Spring Is Served!

Although it's technically not here yet, it's definitely in the air. I'm talking about spring in Zagreb, of course. All the usual signs are clearly visible. Longer, sunnier days, spring flowers in bloom, life back in the streets... And when it comes to food, is there such a dish or produce that just screams spring? What are the heralds of spring on a plate? The answer is not so clear-cut, but let's try to paint a picture.

Early spring is usually identified with Easter, and Easter food with all the customs associated with it is a big deal here. We all love crispy radishes, scallions, ham, horseradish, wild asparagus, wild garlic, all the vital clues that spring is in full power.

“Things are looking pretty green on the markets.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Other most common culinary symbols of spring, like strawberries or peas, come a little bit later, after Easter. What food knocks on the door in March and ushers in the new season? The list of fresh vegetables available in March includes kale, cauliflower, Swiss chard, spinach, beetroot... Many dishes using those ingredients come to mind, but at the same time, in the transition period between winter and spring, many people still eat a lot of hearty stews, sausages, sauerkraut and similar food typical for colder days. The seasons intertwine, until eventually the new one pushes the old out.

“A basket full of spring greens in Samobor’s Gabreku 1929 restaurant.” Image credit: Krčma Gabreku 1929 Samobor FB

The first step in my quest for the perfect Zagrebian early spring dish was to visit Dolac, the mother of all farmers' markets in the city. At first sight, it was clear that there are many new arrivals and the sight obviously differed from a somewhat limited selection of produce during the winter months. The green colour dominates and feels very soothing. I conducted a small survey, asking several vendors what dish epitomizes spring for them. The answers varied, depending on the vendor's background, but mostly they mentioned classics like asparagus with eggs, baby spinach pie, grilled baby lamb with new potatoes and scallions. Locals also mentioned radishes with cottage cheese and cream spread upgraded with fresh herbs and greens.

If you imagine a perfect early spring meal, it might look like this lunch in Kut.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Then I went for a bite in a downtown diner that serves simple seasonal dishes, different every day. Both the chef and sous-chef agreed that ramsons, or wild garlic, is what brings spring to mind for them. It was also included in the daily special – barley risotto with grilled chicken, spinach pesto and mixed greens. The other dish was homemade with wild garlic pesto and oyster mushrooms. The following day I had lunch in a well-known traditional family restaurant in Zagreb surroundings. All the greens foraged in the area were served – wild garlic, watercress, dandelion. This year the beginning of spring coincides with the opening of terraces after a lockdown period. So taking a peek at the menus and plates of restaurants in and around the city tells a lot about how we prepare for spring. And also about the eternal battle between winter and spring, very vivid in the kitchen.

“Restaurants are beckoning us with 50 shades of green.” Image credit: Vinodol FB

In conclusion, the arrival of spring in Zagreb cuisine is not that much about a select few specific dishes, but more about the fresh ingredients and the joy of using them, bringing them into focus. Spreads and dips, creamy soups and colourful stews, salads, green omelettes and casseroles, strudels and pies... Just let all the wonderful fresh produce inspire you, be creative and give spring a tasty welcome. 

          “Nowhere is the change of seasons as obvious as on the farmers’ markets.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Header image credit: Taste of Croatia

Author: Morana Zibar / Taste of Croatia