Gourmet Delights: the Mediterranean Herbs of Dalmatia
Dalmatian cuisine is one of the healthiest in the world, so healthy in fact that its Mediterranean Diet was inscribed as intangible UNESCO heritage back in 2013. With the abundance of fresh Adriatic fish, quality olive oil and an abundance of fresh seasonal produce, it is little wonder that tourists are stunned by the simplicity of Dalmatian food and its mouth-watering tastes concocted from simple, but age-old recipes passed down by grandmothers.
At the heart of Dalmatian cuisines are the essential ingredients which add flavour to these timeless dishes – its Mediterranean herbs. So prevalent are herbs in the Dalmatian way of life that they appear in food, in medicines, in decorations, and some even have entire festivals dedicated to them.
And they appear in rakija.
Croatians make their beloved strong liquor using all sorts of natural ingredients available to them, and many types of herb contribute to the unique Dalmatian flavours of the hard stuff. Sage rakija, for example, is very popular, while you will not find a more aromatic drop of the hard stuff than lavender rakija.
But it is in the cuisine of Dalmatia where the Mediterranean herbs make their biggest mark. Herbs such as lavender, basil, oregano, bay leaves, rosemary, sage and thyme grow in the Dubrovnik region. And while back home, one might visit the supermarket to pick up your herbal requirement, here in Dalmatia, the traditional way is simply to pop out into the garden to pick the required number of leaves of the plant.
Total freshness, one of the culinary secrets of Dalmatian cuisine.
Some herbs, such as basil, feature regularly in the simple salads of the region, such as tomato and basil salad, a fresh and flavoursome accompaniment to any lunch, while others are core ingredients in some of Dalmatia’s most traditional dishes. Dalmatia’s best loved meat dish, the delicious slow-cooked pašticada with gnocchi, owes part of its unique flavours to the mandatory addition of bay leaves and thyme, for example, while a sprig or two of rosemary can always be found in the Dalmatian peka, a meat and octopus dish slow-cooked under an iron bell with potatoes and a variety of vegetables.
As with rosemary, parsley is an omnipresent ingredient in many Dalmatian dishes – expect to find a little in anything from octopus salad and black risotto to the fish stew known as Gregada.
Some Mediterranean herbs play in important part in seasoning food far beyond the borders of Dalmatia, such as Dalmatian sage, whose slightly bitter aroma and pungency is effective in the seasoning of meat, particularly poultry, veal and pork roasts, as well as being an excellent ingredient in stuffing.
Simple freshness, aromatic herbs, traditional family recipes – three secrets of the magnificence of Dalmatian cuisine.