Jakša Bedalov’s earliest winemaking memory was when he was just five years old. Tasked with cleaning his family’s fermentation room near the coastal Croatian city of Split, Jakša remembers his father pushing him so that he could squeeze into the small space. It was a challenging feat since he was a broad-shouldered child.
“It was like being in the womb all over again,” he jokingly recalled during our recent cooking class in Kaštel Kambelovac, just minutes from Split.
The experience of being squished into a contorted position must not have been too traumatic, since today, winemaking is one of Jakša’s great loves. Another passion is creating traditional Croatian cuisine. More specifically, dishes from Jakša’s native Dalmatia. Dalmatia is a region of Croatia extending along the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea.
Before we started preparing the day’s three dishes, our friend Jakša elaborated upon his cooking philosophy.
“As I get older, I revert to creating childhood dishes that I was once afraid of. When you’re young, you run away from broad beans, but today they’re one of my favorite ingredients,” Jakša explained through our friend and translator Srđan Mitrović. Srđan runs the Art of Wine, and has certainly been keeping us busy with things to do in Split these past weeks!
With travelers on restricted diets participating in Jakša’s and Srđan’s culinary experiences, Jakša also found that creativity and versatility were important traits for a recipe developer to possess. For our informal class that day, Jakša had designed a menu around my gluten-free dietary restrictions, and ‘selectarian’ meat preferences (I only eat seafood and poultry.)
Upon arrival, he greeted us with shots of Rakija (Croatia’s Grappa or brandy), coffee, and freshly-baked gluten-free bread made with corn and buckwheat flour. We immediately found the bread to be quite tempting; it was lucky I didn’t ruin my appetite before we even got started on eating the main courses!
When I asked Jakša about his favorite dishes, his facial expressions become immediately impassioned.
“I have ten favorite dishes – everything from Beef Pašticada, to dishes with lamb, broad beans, cabbage, and aged sheep’s milk cheese. They’re all divine!”
The common thread that weaves Dalmatian dishes together, Srđan explained, is Jakša’s use of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
“Jakša has an Old World Mediterranean, simple cooking philosophy,” Srđan explained as we began our time in the kitchen. “The philosophy of Old World Mediterranean cooking focuses upon using fresh ingredients, whereas the New World philosophy is all about the chef.”
“Having a vision is the key, since each ingredient has its own story,” Jakša added.
As Jakša pulled out red peppers from his arsenal of fresh produce, Srđan continued.
“Croatia’s Dalmatian dishes are light and simple, letting the main ingredients shine. You must start with good, quality ingredients, and that’s why we cook with what’s in season. Jakša’s veggies and spices are certified organic – they’re grown locally and in his garden.”
While swirling glasses of Maraština in the kitchen, I become increasingly curious about Jakša’s family history of winemaking.
I learned that Jakša’s family has been growing grapes for hundreds of years, with records showing that his ancestors have lived in the area for at least 800. Jakša explained that Kaštel Kambelovac and the surrounding towns used to be a wilderness, with Split’s Old Town as the only sizable city nearby.
Eventually, we plated our carefully-prepared cuisine and took it into Jakša’s dining room, where we savored the delicious meal Jakša so patiently helped us create. We would remain there until the early evening hours, taking our cue from the melted-down candles that it was time to go. It was a fantastic day that gets me hungry just thinking about it!
Below, you’ll find our menu, as well as a recipe for Jakša’s incredible Zinfandel Risotto. If you try the recipe, I’d love to hear what you think.
Jakša’s cooking epitomizes the Slow Food movement, which aims to preserve local food traditions and raise awareness of the food people eat. In today’s fast-paced world, do you think this is do-able? If so, how do you incorporate such practices into your lifestyle?
As they say here in Croatia, Dobar tek – bon appétit!
Flight of Wine:
- Bedalov 2011 Maraština, 13.3% alcohol content. (Similar to Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc.)
- Bedalov 2012 Tribus, 14.2% alcohol content. (A blend of Zinfandel (Crljenak Kaštelanski), Plavac Mali and Dobričić.)
- Buckwheat & Corn Flour Bread
- Grilled Squid & Vegetable Salad: A vibrant-colored blend of cherry tomatoes, red peppers, corn, broad beans, chickpeas, and grilled squid drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil.
