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