Sarma – traditional Croatian recipe

I was in Croatia earlier this month visiting family and I asked my mum to teach me how to make ‘sarma’, traditional Croatian dish. I knew how to make a similar dish, but wanted to learn how to make sarma too. My mum did not quite understand the idea of taking photos while cooking, but due to them some of my friends asked about the recipe. I thought to share it here as well. If you make it, I hope you enjoy it!


mince beef – 0.5 kg
rice – 15 dg (or one cup)
medium size red onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 or 2 eggs
pickled cabbage*
*you will need to buy it in a Central European shop; Slovakian, Polish, Bosnian, whatever is near you.

later you will need:
cooking oil

Mix beef & rice. Cut the onion and garlic and add that too, add eggs, salt and pepper and mix it altogether.


Wash the cabbage in cold water. Cut out the middle bit (root) and use only the leaves. Put the meat mixture into each leaf (pictured) until you use it all.


When you put the meat into the cabbage leaf, roll it well and press the top of it inside towards the middle, so the meat is tightly rolled in the leaf. Place it in a pot – see the picture – and add water to it. In terms of the amount of water, cover it all and add another 5cm of water (or so) into it.

Let it to cook for 2-2.5 hours. Ten minutes before you remove the pot from the stove, put little bit of oil on a frying pan, add flour and paprika and stir for a few moments until the flour had fully mixed with oil and paprika. Pour that into the water and let sarma cook for another 10 minutes. And that’s it.

Mashed potatoes go well with it.

Bon appetite!

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 30th August 2017)
Photos by © Iva Beranek



Egg-celent (Easter food)

Even though I consider Ireland to be my home, I love keeping the Croatian tradition over Easter, at least considering the food. I wish I could say it brings me back to my childhood, that would sound kind of ‘romantic’, and perhaps it does, but I think I keep it merely because I actually like it. I have already written about Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, by stating its wisdom. Yet apart from carrying a deep meaning, Holy Saturday is also a day of preparation and cooking.

This year, I got up in the morning and as soon as I had coffee I immersed myself into preparing food. In no particular order, I cooked ham and made bread in order to bake the ham in it later on. I boiled lots of eggs and coloured them, some with the red onion skin, others with a proper egg-dye. I only had one small sachet of the dye from last year, so most of the eggs ended up being brown from red onion.

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These are a few of a different colour.
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At the same time, I was preparing the so-called ‘French salad’, which I don’t even know if they eat in France (probably not), but that is how we call it in Croatia. I was beaming with happiness as I was doing it. When I was studying long time ago for my undergraduate degree, my dad would day, “Just give her a book, and she is happy”. And it’s true. I loved studying and still do. I still love learning. But nowadays I think it is fair to say , “just put me in the kitchen to cook, and I am happy”. Perhaps each stage in life has its own joys, as well as its own challenges.

In Croatia, when all this food is cooked we bring it to Mass the next morning to be blessed and then we serve it for breakfast. In Ireland that tradition does not exist, so I only cooked it and left it to wait the next day so we can enjoy it. Part of the ‘food-ritual’ is what I call egg-fight. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t throw eggs at each other! We each choose an egg and then crack it against someone else’s egg. The person whose egg didn’t crack wins. I introduced my housemate to it, and first time round before she even got to realise what was going on, she lost (her egg cracked). We laughed. The message of Easter is joy and peace that Jesus brings by announcing His Resurrection. Every little tradition that helps in cultivating that joy and a sense of celebration is worth keeping. Christ is risen! Alleluia! Happy Easter 🙂

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 29th March 2016)
Photos by © Iva Beranek

There is such a thing as carrot wine


“Do you have mulled wine?”
“No, but our specialty is carrot wine. Would you like to try it?”
“Oh. Carrot wine? Yes, I would.”

The lady pours a little bit of the light orange wine into a tall wine glass… I taste it. It tastes surprisingly good. This is a little restaurant on the outskirts of Vienna, in Austria.

It is small but beautifully decorated. The white table cloth covering a large table makes it look very stylish, with different size wine glasses on the table; and some food.

