When two of my good friends announced they’d be moving to Herceg Novi, Montenegro for several months this year, I was excited for them and thrilled at the opportunity to visit them in a new part of world. After they settled in, started with the language, and began making local friends, I booked my flight to Dubrovnik. I ordered a Serbo-Croatian phrasebook and I started reading about cultural and culinary traditions, politics, and the history of the region. My friends arranged for me to rent a studio apartment in their building, with a balcony overlooking the Bay of Kotor and the Adriatic Sea. For our visit to Dubrovnik, they booked a furnished flat with Rock Palace Apartments, and we got a kitschy and fun Jimi Hendrix themed place for a few days on the hillside overlooking the old city.
My biggest supporter of The Lotus and the Artichoke – Vegan Cookbook Kickstarter project made an amazing contribution which made the entire trip possible! For the reward, I’d signed up to visit a new place and bring back recipes based on the food there, plus lots of photography and artwork. So, along with briefly exploring two new countries with my location independent friends Ryan and Angela (of Jets Like Taxis), I got to sample and learn about traditional Balkan food. This included Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian, and Bosnian culinary customs. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the local food is considerably influenced by neighboring cuisines: Mediterranean, Turkish, Greek, Italian, as well as Central and Eastern European cooking.
Admittedly, the West Balkans aren’t among the world’s most convenient countries for vegetarian and vegan eating habits, but the offerings of fantastic fruit trees, local vegetables, and great bakeries made for many good eats and great times. Also, at all of the restaurants I visited, everyone was understanding, helpful, and quick to suggest existing, modified, or even newly invented menu options from the kitchen. At “home”, I ate fairly simple: including things like buckwheat with apples and local cherry jam, local fresh bread, steamed kale and broccoli, raw carrots, olives and roasted red peppers, fresh orange juice, and pomegranates we’d picked from trees in the countryside and little towns.
This recipe for Grah – Balkan Bean Stew was inspired by our visit to Nishta vegetarian restaurant in the Old Town (Stari Grad) of Dubrovnik. Traditionally, along with beans, vegetables, and lots of paprika, Grah is usually made with a few ingredients I choose not to eat, so it was great to have it at a vegetarian restaurant. Of course, it would’ve been even better if I’d been served it at someone’s home! This hearty dish is quick and easy, can be modified in many ways to your liking, and goes with all kinds of things.
Following the recipe, check out some of my photos from the trip.
Grah – Balkan Bean Stew with mushrooms & seitan
serves 3-4 / time 30 min
- 2 Tbs margarine or oil
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 tsp paprika ground
- 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100 g mushrooms chopped
- 7 oz / 200 g seitan or smoked tofu chopped
- 2 cups / 14 oz / 400 g white beans (cooked, drained)
- 1 cup / 240 ml water
- 1 Tbs cornstarch or flour + 1/4 cup / 60 ml water
- 2 Tbs nutritional yeast flakes or 1 Tbs vegetable broth powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- fresh parsley chopped, for garnish
- Heat margarine in large pot on medium heat.
- Add garlic, onions, paprika, pepper. Fry, stirring constantly, 3-4 min.
- Add bay leaves, mushrooms and seitan. Mix well, cook 2-3 min.
- Add beans. Mix well, cook 2-3 min.
- Stir in 1 cup water. Simmer on low, stirring regularly, 5 min.
- Whisk cornstarch and 1/4 cup water. Add to pot, stir well.
- Mix in nutritional yeast and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 5-10 min.
- Garnish with parsley and sprinkled paprika. Serve with bread.
More veg: Along with (or instead of) mushrooms, add chopped carrots, red pepper, and/or tomato.