I knew my trip to Croatia would bring with it an opportunity to taste many of the familiar foods of Eastern Europe that I had come to love. I also knew that I might just get the chance to try my hand at it.I was invited to be a guest in the home of my dear friends in the Village of Bateli located 40 miles from the city of Pula, a mountainness area surrounded by old stone homes, fields of lavender and crops of grape vines awaiting
harvest later to become that homes’ personal brew served with dinner or a gift for a friend.
On my first evening, fresh local fish were brought over by a relative. The men went to work cleaning, preparing and cooking the fish on an outdoor ground grill.
I eagerly wanted to get involved and somehow got the job of peeling and chopping the garlic and parsley which was to be added to a local brew of olive oil and spooned over the fish. I seemed to always be in charge of the garlic. At many of the earlier meals, I watched others attack a mountain of garlic, peeling each clove one by one with a paring knife, which to me was both frustrating and archaic. I prefer the smash-and-peel method that any trusty chef knife can provide. I carried a lovely garlic aroma with me that lasted well beyond my return to Sweden.
A few days later another relative brought a bucket of fresh mussels to our home. I spent a few hours with Morro and Bepo under the shade of the terrace scrubbing and cleaning them in preparation of the days lunch.
Again a mountain of garlic was needed along with some home-made white wine drawn from the still and a few various ingredients from the garden that made for a delicious broth. The mussels were cooked in the outdoor kitchen called a lusiera and served at the kitchen table along with fresh bread.
My most memorable day cooking in Croatia was baking bread with Milka who said, “First you must have a babushka
, then you can make bread.” We stumbled into her kitchen at 7am, after a late evening, toting our coffee maker, cups and milk. While we made our coffee, Milka mixed, kneaded, punched and gave the sign of the cross to a huge bowl of dough. Speaking only in Croatian she gave us the step-by-step on how she got to this point in the bread making process.