A little insignificant detail is that I have new shoes. I admire them, as you do. Also, I never imagined there was such a thing as carrot wine, even more so that it tasted this good.

“I must write this on Facebook: Drinking carrot wine, in Vienna, Austria. Even though I don’t write much on Facebook nowadays, this is worth mentioning.”

Maybe you have already guessed; I woke up. Every little thing seemed so real, I could not believe it didn’t actually happen. Honestly, who has dreams like that? Carrot wine?! Where on earth did I get the idea about that one.

I google it, and surprise, surprise, there is such a thing as carrot wine (!). Apparently you can make it at home. If you are interested, have a look yourself. Since I have no intention of making it, I cannot recommend one recipe over another; I let you use your own judgement if you choose to give it a try.

But who would have thought it actually exists.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 20th February 2016)
Photo from here.

Midnight baking

There is never a wrong time to bake. Perhaps afternoon or the morning might seem as ideal times, but on a few occasions I baked quite late in the day and enjoyed it as much, if not more. After everyone goes to sleep, after the night has clouded the streets with its dew, the kitchen lights are on, and in the quietness of the house I decided to take out a baking pan, puff pastry, apples, cheese, parma ham, few spices and oil. No, I did not put it all together. Apples and cheese would be a strange combination, though perhaps with a little imagination they might go well with a certain type of meat. Not this time. These were for two separate dishes, one savoury, the other sweet.

I had my apron on and started rolling out the pastry. One of my housemates was also in the kitchen, which provided good conversation and much needed fun.

I first made the savoury bites; cheese and parma ham rolled into small pockets of puff pastry, coated with egg and baked.
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Then I went onto the signature apple tart. One always has to add an ingredient or two to create real magic while baking; I did so and the result did not disappoint. Below is the process in images.

Puff pastry rolled and placed into a baking pan.
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For the filling I used apples, brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.
I grated the apples, mixed all the ingredients together, and then spread it onto the pastry in the pan.

Almost ready to bake.
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After the final finishing touch, I placed it in the oven. When the clock ticked midnight, once ordinary puff pastry turned into a cake. Wonderful to look at, and delicious to taste. Bon appetite!
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© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 16th October 2015)
Photos by © Iva Beranek

Baking magic…with the camera

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I went to the kitchen, took the ingredients for flapjacks and peanut-butter cookies and a camera. True, I have never seen a camera listed on recipes under ingredients, ‘3 eggs, 1 cup of all purpose flour, baking soda…and have your camera handy’. But I wanted to take photos as I bake. Sometimes a detail catches my eyes, I see things around me through a creative angle, and instead of hoping I had the camera with me, this time I was prepared and took it in advance.

The whole process of baking can be exciting, if we make sure to enjoy every step as we go along. I don’t think we need to ‘make an effort’ to enjoy baking, or any other activity that requires attention for that matter. Merely being present to what we are doing is going to produce enjoyment. More often than not, anyway.

And so I took some honey, melted it with butter.
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Mixed the ingredients for flapjacks (and later for peanut-butter cookies).
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And baked both.
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Initially I thought flapjacks were too soft, much softer than usual. Then I let them sit for a while and they seemed too hard now (go figure), whereas an hour later they settled into the room temperature and were just fine. I don’t ever recall this process while making them before. The peanut-butter cookies were a very simple recipe, they looked great but I think I would have respected them more had they had fancier ingredients. I guess, it’s my fault, cause I baked them 🙂 The camera, however, did a good job. It spiced up the moments between preparation and the baking itself. I think I may introduce a new practice and create a new rule to start including the camera in the list of the ingredients. “For a complete pleasure, have your camera ready to capture the process”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 15th September 2015)
Photos by © Iva Beranek

Balance is necessary for a full life

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“Hurry ruins saints as well as poets and artists.” (Thomas Merton)