- Zinfandel Risotto: Arborio rice slowly cooked with a blend of parsley and garlic, vegetable stock, and of course, Zinfandel wine. (Recipe at the bottom of this post.)
- Cuttlefish & Broad Beans: Broad beans and cuttlefish combined with a base of red onions, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and olive oil. Cuttlefish ink is added at end of cooking for aesthetic purposes, and to give the dish a bit of a salty kick.
Video of This Experience:
Where in the World?
Jakša’s Zinfandel Risotto
- 4 fistfuls Arborio rice (Jakša recommends that you use 1 fistful of rice per person)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 2 large red onions (the reddest you can find), finely diced
- 1 handful parsley, finely diced
- 400 milliliters (about 2 cups) un-oaked, fresh Zinfandel. (You want a lighter Zinfandel, so use a newer vintage. Jakša recommends that you try to cook with a vintage that matches the current year.)
- ¾ of a liter stock (about 3.5 cups)
- pat of butter
- olive oil for sautéing
- salt & pepper to taste
- Sauté onions in olive oil.
- When the onion starts to turn yellow, add the parsley and garlic. Then add rice. Add more olive oil as needed.
- Sear the rice with the onion, garlic and parsley mixture for 2-3 minutes.
- On the side, heat ¾ liter vegetable stock.
- After you’ve seared the rice for a few minutes, pour in the Zinfandel. Stir. When the rice soaks up the Zinfandel, put in a small portion of the stock, little by little, while constantly stirring. Whenever the rice soaks up the liquid pour in more stock, then stir continuously. After 10-15 min, test the rice. It should be al dente or firm, about 2/3 of the way cooked. Turn off the heat, and remove risotto. Add a pat of butter to the risotto. Cover and let stand for 5-10 minutes. You can also add some Parmesan cheese during this step.
- Use salt & pepper to taste.
- Garnish. Jakša garnished our dishes with a piece of red pepper and one grape leaf.
- Pair with Zinfandel, preferably from the Bedalov Winery. :)
- You’re probably thinking that we’re lucky to count Srđan and Jakša among our circle of Croatian friends, and we are! If you’ll be in the Split area and also want to learn about Croatian food and wine, get in touch with them through Bedalov Winery or the Art of Wine. When coordinating a cooking class or culinary experience, be sure to give them at least one day’s notice so they can source the freshest ingredients. Since I only eat gluten-free foods, and I’m a ‘selectarian’ meat eater, they customized our class to be naturally gluten free. They’ll also tailor experiences to meet the needs of vegetarians, vegans, extreme carnivores, etc.
- Shawn and I have spent two winters in Split, finding accommodation in apartments that would be packed during the summer months, but are practically empty during winter. During our first 2.5 months there, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) featured much character, including Roman brickwork embedded into our wall, and overhead views of Split’s Old Town streets. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too. Two years later, we returned to Split, staying in the charming Varoš neighborhood, which is known for its quirky stone homes sporting hunter-green shutters and flower boxes. For those 2 months, we stayed in quaint studio apartments at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed our tiny terrace and the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, which previously belonged to Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.
- If you’ll be staying in Split for a few days, you might be interested in the Split Card, which gives you free entry to certain museums and galleries, and reduced rates to others. Back in 2014, people staying in Split for 3 days or more could pick up the Split Card for free, but as of 2016, there is a fee to purchase the card. The link above details the current cost, as well as the participating museums and businesses.
- Would you like more ideas as you plan your vacation in Croatia? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video.
67 thoughts on “Fresh Delights: A Cooking Class in Split, Croatia”
This has to be the most beautiful, fabulous of all cooking classes. I love the photographs of the two of you having a simply splendid time. Bon Appetit!!! V.
Thank you, Virginia! What made the experience even more fun was that we shared it with friends. I also enjoyed taking the microphone for the first time and acting as narrator in Shawn’s video at the bottom. :)
Hope you’re enjoying a lovely Sunday on your side of the Atlantic. Perhaps you can give this recipe for the Zinfandel Risotto a whirl?
When I need comfort food Lar makes me risotto. It is the perfect comforting dish. This recipe beckons me.
Tricia. XX V.
