A few weeks ago, I welcomed the arrival of Liberland, a new Eastern Bloc country by virtue of geography, if not ideology. I vowed to offer my services as the state’s first executive chef, starting with the creation of a national dish. The challenge should not be underestimated. To date there is still no electricity, no functioning building, and no inhabitant in Liberland. Therefore the recipe must be simple, yet befit the ambitions of the new country and the hopes if its citizens. It must be actualizable in situ by visiting representatives, or thousands of miles away by the diaspora, with simple cooking tools. It must reflect the national emblems, the Balkan heritage of its location, and the locally available resources. These are the tenets that guided my choices:
- I drew a lot of inspiration from the flag of Liberland. The water, representing the Danube, became the fish, and I’m assuming pike or a close relative can be fished in the area. The mysterious fruit tree on the flag sets the tone for a uniquely Liberlandian ajvar, which contains apples and red plums and echoes the yellow color of the background (partly thanks to saffron). You can even think of the grill grill marks on the food as the black stripe on the flag!
- Both the ajvar and the flatbread (called lepinja) are popular throughout the region. All the ingredients, I believe, can be found locally. If you can’t buy and don’t want to make lepinja, you can use pita instead.
- Preparing most of the dish on a grill makes up for the lack of kitchen equipment or electricity. The whole recipe is also pretty quick and easy. True, the ajvar isn’t made on the grill, but a) it could be (just put your pan on the grate!), and b) it can be made in advance.
So this is it, the first Liberlandian dish! Next time, maybe we can shoot that bird on the flag and make a stew!
Yields 6 servings
220 g Italian eggplant
200 g yellow pepper
55 g olive oil
150 g peeled gala apple, small dice
150 g peeled red plums, small dice
0.05 g saffron
1 g sweet paprika
5 g lemon peel
10 g lemon juice
- Wrap the eggplant in foil, and bake in a 225 C / 450 F oven for about 45 minutes, until soft inside. Let cool for 10 minutes. Peel off the skin, cut in half, and let cool another 10 minutes. Weigh 150 g of eggplant flesh, cut into small dice, and reserve.
- Brush the yellow pepper with a little bit of olive oil, and bake in a 225 C / 450 F oven for about 45 min, until blistered and brown on all sides. Let cool for 10 minutes. Peel and seed the pepper. Weigh 100 g of pepper flesh, cut into small dice, and reserve.
- In a pan over medium heat, sauté the apple and plum dice in the olive oil. Season with salt, and cook until golden brown.
- Add the eggplant, yellow pepper, saffron, paprika, and lemon peel. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes.
- Remove from the heat. Mix in the lemon juice, let cool, and reserve.
Grilled pike and assembly
Yields 6 servings
1 whole cleaned pike, about 2 kg; or 720 g cleaned pike fillets, skin on
about 15 g olive oil
black pepper, ground
250 g yellow and red cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 lepinja or pita breads
about 5 g chopped parsley
Liberland ajvar, room temperature
- Brush the fish with some of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
- In a bowl, toss the cherry tomatoes in the remaining olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Prepare a grill (wood, charcoal or gas) for medium heat.
- Place the tomatoes on a piece of aluminum foil, and cook on the grill until soft.
- Cook the fish on the grill, flipping it carefully only once to avoid breakage.
- Cut the lepinja or pita into quarters, brush with the oil from the cherry tomato bowl, and grill until warm.
- Sprinkle the pike with parsley, and serve with the cherry tomatoes, lepinja quarters, and ajvar.