Last week I posted this quote on my Facebook page. In fact I posted it twice, first in a bigger quote which explained that if we are in a hurry we cannot notice beauty, but since something about it resonated I shared it on its own too. And then the day itself gave me a test to see if I can live up to it myself. I was leaving work and I had to hurry in order to get the bus. There is this one door that gives me trouble locking it; whenever I manage to lock it easily it makes me feel as if I have some superpower. That day was no exception. As I was turning the key and being in a hurry while having this quote hurry ruins you at the back of my mind, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “Ok, let me practice what I preach”. Instead of anxiously trying to lock quickly I relaxed (in my thinking) and very soon after that heard a smooth ‘blip’. “Great. Now run.” I had to run to get the luas (read: the tram) and here in Dublin we have a so called ‘leap card’ that you need to tag on before you enter luas and you need to tag it off when you come out. As I went out, still in a hurry, the machine told me while tagging, error, please try again. Oh you must be kidding me! I laughed. It worked this time and I was on the run again. Then I somehow eased into a different pace; I still walked fast enough but I no longer worried if I made to the bus or not. The day was nice, sunny for a change, and I was able to afford being flexible which bus I would take home. I made it in the end, but the whole thing made me reflect on the validity of that statement. “Hurry ruins saints as well as poets and artists.” (Thomas Merton) What do you mean? And is it really true?

I think what he means is that if you are in a hurry there is a high chance we will not stop to see something beautiful or to help someone in need, and in that sense the hurry ‘ruins us’. A few times when I saw the most magnificent sunsets, I was actually rushing to get somewhere. But I did stop. I am not sure about you, but whenever I can I make a point to pause for a brief moment if I see something beautiful. You can train yourself to do that. Noticing beauty can become an art. After the pause I can always continue to rush in order to get on time to wherever I am going. Same, when we are in a hurry and we are passing by someone who is for example homeless, we may not stop to see if there is anything we can do for them, or at least to say hello, to acknowledge this person. I am sure I must have passed by people like that numerous times, but one time I did stop is still very vivid in my memory. That one time I was probably more blessed than the person was with the encounter. And that is why Merton says that hurry ‘ruins saints’. We cannot grow in holiness if we don’t notice people around us. I know that not everyone who reads me is a Christian, or indeed believer in general. I am grateful that those of you who don’t share this with me still choose to read what I write, and I hope that what I will say next will make sense. Those of us who claim we believe in God and love Him, hurry ruins us if we don’t make time for prayer. If you love someone, you make time for them. With God is the same, with one difference: He loves us more than anyone ever will or can. We are His ‘favourites’, each and every one of us. We cannot grow in relationship with Him, get to know Him better if we don’t make time for prayer.

Having said all this, I think there is another side of the coin to this Merton’s saying. The flip side of the hurry, the other extreme rather, is lethargy. That is not good either. So while there is a value in reducing our anxious thoughts and rushing from place to place, it does not mean that we should understand it as an invitation to embrace lethargy. I think lethargy is quite dangerous. It ruins us in another way, interiorly. In the last few weeks there were days when I didn’t have much to do. I don’t normally have a problem in filling my days with various things, but for some reason this time I did. We need to have our days filled with various activities and with work, it’s healthy. That’s how we are made as humans. While I agree that we are human beings and not human doings, we do need to do things: work, eat, love, write, cook, read, create, socialise, sleep, repeat, add new activities, oh yes and pray. We need to know and experience that we are productive in some way. Merton also says,

“The requirements of a work to be done can be understood as the will of God. If I am supposed to hoe a garden or make a table, then I will be obeying God if I am true to the task I am performing. (…) When I act as His instrument my labor cannot become an obstacle to contemplation, even though it may temporarily so occupy my mind that I cannot engage in it while I am actually doing my job. Yet my work itself will purify and pacify my mind and dispose me for contemplation.”

On the other hand, “unnatural, frantic, anxious work, work done under pressure of greed or fear or any other inordinate passion, cannot properly speaking be dedicated to God, because God never wills such work directly. God may permit that through no fault of our own we may have to work madly and distractedly, due to our sins, and to the sins of the society in which we live. In that case we must tolerate it and make the best of what we cannot avoid. But let us not be blind to the distinction between sound, healthy work and unnatural toil.”