Virginia, I imagine it’s quite tasty. Since I’m ever on the lookout for more ideas, what are some of the ingredients Lar uses in your risotto? I’ve tried zucchini and butternut squash so far. Someday it’d be fun to join you in the kitchen! :)
love the video!! the food makes me hungry :)
Thank you, Life Out of the Box. I’ll share your kudos with my husband Shawn who is the filmmaker in the family. :) Love the concept of LOOTB and see you’ve also been inspired by travel. (We’re in the midst of starting a nonprofit now…)
Thank you for checking our site out Tricia! We’d love to hear more about the non-profit you’re starting. We’ll be following along on your blog :)
Are you two currently in Central America? We’re thinking of launching in Europe, but there are lots of partners we’d like to have worked with in Southeast Asia as well. The world is simultaneously quite big and small, and I guess we start with small deeds. :)
I absolutely adore cooking classes, Tricia. In fact, I’ve been attending one over this weekend in southern Spain. Your photos and write-up are amazing :)
Hi Marianne, and thank you for your kind comment. In what city did you take a cooking class? Here’s hoping you’ll be soon sharing some of what you learned about Spain’s cuisine? :)
My cooking class was in the Spanish town of Vejer in Cadiz province (on the Atlantic coast of south west Spain). Oh yes, I’ll be blogging about it soon :)
That’s a region that we’d love to explore more. We spent a few days in Sevilla 2 years ago. What I remember most vividly eating there was Gazpacho in the park. Look forward to your cooking class details.
What can be more earthy yet so heavenly than cooking your own food, from scratch, with great ingredients helped along by wine and other spirits….and a chef to guide the process!
I couldn’t agree more, Annette. From winemaking to cooking slow food masterpieces, Jakša is surely a talented individual. I especially appreciate that he’s making dishes that have been handed down in his family for generations.
Yummy, that all looks so good. I will definitely try the Zinfandel Risotto. Thanks for sharing.
Darlene, so much good food indeed! I’ve since made Zucchini Risotto at our apartment here, but used a white wine instead. I’m looking forward to trying Zinfandel in the dish. Fitting that this area is the grape’s ancestral home. If you try the recipe, I’ll be curious how it turns out. :)
Love cooking classes and this one looks great (and very tasty!). Great pictures! Have to try the recipes.
Nina, if you do give the Zinfandel Recipe a whirl, I’d love to hear how it goes. As they say here in Croatia, dobar tek – bon appétit. :)
I love this kind of an experience. I didn’t know about the Art of Wine, but will certainly check them out and hopefully book this culinary experience. I love broad beans, and they are really used a lot in the Dalmatian cuisine. Another winter delight in Dalmatia for me is a kind of cabbage called Rastika (collard greens?). And they make a dish called Misanca, containing this cabbage and all kinds of wild plants (sow thistle, wild fennel, wild garlic, etc..), lots of olive oil, and sometimes a dried lamb meat (optional). This is like really awesome. Long comment that just made me hungry. Weird that Jaksa uses Zinfandel wine (?!). Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler.
Frank About Croatia, belated greetings to you both! During our time in Split, we got acquainted with and came to really love Misanca; I knew there was some wild fennel in there, but am glad you helped me identify the sow thistle and wild garlic.
What’s really interesting about the Zinfandel (Crljenak Kaštelanski) is that the area around Split is the grape’s ancestral homeland. We’ll be doing a post/video on that soon (specifically visiting the church where records show it’s been grown in the area for 1,000 years) but in the meantime, if you’re curious the link below gives more of a background to it. Živjeli and hope you’re having a wonderful weekend :)
Oh, that looks absolutely wonderful! I loved all of your photos. I hadn’t even thought of doing a cooking class in Split, I’ve really got to consider it next time I’m there :)
Caitlyn, it sounds like you make it to Split regularly? This is our second time here, but first time trying our hand at cooking Dalmatian cuisine. What I like about the cuisine is its use of ingredients that are in season, and that so many people make their own wine and olive oil. Our apartment owner, for example, recently gave us a bottle of his own olive oil. This has made me want to return here during the olive harvest!
What a beautiful experience! Makes me want to return to Europe for more adventures, and it makes me very hungry. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Hi Marie, so nice to hear from you! Perhaps whipping up some recipes from Europe would help ease any homesickness you’re feeling. I must confess that I’m missing Spätzle and Heidelberg’s Schnitzel Haus restaurant in the Altstadt. In what state are you now? Again, very nice to see your message!
