Are you into healthy eating? Are you seeking an alternative to mashed potato, potato chips (potato fries if you are from the US) or salad as an accompaniment for grilled or fried fish? My suggestion: Try Zeje (or Zelje), a traditional dish from the Dalmatian region of Croatia that combines green vegetables and potatoes. It’s just perfect.

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Zeje is what Tony’s family, from the Island of Korčula, called the vegetable dish they made using wild cabbage and potatoes. It’s the local name for the popular Dalmatian dish, Zelje, which is typically served with fish or meat. Zeje is equally delicious served alone as a main meal. In other parts of Dalmatia, the combination of wild cabbage (our equivalent is silverbeet or spinach) and potatoes is commonly known as Blitva.

In Australia, Tony’s mother often used a variety of other vegetables (beans, zucchini, broccoli or cauliflower) in addition to the wild cabbage or silverbeet.

Ingredients for Zeje, a traditional Dalmatian dish of silverbeet and potatoes
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Ingredients for Zeje, a traditional Dalmatian dish of silverbeet and potatoes. Photo source: Judith Salecich.

Wild cabbage is an uncultivated form of Brassica oleracea, the same species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. It is rich in essential nutrients, including Vitamin C. The plant is native to the coastal regions of southern and western Europe. It grows wild on Korčula Island, and in and around Smokvica, where Tony’s parents lived.

View of Smokvica, showing the vineyards and olive groves. Photo source: Salecich Family collection 2004.
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View of Smokvica, showing the vineyards and olive groves. Photo source: Salecich Family collection 2004.

Tony says the family called the wild cabbage “Kupus”, which in Croatian is the generic name for cabbage. He remembers that his mum almost always had a plant growing in her “kitchen garden” in Australia, to use in making her Zeje.

I do not have Croatian heritage. I remember thinking when I first saw Zeje (Zelje), “This is a hotchpotch. I don’t really like the look of it. What will it taste like?” It was a complete novelty for me. As a first or second time visitor to Tony’s family home, I felt a bit nervous about what I would do if I didn’t like it.

On that occasion Tony’s mum served Zeje (Zelje) with grilled steak. And, much to my surprise, I liked it! It was tasty, and a perfect accompaniment to the meat. Obviously I liked it because later, when Tony and I were married, I made it myself. We usually serve it with grilled or crumbed fish. It is both nutritious and delicious!


Serves 4


3-4 medium potatoes
1 bunch silverbeet
2-3 cloves garlic
2-3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
Salt and pepper (to taste)
200 g green beans, cut into 4-5 cm pieces
2 medium zucchini, cut into 2 cm rounds


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
  2. Add peeled and chopped potatoes (in about 2-3 cm pieces).
  3. If using beans and zucchini, add them soon after the potatoes. All of these vegetables need to be ready at the same time.
  4. Thoroughly wash the silver beet, remove the white stems, and roughly chop the leaves into 2 cm strips.
  5. When potatoes are almost done, add the silverbeet, and continue cooking until the silverbeet is tender. Don’t overcook.
  6. When tender, drain the cooked vegetables, and return to the pot.
  7. Gently sauté the chopped garlic in olive oil, for 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add to the vegetables, along with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir thoroughly. Reheat gently for a few minutes to allow all the flavours to come together.
  9. Serve with fish or meat, or alone as a vegetarian option.
  10. Zeje (Zelje) is also delicious if kept until the next day and reheated.
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Judith Salecich

Writer, researcher, former secondary and tertiary teacher and public servant, wife, mother, grandmother, child of God, photography enthusiast, lover of life, history, food and all things creative.

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8 thoughts on “Zeje: A healthy choice”

  1. Hello very nie blog!! Guy .. Excellent .. Superb .. I will bookmark your website and take the feeds also?
    I am happy to find a lot of useful information heree in the post, we want develop extra strategies in this
    regard,thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  2. Have enjoyed looking at your blog. My father was from Croatia (Desne – Neretva area), this brings back childhood memories, he made this all the time (just not with zucchinis though). I still always add garlic and olive oil to my silver beet. Had Pasta Suta for dinner tonight (one of the boys’ favourites)… interesting we all have a slightly varied take on the dish but pretty much ends up looking very similar.

    • Dear Mara. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed looking at the blog, and found that this story brought back childhood memories for you. Thanks for sharing your experience of Croatian food. Yes, I’m sure there are local and family versions of each dish. Even Aussie and NZ versions of them! I hope you continue to read the stories on my site. Best wishes, Judy

  3. Oohh, I will definitely have to try this recipe. I can imagine how you would of felt eating that for the first time at Tony’s house. It must be delicious and very healthy.
    Love A

  4. I know it is old, but I can’t believe I found this post! MY Tony’s parents also hail from Korcula (Blato) and my mother in law has always had lupus growing in her garden (also Australia). She now has severe dementia and while I have watched her make zeje many times, I never paid enough attention to make it myself. Thanks for posting what I believe is identical to her recipe. ❤️


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