In the end, balance is the key for healthy living.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 20th April 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

When in doubt – bake

Or cook. Or both. Not that I was in doubt, but I did bake. Double chocolate chip muffins. They are as delicious as they sound. They are already a history by now, but since the end result was rather satisfying, I think we will make sure for the history to repeat itself in this case.

I don’t normally use a mixture when making muffins, but this time I did. I followed the instructions, added eggs, oil (a little less than it said on the packaging), bit of water and then mixed it all together. After I spread the paper cups around the tray, I poured in the mixture and proceeded with the final touch: a sprinkle of ground almond on the top.

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The warm oven was ready to welcome soon-to-be-muffins. And less than 20 minutes later, ta-ta:

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The biggest compliment came from two of my housemates: one is not supposed to eat wheat but was delighted to have a muffin (I know I should not tempt her, but she found a way around it so I do). The other one adamantly told me she cannot eat sweets as she was on a diet, and then thirty minutes later came into the living room asking almost apologetically: ‘Is the offer for a muffin still on? I would like one, if it is’. Of course! No better compliment than that one.

The day after muffins, pizza followed (and a day after that vegetable lasagne with chorizo, but I don’t have a photo for that):

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I never thought that conversion can take a shape of making someone into a cook; especially if that person didn’t like cooking beforehand (when I was a student I thought cooking was a waste of time). But perhaps in a broader sense conversion can be anything that enhances our life, and cooking certainly does enrich mine.

(This is a monthly feature. In order to read the first post in the series go here: Healthy cooking – it’s about the attitude, as well as the food)

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 26th June 2015)
All photos by © Iva Beranek

Fish with cinnamon

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If you ever see this on the menu, it will be attributed to me. And if it isn’t, let me know. I was coming home the other day after work. It was late afternoon. It is hard to tell when the afternoon actually turns into the evening in summertime. Here in Ireland days are significantly longer in May, so what would be called ‘evening’ in winter and what would be rather dark, now is still bright, till quite late in the day in fact. Anyhow, I was coming home and I was looking forward to using our new cooker that was supposed to arrive during the day.

When you get used to baking and cooking, you miss it when you can’t do it. I did. In the last week while I was able to cook, I wasn’t able to bake, because our oven wasn’t working. In a way even the experience of cooking (and eating) wasn’t quite complete without being able to bake bread, or pizza, or a dessert. That evening (OK, I called it evening now) I came home all excited that with the new cooker I can bake again. And the new guy looks fantastic! (I know calling it ‘a guy’ is a bit of a stretch, but whatever, it’s late and it’s a long way till the morning coffee, so indulge me.) Anyway, I came home and while I put a dessert into the oven, I went to prepare fish for dinner. Being all excited with the ‘new machine’ in the house, I took vegetables, few other ingredients, spices, and then sprinkled cinnamon on the fish. Ouch! It looked just like paprika. It’s just, it wasn’t paprika. In a split second I thought to myself, “this looks strange”. Yep, it did. Cinnamon on the fish is strange. I covered it up with other spices, and the original one that was intended to be used, and in the end it tasted just fine. (It did, I’m not lying.) Strange, but fine. Then, I baked bread. Thankfully, nothing unusual happened in the process. And today I baked scones. This time I sprinkled cinnamon over them on purpose! Now I look forward to breakfast, and some coffee would be good with it too.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 20th May 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Jamie Oliver pizza dough

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It is quite delicious. I have been making my own pizza lately, from the scratch. Initially I adjusted a Croatian recipe for a dough that has nothing to do with pizza, and it worked just fine. Until I found this recipe. I came home one day and even though I wasn’t hungry, I wanted to cook, bake something. I decided I wanted to make ‘a proper pizza’ base. Not sure what made me look up Jamie Oliver recipe, but I did.

I use half the size of the ingredients from the original recipe, and the amount is just right. From beneath your fingers you can feel how good the dough is, as you are kneading it. The first time I made this dough, I left it overnight to rise, and made pizza the day after.

