Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cevapcici and Lepinja, Low Sodium Balkan Feast # 1

Salt-Free Cevapcici
Salt-Free Lepinja (Serbian Flatbread)
Greek Yogurt
Green Salad

Low Sodium Slovenian cooking?  It sounds like an oxymoron.

Hide the salt shaker.  Forget about bacon, sausage and ham.  Sauerkraut no longer qualifies as healthy. Olives? Forget it.

What's left?  Why even bother?

Well, I wasn't about to abandon my developing passion for Slovenian and Balkan food. So there had to be a way to make it fit with our new low sodium lifestyle.

Yes, it would be challenging.  And not only because so many smoked, pickled, and preserved ethnic favorites are loaded with salt.

The other big problem?  A basic tenet of low sodium cooking is to compensate for the lack of salt by boosting other flavors, especially spices.  But traditional Slovenian food tends to be simply and mildly seasoned.

So I cheated a little.  For my first official low sodium dinner (for short: LoSoSlo), I looked to Slovenia's southern neighbors for inspiration.  What better place to start than with spicy grilled cevapcici? The little "skinless sausages" are popular in Slovenia, throughout the Balkans, and all over Europe.  But the dish is usually described as Serbian or Bosnian.  The origins are probably Turkish.

You can read about my first experiences with cevapcici here.

Since that first attempt, I had made a half-dozen versions of cevapcici, with a variety of ground meat and spice combinations. Beef and pork, beef and lamb, and most recently all-turkey. It seemed to be a never-fail dish, perfect for entertaining.  Festive when cooked outdoors, but equally successful with our trusty Le Creuset stovetop grill pan.

A low sodium version would be easy: Leave out the salt and increase the other spices to compensate.  To lighten the meat mixture, I would use carbonated water instead of high-sodium baking soda. I tried that once, using one of my earlier recipes, and it tasted fine, if a little mild.

Then I had a brainstorm.  How about adding some liquid smoke?  A little research convinced me that this rather odd product is inoffensive.   It's just distilled essence of wood smoke. Salt free and no dangerous additives.  So that is what I did for this first full-on low sodium feast.

(Here's a great home sausage-making site, which addresses the liquid smoke and salt-free options.)

Cevapcici tastes best with ajvar, the traditional Balkan red pepper relish.  I was pleased to discover that our brand is quite low in sodium: 50 mg a tablespoon, compared to 150 mg for catsup.  (It also has more fiber and less sugar.) Greek yogurt, my usual substitute for kajmak or clotted cream, is also fairly low in sodium.

As I suspected, the biggest challenge turned out to be making a salt-free lepinja, or Serbian flatbread.  I'll save that recipe, as well as the final verdict on the entire dinner, for my next post.

Meanwhile, here is the new, improved, salt-free cevapcici recipe.

Salt-Free Cevapcici

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground lamb
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 T. parsley, minced
1/2 t. cayenne
1-1/2 t. smoked paprika
1-1/2 t. hot paprika
1/2 t. black pepper
3 T seltzer water mixed with 1/2 t. liquid smoke

Mix all the ingredients lightly together.  If possible, refrigerate for several hours so flavor can develop.  Form into little  1 x 3 inch sausage shapes and grill outdoors or on top of the stove.  (We've had good results with our Le Creuset grill pan.) Serve with the traditional accompaniments: ajvar, Greek yogurt or kajmak, and pita or lepinja/Serbian flatbread.


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