We’ve retired in Southern California, and have been here for six months. My job now is unpacking boxes and updating our home. It’s refreshing to read about your adventures.
Marie, glad that a bit of ‘armchair travel’ can take you away from the task of unearthing yourself from a mountain of cardboard. :) Here’s hoping you’ll make it back this way sometime soon. (Southern California sounds like a wonderful place to call home; my husband used to live in San Diego and draws many similarities to SD and our current ‘home away from home’ in Split.)
What a great thing to do, the food looks delicious, and funnily enough I feel the same way about broad beans! :D
Bavariansojourn, a belated hello to you! Funny, I’m not certain I’d eaten many broad beans before this cooking class experience. Do you have any favorite ways to prepare them? Knowing how protein and fiber-rich they are, I’d like to incorporate them into more dishes, so always open to ideas.
So many possibilities… Great in soups, perfect for hummous, lovely in salad too… (do a search on pinterest, it comes up with lots of ideas!)… If you don’t like the slightly bitter skins, you can just pop them out and throw the skins away! :)
Bavariansojourn, that sounds delicious – especially the hummous which is a favorite in our home!
Wow! That looks like an excellent and fun class, and the menu superb! I will pass on the information to some friends who are planning a trip to Croatia. This makes me wish I were going too!
Marilyn, it was a fun afternoon of learning and dining. Perhaps you can stow away in your friends’ luggage. :) Do you know what time of year they’ll be coming here?
Found you via Sunday Traveler! We love cooking classes around here, so I’ll have to see if The Art of Wine would be up for customizing a cooking class to do with kids on our spring trip to Croatia. Great post – thanks for sharing!
Thrifty Travel Mama, glad to have connected via Sunday Traveler! The classes sound pretty flexible with regard to the menus, etc., so I’m pretty sure Srdjan at the Art of Wine could work with you and your family. It sounds like you regularly do cooking classes when you travel – what have been some of your favorites so far? We’re always on the lookout for good classes too, and have so far done 3 in Asia and 2 in Europe.
Hi Tricia! I’ve been poking around the website, and I like what I see. A cooking class on a catamaran? Awesome! We are just getting our feet wet with the classes, but we have loved these two… Tuscany (http://bit.ly/Lw46wk) and Sri Lanka (http://bit.ly/1c0Qe42) though the latter, regretfully, was not on location.
Thank you for sharing the links to your favorite cooking class experiences. We love everything from Italian to very spicy food, so I hope to give some of your recipes a whirl.
I see you’re currently living in Germany – which city? I previously called Heidelberg home for 10 years. :)
Let me know how you like them :) We’re just a few hours south in Freiburg.
Freiburg is a beautiful city. Say hello to Baden-Württemberg; I miss Heidelberg!
Yes, we love it. Heidelberg is lovely too; it’s easy to see why you miss it. Where is home for now.. or more accurately.. your suitcase unpacked currently? :)
“Where is (our) suitcase unpacked currently?” I love it. :) Our current ‘home away from home’ is Split, Croatia. We’ve been here since early December and plan on staying through early March. I do hope we might have the chance to see Heidelberg this summer; I haven’t been back there since the spring of 2012.
We’ll be breezing through Split at the end of April – too bad we’ll miss you! Enjoy it while you’re there. I am loving catching up on your posts :)
I’m finally catching up in the blogosphere, and I just saw that you’re taking a break from it to pursue your language lessons.
Here’s wishing you and your family a wonderful time in Split. We just left a few weeks ago, but already missing the warmth of the weather and the friendly people we met along the way. We hope to be back this fall though.
Thanks Tricia! Too bad our paths won’t cross there. Maybe in a future destination :)
Thanks everybody for the kind word, we worked extremely hard to set up genuine and delicious classes for people who are really interested in Croatian cuisine. Tricia & Shawn really brought it to life with their work for which i am forever grateful.
Travelmama, be sure to let us know when you are around these parts, well more than happy to do something for the whole family :)
Thank you for your kind words, Srdjan. I hope we’ve only just begun with such adventures, and that we’ll be back later in the year. :) Thank you for being such a great ambassador for Croatia.
