Are you wondering what is hiding behind the meaning of “čimula”, a mysterious word whose pronunciation makes our ears tingle with curiosity? Čima, čimula, čimule, čimulice: an overwhelming spirit of familiarity surrounds all these variants of the same name, be it in singular or plural form, or even pronounced as a diminutive of endearment.
In everyday dialect of the Dalmatian language, “čimule” or “čimulice” is a word describing brassica shoots. In the mild Mediterranean climate, these vegetables grow through the winter, representing an important source of minerals, vitamins and fibre for the locals in the coldest months of the year. “Čimulice” can be the young budding leaves and flowers of cabbage, kale, broccoli or collard greens, a puzzling plant which I am (perhaps erroneously, seeing as I am not an expert) considering to be an offspring of wild cabbage (or kale).
These flowering tops start growing from the cut-off parts of the main plant during the warmer spring months; kitchen garden growers will be able to notice this phenomenon from April onwards. In Dalmatia and Istria, however, the vegetative state of cultivated plants comes about in winter due to a significantly warmer climate. “Čimulice” are therefore frequent guests of the piazzas and markets from Dubrovnik to Rijeka, regardless of the season.
The reason they also became the stars of this article was my visit to the Ljubljana food market on a warm Saturday morning. My backpack and I paid a visit to the stalls of my two regular saleswomen when gorgeous, large oranges and lemons lured me towards the stalls of Dalmatian vendors who reign over the lower part of the market on Saturdays.
“Čimulice?” I asked the vendor, nodding meaningfully while observing young broccoli shoots, their little leaves, and stalks ending with tiny flowers. She nodded back at me. “How much?” I bought two bagfuls. On my way to the car, I tried to think of what to do with them.
I remembered Danijel Mivšek, a biodynamic farmer from the village of Cetore above Izola, who used to offer me young cabbage leaves, praising them as an exquisite ingredient in making vegetable minestrone. Once home, I cut up the sprouts into smaller pieces and sautéed them in olive oil with some carrots. Then, I added salt and hot water. I brought it all up to a boil, and then added potatoes cut into smaller pieces. At the end, a Dalmatian pesto sauce made out of a chopped piece of prosciutto ham and a couple of cloves of garlic added a further burst of flavour to the dish. At home, the soup was a hit and I’m sure that it’ll also steal the limelight at your dinner table.
Before you go, allow me to just say a couple of things about the etymology of the word “čimula”. In Latin, the word “cȳma” signifies a young sprout or a shoot of cabbage; its origin is the ancient Greek word “kȳma” which, according to the Etymological Dictionary of the Slovenian Language, means a foetus, an offspring or, even before that, a swell or a wave.
The meaning of the Slovenian word “cima” is not so very different, either: we mostly use it to describe annoying young sprouts shooting out of potato tubers forgotten in a too bright, humid pantry.
Okay, now go and make your soup!
Soup made from young brassica buds
Ingredients for 6 people:
0.5 kg of young broccoli, cabbage or kale shoots
2 large potatoes
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of salt
2 litre of hot water
100 g of boneless prosciutto ham or back-fat
3 cloves of garlic
First, prepare the vegetables. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small cubes. Cut the harder parts off the brassica buds and remove potentially damaged parts. Cut the buds into strips or small pieces. Peel the potatoes, cut them into small discs and cover them with cold water until you use them, so they won't turn brown. Peel the garlic cloves and cut the prosciutto ham into cubes.
In a bigger pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the carrots for about 5 minutes. Add the cut-up shoots, stir well and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add salt and hot water. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes. Once the liquid is brought up to a boil, add thin potato slices. Cover and let simmer for 40 minutes.
Remove from the heat and prepare the pesto for a non-vegetarian version: finely chop prosciutto cubes and garlic until you obtain a thick paste, then add it to the soup while it’s still hot. For a vegan version, just add a glug of good olive oil.
If you want your soup to be thicker, add a handful of wheat semolina or maize grits.
Serve the soup with a piece of bread or baked polenta.
You can easily substitute young brassica buds with cow cabbage, a regular guest at our markets in the winter.
I am a star-eyed observer; I watch the world unfold before me and I am amazed at everything I see. The human person is always my main focus, even when I chop up carrots or write down my recipes. I like to talk to people that work with their own hands and with the earths soil itself. At home I crouch down before my computer and type down every impression and every note form the last 5 years and I publish this at the very end in a book for everybody to read. Throughout this whole process I always stay a father, sometimes a little grumpy, other times cheerful and high in spirit.