At the beginning of last month, I moved to Vrhovci with my family. We arranged our new home, next to the creek of Mali graben and slowly started to explore the surroundings. Since I spend my days cooking, it wasn't long before I entered the local butcher’s shop and tested it by ordering an entire lamb. They delivered it on the day we agreed on and had jointed it according to my wishes. Then I pondered how to use all twelve kilograms of the animal.
You'll find this useful. Out of curiosity, I weighed the various parts of the meat with accounting precision, removed the bones and then weighed the meat left after deboning.
Half of the weight was bones, offal and the head, the other half was meat. The deboned upper leg weighed a bit over two kilograms, whereas the shoulders and the rolled out back muscles weighed a bit over one kilogram each.
I didn't debone the ribs with the flank, breasts and neck; they weighed a bit over three kilograms with the bones. In my estimation, there was about two kilograms of meat.
I used the bones to make a broth and I sautéed the liver with onions and marjoram after some physically exhausting work. I used the diced upper leg muscles for a stew, the neck and shoulders to make kalja, and the ribs and flank to make janija.
I found out about kalja in the book Bosnian Cook by Alija Lakišić, which I bought years ago after visiting Sarajevo. Kalja is a dish made of juicy lamb or veal cuts and obligatory chunks of cabbage. There are hundreds of variations, but I prefer the easiest one, with the fewest ingredients. I sear pieces of meat in butter and add chopped onions, put a layer of coarsely cut cabbage on top, and use only salt and pepper as spices. I add a small amount of water and leave the dish covered to cook in peace for an hour or two, until the liquid is almost gone.
Janija is also from the Balkans region (without a clear origin, so I don’t get lost in explanation). It's an old shepherd’s dish made of ingredients that were to hand. They heated up one or two spoonfuls of mutton tallow, added chopped onions and paprika, seared large chunks of lamb (in winter, they prepared the dish with dried meat, pastrma), added salt and poured water over the dish.
Both dishes are perfect for cold autumn days, so I prepared two recipes this time. You only need to find two or three kilograms of lamb. If nowhere else, you can get it from my new butcher in Vrhovci.
Ingredients: 1.5-2 kg lamb ribs with flank 1 kg potatoes 2 onions 4 garlic cloves 1 tbsp hot paprika 2 tbsp lamb or pork fat 2 tsp salt 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Preparation: Heat the oven to 180°C, place the shelf low.
Use a strong knife to cut the lamb ribs with the flank into large pieces. Peel the onions and chop them coarsely. Don't peel the garlic cloves, leave them whole. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters.
Take a clay or cast-iron pot with a lid, add the fat and heat it on a high heat. Add the onions and sauté quickly for 3 minutes until they turn slightly translucent. Add the pieces of lamb and sear on all sides for 5 minutes, so that the meat cooks and seals. Add the potato quarters and 4 unpeeled garlic cloves. Add salt, a bit of pepper and a spoonful of hot paprika.
Close the pot and shake well. Don't add water. Place in the preheated oven and let the meat and vegetables bake for 2 hours.
Take the janija out of the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes without removing the lid, so that it cools a bit. Find the garlic cloves and remove them. Serve the dish in deep plates with freshly baked bread and spirits.
Ingredients: 1.5–2 kg lamb (chopped lamb neck, shoulders) 2 onions 1 kg sweet cabbage (choose smaller heads rather than bigger ones) 2 tsp coarse sea salt 1 tsp crushed black pepper 2 tbsp raw butter ½ l hot or boiling water
Preparation: Ask the butcher to chop the lamb neck for you. Use a sharp knife to debone the shoulders and cut into large pieces. Heat two spoons of butter in a big pot. When it starts foaming, distribute pieces of meat on the bottom. Sear on a high heat while stirring so that all sides of the meat are browned. Add coarsely chopped onions and place large chunks of cabbage on top (cut smaller heads into four and bigger ones into eight). Add salt, pepper and a glass of hot water. Cover the pot and shake well. Once the liquid starts boiling, lower the heat and cook for an hour or so until the meat and cabbage are completely soft.
Remove the pot from the heat and let the dish rest for 15 minutes so it cools a bit. Serve kalja in deep plates, scooping meat and cabbage with liquid. You can add a spoonful of kaymak to each portion and sprinkle sweet paprika on top.
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.