In the land of Chevapi (small ground meat sausage shaped patties) and burek (pastry filled usually with meat or cheese) it may be tricky to find something tasty, healthy, and vegan, But wait, there’s ajvar (pronounced eye-var)!!
During my last week in Germany before moving to Croatia, I went vegetarian. Actually, I went vegan. I had never considered not eating meat before, but after meeting some vegetarians and vegans abroad, I thought I could at least detox from the intense Berlin party scene by cutting out meat, dairy and junk food from my diet.
It actually went surprisingly well. I thought I would pass out and die from the “lack of protein” but eating clean felt great, and I made some tasty food too! But my short vegan experiment ended when I got on the bus from Zargeb, Croatia, to Dubrovnik. We stopped in Split, and I went to get something to eat. After not having eaten meat or dairy for a week, none of the cheese and chocolate filled pastries looked good, hamburgers sounded too heavy, but there were no real vegetarian choices but cheese pizza, so I ate a slice of cheese pizza. I was even asked me if I wanted ketchup on my pizza, gross, (I despise ketchup, I couldn’t touch a bottle until I was 19 and got my first restaurant job) and even without the ketchup, the pizza tasted terrible.
When I finally got to my apartment in Dubrovnik, I was greeted with freshly made meat-filled pastries and a cake. Croatians are known for their meat and hospitality, so how could I resist. Over the next few days, I thought of keeping up with vegetarian-type diet, but the supermarket was very low on produce during the winter months, and meat, cheese, and dairy were some of my only options. So, my week long vegan experiment officially ended, and I proceeded to chow down on pastries and chevapi galore. Looking back, that week of detox did play a huge role in my decision to go vegetarian over a year later, and encouraged me to make some healthier choices in Croatia, and most importantly, to experiment with cooking.
Though I still ate a lot of fresh Croatian meat and dairy, there are a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes incorporated into Croatian cuisine, (Please note the fresh grilled vegetable platter in the photo, yum). But, being a vegetarian in Croatia would have made it difficult to eat out, (Besides the vegetarian restaurant, Nishta).and I didn’t yet know how to cook very well.
One of my good friends is Croatian, and while we enjoyed our daily spread of meats, and cheeses on bread, he introduced me to the most delicious spread (well, besides hummus) I have ever tasted, ajvar. I had a Hungarian variation of this spread, but nothing could compare to the Croatian version of this delicacy. Ajvar comes in spicy and regular variety, and tastes great on sandwiches, on eggs, on vegetables, on crackers, you name it. And the best thing about it is that it is vegan! It is a thick red spread made from roasted red peppers and eggplant. Though I found ajvar quite commonly in New York City supermarkets, it is difficult if not impossible to find in Washington, D.C., so I made my own!