Culinary Basics: The Balkan Cuisine

By Holly Holloway

Balkan cuisine is eclectic, but its most obvious influence comes from Turkey. Who from the 14th century, for 500-years, ruled the region. This period in history reshaped Balkan cuisine, but it wasn’t always through positive influence. 

One of the best examples of how the Turkish Ottoman Empire changed Balkan cuisine, is in its use of pork. A type of meat Muslims could not consume, so the people of the Balkans used it as a way to preserve self-identity. 

The region has such a complex history but through food and their pride, a very unique cuisine has been shaped. Those who love red peppers, grilling, or rich stews and soups will be enamored by its recipes. 

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Positive Influences

A more positive tradition Turkey gave to the Balkans was Meze, or Mezze. In this tradition, guests would be served a selection of appetizers and drinks. 

Depending on the country within the Balkans the appetizers differ. In Serbia you would be served kaymak, a creamy clotted cheese, in Bulgaria, baked peppers, and you would be guaranteed to see pork, including sausage, salami and ham wherever you were visiting. 

Meze is also a tradition in the Middle East, Greece, and North Africa. Showcasing the diversity of Balkan cuisine and tradition. 

One of the reasons the Balkans is so diverse is because of its location in Europe, north of Greece and south of Hungary. From Hungary, the Balkans get hearty soups and stews, from Greece and Turkey comes the heat and variety of flavor. 

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Balkan Cuisine Favorites

Two of the most popular condiments include: 

Ajvar: A condiment like pesto but made with roasted red peppers and garlic. Ajvar is used on the side of most meat and fish dishes. 

Kajmak: A clotted cheese that’s served with bread, or melted on a pljeskavica patty. A pljeskavica is a burger patty made from ground beef, lamb, pork, or veal.

Favorite Dishes

Two of the most popular dishes include:

Ćevapi: Made with a combination of ground beef, lamb, pork, or veal and shaped into small sausage like patties. They’re chargrilled and placed in batches of five inside flatbreads. The dish is served with raw onions and ajvar. 

Dolma: A stuffed or rolled vegetable filled with ground meat and rice. Stuffed vegetables could include peppers or tomatoes. Rolled vegetables include cabbage or zucchini. Once prepared, they’re normally baked, or stewed in tomato sauce and served with kajmak. 

The Balkans peninsula includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia.

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