Ooh, thanks for including the recipe. I’ve always wanted to do a cooking class while traveling – this one looks exceptional, though. It’s great that he can accommodate different diets!
Hi Jess, we’ve been lucky enough to have done a few while on the road. With cooking classes, I like that we get to mingle with local residents that we wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to meet. The recipes also make great souvenirs of a place.
Wow! This looks like an absolutely amazing experience. We loved the food in Croatia (especially in Split) – and you got to learn how to make some of our favorites! The photos are mouth-watering…thanks for sharing (we will be trying the risotto recipe out for sure!) and safe travels!
Greetings Travis and thanks for stopping by. How long did you spend in Split? The risotto recipe is a fun way to bring a bit of Croatia home – especially since Dalmatia is the Zinfandel grape’s genetic home. :)
My mouth is still watering from the grilled squid (personal favorite, being a native of Southern Europe), but the cuttlefish also looks amazing. And I love the broad beans! This looks not only fun but also ridiculously delicious. Thank you and good luck!
Lunaguava, if you’re tempted by the description of the food, then I accomplished my mission. :) From which country are you originally?
I see you’re now in a place that must have equally-tasty food. How long do you plan on being in Guatemala?
What fun! And in beautiful surroundings too.
Carol, it was the perfect way to pass a rainy afternoon! Jakša, our host, does have a knack for incorporating traditional Dalmatian design and flavor into what he does. And the view from his restaurant is quite something. (Unfortunately the weather was too sour for us to sit outside, but he’s situated right along the Adriatic Sea.)
Tricia what an experience all those awesome cooking classes you are part of, it all looks so authentic and real! I wished to be in your luggage.Ciao!
Indeed, we’ve been quite lucky to have learned how to make such tasty slow-cooked food, Cornelia. How is the making of the magic carpet coming along? :)
Beautiful post, Tricia. Once again, you and Shawn pull it all together into a professional presentation. A blend of in season vegetables, local wine and cuttlefish truly make this this a regional favorite, I’m sure.
Belated greetings and thanks to you, Lynne, for your compliments! Shawn’s computer developed an unexpected illness in Croatia a few weeks ago (a bad Apple) which necessitated a change of plans (hello, Italy). :-)
Indeed, the combination of slow-cooked, in-season, local food made for delicious fare. I felt even more special given that it was all gluten free.
Hope you and Ron have been well, and look forward to catching up on your tales soon!
Awww — super cute, Tricia! Love your little movie and your voice over — you guys look like you had so much fun! How funny that you went to a cooking class, too — i don’t know how you were able to cook and photograph and videotape all at the same time! Very impressive :) Food looks great!
Neely, aww, thanks for your kind words. :) It was a bit of a challenge juggling stirring spoon, cameras, and fork, but we had a great day. I’m looking forward to making the Zinfandel Risotto recipe again.
Completely brilliant post. They look like so much fun to be with. I have been very bad at keeping on top of my blog-reading lately. Sorry. I missed a lot of super stuff. Serves me right!
Rachael, that makes two of us then! Between (bad Apple!) computer problems and moving between Croatia, Italy and Germany, it’s been challenging keeping up, but now it’s quite nice to be back.
Indeed, Shawn and I enjoyed being in the company of these two. Mischief and good food and wine make for a fun afternoon, even if it was a rainy one.
I would love to do this! I hope to get to Croatia, and when I do, I will sign up for this class.
Naomi, fingers crossed that you’ll also get the chance to explore Croatia someday soon. In the meantime, you could give this Zinfandel Risotto recipe a whirl. :)
Hi! Loved this as I’m traveling to Split on July 1st :) If you don’t mind my asking, could you tell me which tour you did exactly?? Thanks!
Hi Marija, you must be excited to be Split-bound! We enjoyed our 2+ months there immensely, and can’t wait to return. Regarding this cooking class experience, we didn’t do any tour in particular. Jakša and Srdjan will tailor the class to your dietary needs. We happen to be friends with them now, but they made sure that the menu was gluten-free for me, and without beef/pork, which I don’t eat. Send Srdjan a message via his site http://winetastingcroatia.com/ and just tell him what interests you. Enjoy!
thank you for commenting, we do a lot of different variations of cooking classes so feel free to email me and we can create a program that would suit you best.
The Art of Wine