Blitva is the quintessential Croatian side dish. It was once associated with the cuisine of coastal Croatia. But, nowadays, this magic leafy green is no longer only a Dalmatian affair.
Before I give you the best recipe for blitva na lešo, we need to tackle the vocabulary.
What is blitva?
The word blitva means Swiss chard. It is the leafy green of choice when it comes to healthy side dishes all across Croatia.
The standard way to cook Swiss chard is to boil it with some cubed potatoes. Once it's drained, we season it with some salt, pepper, minced garlic and olive oil. This simple cooking technique is called na lešo, which means to cook. But because chard is always prepared na lešo style, we concocted an expression: na blitvu.
What does na blitvu mean?
It means to cook any other leafy green veggies in the same way as the Swiss chard. Hence, we can have špinat na blitvu (spinach), raštika na blitvu (collard greens) or any other wild leafy greens (called mišancija) prepared in the same way.
On the extreme end of the metaphor, blitva stands for the entire Dalmatian cuisine and way of life. In the line-up of Dalmatia-specific words, such as fjaka or pomalo, blitva is at the top. So much so that to say someone is a chard-eating person (blitvar), means they hail from Dalmatia.
There is a caveat here, though. If I was called a blitvar, I would take it as a compliment. But some people might find it offensive. So, use the word with caution.
What can you eat blitva with?
Blitva is usually a side dish to seafood. You can eat it with any kind of grilled fish. Pick a premium white fish, such as sea bream or sea bass, or the humble sardines. You can't go wrong. The other common seafood that matches chard is grilled squid.
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But, blitva is so versatile that even vegetarians and vegans can enjoy it. Blitva with fried or boiled eggs is a great vegetarian lunch. You can also serve it with crispy or sautéed tofu for vegans.
The health benefits of Dalmatian blitva are widely known on the continent too. So, now, you can even have blitva served with grilled or breaded meat. Most restaurants in inland Croatia have it on the menu.
What type of potatoes for blitva?
Now, this is the crucial detail. And the reason why my Mum disliked blitva when she first married my Dalmatian Dad.
In all my Croatian travels, I've seen two ways of cooking blitva na lešo. The first one resembles the way my Dalmatian relatives cook it. All the steps are the same until they come to the straining part. They leave quite a bit of liquid so the entire dish swims in a soupy (thin) sauce.
The other way is to choose starchy potato and just slightly overcook it. Once you drain all the liquid and add the olive oil, stir the dish vigorously until you get a creamy emulsion. When the water from chard, starch from the potato and olive oil meet, you end up with a really velvety and creamy dish.
The added trick is to cook the blitva stems as long as the potato. The leafy strips need only 5 minutes. The stems will be soft but still enough to give texture to the overall dish.
That's my favourite take on blitva na lešo.
Croatian blitva recipe
- 1 kg Swiss chard (2.2 lbs)
- 4 large potatoes (cubed)
- 1-2 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 3-4 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the chard and cut off the white stems. Chop the stems into thumb-sized cubes and leaves into strips.
- Bring water to a boil, add salt and cook the stems and potatoes for 12-15 minutes or until potatoes are almost tender. Then throw in the leafy strips. Cook for about 5 minutes.
- Drain well. Season with olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
- Whisk vigorously with a wooden spoon so that potatoes slightly fall apart and add to the creaminess of blitva.
- Serve with any kind of fish or, on a weekday, with eggs.
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