If you would ask anyone based in the Balkans what their favorite food was, they would probably say Cevapi (che-vapi).
At first, the name might sound funny to you, and you may chuckle and say: “What?”, but even though they might have a funny name, we guarantee that Cevapi will be one of the best meals you’ll taste in your life.
Cevapi play a significant role in tradition for almost every Balkan country. Especially in Serbia and Bosnia.
They are probably the one dish almost all Balkan people recommend to their foreign friends to try out when they visit Balkan countries, and there’s a reason for that.
They are just that good. Even people who live in Balkan countries eat Cevapi regularly and don’t get tired of them. They are incredibly versatile, present in every restaurant, and can be mixed with almost everything.
With all of that being said, we dedicate this article to Cevapi themselves. We will talk about them in further detail, introduce you to their history, and present different ways of preparing them.
We’ll also explain how to make them in the comfort of your own home and enjoy them with your family.
What is Cevapi?
Cevapi or in Cyrillic script – “Ћевапи,” pronounced as “Che-vapi,” is a dish made of minced meat shaped in small rolls (although there are other shapes as well) which are afterward, in most cases, grilled.
It’s a dish with Turkish roots and appears in most states of former Yugoslavia that were under Turkish suppression for centuries.
In most cases, they are made from beef, although there are chicken, pork, and sheep variations. This depends on the country and the region that prevails in a particular area.
In terms of length, it is thought that the golden standard is 5cm, although manufacturers choose the size on their own. If you make them at your home, you can choose whether they will be longer or shorter, based on your preferences.
The places that sell Cevapi are called “Cevabdzinice” or in Cyrillic “Ћевабџинице.” As we said, there are many variations of this dish, mainly because every region where they are made gives a particular specific twist of their own.
Maybe the size of Cevapi is different, or they are made with other recipes, or perhaps they are a bit spicier than usual. Depending on all of that, there are certain variations, and nowadays, there are over 100 different types of Cevapi.
Most famous is “Banjalucki” – coming from the city of Banja Luka in Bosnia, “Sarajevski” – the type which is unique to the town of Sarajevo “Leskovacki” – based on the town of Leskovac in Serbia and so on. This article would get a lot bigger if we listed all of the different types out there.
A simple recipe for Cevapi
It would be hard to write a general recipe for Cevapi, mainly because almost everyone makes them in their own way, so they are sort of unique. But, we wrote this recipe which covers all the important aspects, and if you follow it, we are sure that you’ll make Cevapi that will make you proud. You will need:
- 500g of minced beef
- 2 whole onions
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp paprika
- 3 ½ tsp pepper
- 2 ½ tsp salt
- 1 sip of oil
- 1 sip of sparkling water
The process of making Cevapi is fairly simple.
First, cut the onion and garlic into small pieces. Then, add them to the minced meat in one big bowl and mix it together. Add 1 tsp of baking soda and 1 egg. Add paprika, salt, and pepper (you can add more or less based on your preferences) and 1 sip of oil. Then, add only a small sip of sparkling water (too much, and it can ruin the whole dish). Mix it all together and then place it in a fridge. Leave it for 24 hours. When you are ready to grill them, take the mixture out of the refrigerator and take a small amount of meat to roll into a small roll. Do this for as many individual Cevapi as you like. Make the barbeque ready and start grilling! When the meat gets well grilled and has that nice smell to it, the Cevapi are ready. Leave them for 15-20 minutes to cool out, and afterward, they are prepared to go into your belly! You can add all of them into a bowl that has onions inside if you want to add additional aroma, but this step is skippable if you aren’t a fan of onions.
Different Ways to Prepare Cevapi
There are different ways you can prepare Cevapi. Below, we’ll list the most used ones and which are popular amongst consumers in the Balkans.
Grilling is probably the most common way of making Cevapi. If we talked about percentages, we would say that in over 90% of cases, Cevapi are grilled. The way of doing it is the same as with any other meat which you would grill.
The best way to grill Cevapi is using a barbeque. It’s simple, convenient, and it’s usually entertaining. Grilling on an open fire you made is exciting, and you can even call some friends and make a gathering out of it.
For a barbeque, the only preparation you’ll need is to create a fire and prepare the meat for Cevapi. Also, you should use a bit of bacon and/or “oil” on the grill so that Cevapi don’t stick to the metal and that they get a lovely aroma to them. When the fire is ready, just place them on the grill and enjoy!
Preparing Cevapi in the oven is another method that is commonly used. The process is pretty straightforward, and the meal can be ready in approximately 1 hour. If you don’t have time to make your own Cevapi, the best course of action would be to buy them in the market, already made.
This means that someone else rolled the meat for you and all you have to do is prepare them. To do so, you need to heat the oven to 240 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes.
In most cases, you won’t place your Cevapi in the oven alone but instead, have something else to go as a side dish. Usaully, when using an oven method, that will be potatoes.
Simply place the potatoes in the oven first and let them get nice and crispy. Afterward, place the Cevapi inside (together with the potatoes) and wait for them to be done. Occasionally, you can roll Cevapi to another side so that they are evenly cooked.
Preparing Cevapi on the stove is very similar to preparing them on a barbeque. The only difference is that you aren’t using a grill but an electric stove since you’re making them in your home.
The process is very similar. For a stove, you need to place some oil before you start preparing them. The oil is essential, as it will heat up and cook the Cevapi evenly. Afterward, just place Cevapi inside and grill them for 7-10 minutes.
A wok isn’t made for preparing Cevapi, but you can make it work if you don’t have anything else.
Although you will need some skill and culinary experience, it is doable. You’ll need to get your meat ready and pour some oil inside of the Wok.
Place sliced onion, garlic, and other spices inside as well. Start grilling and use round movements so that all the ingredients are cooked evenly.
After 3-5 minutes, place Cevapi inside and continue with cooking.
In 8-10 minutes, they’ll be ready and evenly cooked.
What to serve with Cevapi?
Cevapi are great on their own, and by all means, you can eat them alone. But, they are even better if served with something else. In most cases, Cevapi is done together with potatoes or “kajmak” – a type of Serbian cream cheese.
In almost every “cevabdzinica” (a place where Cevapi are sold in the Balkans), Cevapi is served with a side dish. You can try different combinations.
As we said, “kajmak” and potatoes are the most popular ones, but others are also. Onions, fries are some other combinations, and it comes to the personal preference which one you will choose. For us, “kajmak,” fries, and onions are a winning combination.
Cevapi is something you need to try if you’re visiting the Balkans. They are the staple of the culinary tradition, and almost every single person from this part of the world tried them once in their life.
They are very important to people here, and they are proud of them. If you wish to experience the tradition of Yugoslavia and Balkan countries, we think that trying Cevapi is an indispensable part of the process. And who knows, they might become your favorite Balkan meal!
You can always order Cevapi on our website if you don’t feel like making them on your own.
Author: Ivan Živković
Meeting some interesting people and having strong Balkan and Mediterranean DNA Ivan decided to focus on food from where he came from. Taking old family recipes and mixing them with techniques and spices from all over the world brought the attention of Ivan Iričanin, owner of Ambar restaurant.
In 2020, Ivan took over the kitchen at the Ambar restaurant, where he elevated the cuisine to its current state for both restaurant locations, continuing to update the menu seasonally and reflecting his most recent travels.”