chance to go for a swim before lunch is served. Upon our return, an unfussy tablescape full of flavour. Lunch is the biggest meal of the Croatian day, a chance to come together and share food. Lunch is often an affair that takes a few hours, and never complete without another coffee and delicate sweet treats.
As if someone were to press pause on life, the afternoon is the time where the village sleeps. As the mid-summer heat dies off, and the sun starts to go down, the village comes back to life. Dinner is often small, or leftovers from a big lunch. And finally, the night goes on seeing friends or family, chatting until the first person calls bedtime.
I wasn’t born there. I haven’t even spent half my life there. But every time I step off the Jadrolinija my body relaxes and I feel at home. The azure waters juxtaposed with the rugged mountains of the mainland feel like they’re part of my biological makeup. Auckland is where I live, it’s where my house is, it’s where my whole life is. But half way across the world, on the tip of a small island in the Adriatic is what I call home.
Enjoy this recipe from My Croatian Kitchen
Frigane Paprike na Salutu (Fried Capsicum Salad)
Sweet and succulent capsicums meet tangy vinegar and bold olive oil to create the ultimate side dish to any fresh summer meal.
16-20 capsicums/peppers (red, yellow & orange)
4-6 Garlic cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp malt or balsamic vinegar
TIP: This salad can be prepared in advance as it can keep in the fridge for a week or so and is more flavoursome on day 2 or 3 of being prepared as flavours become more intense.
Place whole peppers in two large covered fry pans or stock pots with olive oil generously covering the base.
Fry the peppers on high heat, once vigorous frying begins, turn down to a moderate heat. Have pot lids partially covering the peppers. Turn peppers frequently to ensure all sides are cooked through. Peppers will have some charring but ensure heat is low enough to cook the peppers. This takes 20-30 minutes.
Once peppers are softened and sautéed, prick each with a fork. Fry for a further 5 minutes with the lid partially covering. Set aside ensuring the lid fully covers the pot or fry pan to allow the juices from the peppers to be released.
Place vinegars, salt and pepper in a shaker or jar and shake well. Finely chop the garlic. Quantities of vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper can be modified to suit. Arrange peppers into serving dishes and sprinkle with chopped garlic. Pour over the vinegar, salt and black pepper mixture.
From the pans or pots, pour over the olive oil and liquids from the peppers. If there is excess oil, ensure the darker liquid from the peppers is maximised by removing it from the oil pouring it on to the peppers and then adding the oil according to taste. Peppers should be 3/4 covered in the oil/vinegar allowing further infusion of flavours.