This is my version of the traditional Balkan dish and its scrumptious salad; Ćevapi with Shopska. I enjoyed these in the heart of Sarajevo.
It’s been a while since I’ve been to Bosnia, but this is a recipe and dish I remember fondly. The flavors are so unique and delicious. At least to me. But I’m sure you’re wondering how these are tailgate worthy. I’ll get there in a bit. But first…
What is ćevapi?
Ćevapi is a dish from the Balkan region of Europe. That’s the southeastern European states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Turkey. There are other countries that may or may not be included depending on the topic in question. These variances are due to political, religious, historical and other similar topics.
During the Ottoman administration, hadjuks of that time combined pieces of meat with smoke lard and cooked them on a skewer over the fire. That is how ćevapi came to be.
These hadjuks could be anything from a bandit to a freedom fighter depending on the time and place. Either way, I think they were somewhat nomadic and ate what they had on hand. Like cowboys in the US.
Modern day ćevapi consists of grilled minced meat. The type of meat varies from country to country. In Bosnia, it is 2 types of ground beef. Some countries use a sausage mix, some use lamb or pork, and some use a combination of all 4.
To me, they’re like meatballs formed into fingers and then grilled. Some grill them using skewers and some are simply cooked directly on the grill.
However, it’s not as simple as making meatballs, forming them into logs, and then grilling them. There’s a chemical thing that must happen in the recipe. It’s that last little bit; the water and baking soda. The baking soda breaks down the amino acids or something like that in the meat making it tastier, juicier, meatier, and just darn SCRUMPTIOUS!
What is shopska?
Of course, this salad is from the same area. And often served with not just ćevapi but sometimes every meal. Especially in the warmer months where the ingredients are in season. I ate it many times while in Bosnia. From the pizza restaurant to the fancy restaurant where they roasted a whole lamb.
I couldn’t quite nail down the cheese. It was like feta, but I’m sure that’s not exactly what they served. Traditionally it’s made with sirene cheese. That’s a cheese made with milk (cow, goat, sheep) that is less than 50% moisture and crumbly. Sirene is a table cheese used to top salads like shopska and for baking.
Similar cheeses are, of course, Feta, which I used in this recipe. But you could use cotija cheese, too. There’s a list of other Balkan white cheese, but I don’t recall seeing any of those in the US. So, I’ll stick to Feta or cotija cheeses to top my shopska.
What do you serve with ćevapi?
When I had ćevapi in Bosnia, they serve it with “sour cream” which has the consistency of butter and was like Mexican crema to me. Not quite sour and not quite like yogurt. I think it’s almost like a clotted cream.
Minced onions are another favorite topping for Ćevapi with Shopska. And flat bread to eat them with. Mine also came with a bottle of yogurt that, for me, is like kefir. And maybe it was kefir before I knew what that actually was. It, again, wasn’t tangy like our yogurt. It was very refreshing and delicious.
Some places also top their ćevapi with ajvar. Ajvar is delicious! It’s a spicy, roasted red pepper relish. I found a jar here in the States and made an ajvar pasta with Feta. So delicious! Sweet and spicy with the bite of Feta on top. So good.
What does Ćevapi with Shopska taste like?
Ćevapi with Shopska are tender. Like, more tender than you think they will be. Get that idea of a meatball out of your head. Because that little chemistry trick I told you about makes the meat tender and juicy. They have a delicious hint of meat and spices that taste delicious.
And the shopska is the perfect pairing for the rich and delicious ćevapi. It’s light, bright, and packed with fresh veggie flavor. There’s a light dressing on mine. I couldn’t quite decipher what coated the others I had, but I know it had something on it.
The combination of the Ćevapi with Shopska together make for a hearty lunch or dinner. The onions in both dishes pair off each other. The crisp veggies complement the juicy beef in the ćevapi.
The Feta cheese on both really rounds out all the flavors. Then if you serve it with crema or clotted cream it would make the dish even more rich and delicious.
How is ćevapi good for tailgating?
Well, there’s actually several ways that ćevapi is good for tailgating. One, you can make the meat mixture ahead of time. And you can form them ahead of time. Just separate them out with parchment or plastic wrap.
Two, they grill up quickly! Like, just a few minutes on each side and they’re finished. Three, they’re perfect portable food. Grab a flatbread or a pita bread, stuff a few ćevapi in there, and top with cheese and onions and you’re good to go.
Ćevapi can be cooked ahead of time and reheated on game day. You could even put them in a slow cooker with some ajvar to heat them up. That would be so delicious! It would add a layer of flavor and make them super tasty! Then make sure to have crema or some yogurt on hand to cool everything off.
So, while it’s not your typical game day food, it’s definitely something you can serve up on game day. It would be something different that tastes delicious. And I know your family and friends will devour them as quickly as I did.
This is my version of the traditional Balkan dish and its scrumptious salad; Ćevapi and Shopska. I enjoyed these in the heart of Sarajevo.
- 1/2 pound 96% lean ground beef
- 1/2 pound 97% lean ground turkey
- 2 tablespoons grated onion
- 1 tablespoon grated garlic
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 cups peeled and chopped cucumber
- 2 cups diced red onion
- 1 cup diced red onion
- 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
- 3 1/2 ounces fat free feta cheese, crumbled
- Combine the beef, turkey, onion, garlic, and paprika in a medium mixing bowl. Fold the ingredients until incorporated.
- Add the baking soda to the hot water and add to the meat mixture. Fold until the baking soda water is mixed into the meat.
- Form the meat into finger shaped links and grill 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
- Layer the cucumber, tomatoes, onion and bell pepper in a large serving bowl. Top with the feta cheese and fat free balsamic dressing.
Amount Per Serving Calories 383Total Fat 14gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 113mgSodium 378mgCarbohydrates 24gFiber 4gSugar 10gProtein 41g
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