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Another time, I prepared the dough in-between doing things, left it to rise and came back to it later. I don’t use the instructions for making it, apart from the correct ingredients, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. My main reason is that I access the website through the phone, and so initially I hadn’t noticed the instructions. Since ‘doing it my way’ worked well, I stick to it.

Want a perfect pizza recipe? Give this one a go, honestly, it’s quite yummy!

The end result:
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© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 10th April 2015)
All photos by © Iva Beranek

Healthy cooking – it’s about the attitude, as well as the food

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Cooking can be a lot of fun, but if you are not used to it, at first it may appear somewhat daunting. With a lot of good restaurants and healthy-enough ready-made food available, one may wonder why bother with cooking. Imagine that you came home from a busy day at work, and all you want is to eat something quickly. On the way home you bought whatever you liked in the shop that looked healthy enough, something that can be ready and warm in less than five minutes. You prepare it and you have the whole evening to relax. However, afterwards you feel even more tired. And there will be days like that.

Now imagine another scenario. Instead of buying an instant meal, you bought some vegetables, pasta and little bit of chicken. You are just developing your cooking skill so you start with something simple. The very thought you are going to create a meal is making you feel enthusiastic. Even though you are tired from a day’s work, you can’t wait to explore your new skill. Maybe cooking first started as a sort of a hobby for you, something you do occasionally in any given week, but now the more you do it, you realise it is becoming a skill. You come home, you wash the vegetables, you wash the chicken, you cut it all and put on a frying pan with some oil. Maybe you ask you partner, spouse or housemate to share in this preparation stage during which you chat about your day. Engaging other people in your cooking shows how you value their presence and it bonds you in a fun way. In the meantime, you put pasta in a pot of salted boiling water. You follow the instructions that are on the pasta packaging, and you let it cook for as long as it says you should. You keep stirring the vegetables and meat until it gets a nice brownish colour. Not even fifteen minutes after, you have your own meal ready and you enjoy it while it’s hot. Make sure to add some parmesan cheese for taste! Not only did you satisfy your hunger this time, but you also feel quite good since you cooked the meal yourself. Cooking helps you approach your health with a holistic attitude.

Healthy eating is not only about what we eat, but how we eat it as well. This time you had pasta, but next time you will explore something more demanding until it becomes almost a daily routine. The more we experiment with cooking, the more satisfying it will feel – for our stomach as for our inner wellbeing.

In other words, the attitudes and habits we develop while eating can lead towards health or away from it. Certain types of food will be unhealthy no matter what, but it is not enough just to ‘throw’ a healthy food in our system and not change anything else in order to improve our health. I find that cooking our own food, as well as a balanced amount of exercise can go a long way towards living healthy lives. It will even reduce stress!

Yes, you heard that correctly. Cooking reduces stress. Why? I could not tell for sure, but it could as well be that it focuses us on the present moment, slows us down, and by taking our attention for a while it forces our mind to think about the here and now practicalities of what we need to do in order to get this meal ready. This gives much less chance for the mind to wonder and ‘worry’. This could be a reason. But I would say that just the simple fact that we are creating something will in itself be fulfilling, and when the end result is also quite delicious it is just an added bonus!

A meal is much more than the food prepared, it is an experience. Many cultures meet around the table and share a meal together as a way of family bonding and deepening of relationships. I have not been much experienced in cooking myself, until I got a desire to explore it more in the last year. If you think you ‘don’t have it in you’ to cook, believe me, you are most probably wrong. I thought the same. All you need is to start, explore and develop at your pace. Your own food will be healthier than instant food, and cheeper than eating out. I can vouchsafe that cooking is going to enrich your life, and not only with food!

Below are some of the things I prepared recently.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 23rd March 2015; note that the above was not meant to be a ‘recipe’. If it was I would have added a sauce or pesto to improve the taste.)
All photos by © Iva Beranek

Bread and a traditional Croatian recipe from Northern Croatia (štrukle).

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A vegetable tart.

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Orange and almond muffins.
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Let me know your cooking stories!