Growing up, I was exposed to a cuisine different from my schoolmates. If you came over to our home, you would not find the typical American dinner on our table. You'd be eating sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls), punjene paprike (stuffed peppers), burek that my dad would make, and a variety of other Croatian dishes.
Soups were big too - lentil soup, pea soup, and especially pašta fažol (pasta with pinto beans), or polenta with fažol - which I preferred over the pasta as the pasta would almost always end up being mushy.
Potato salad, at least the kind you might be familiar with, was also not on our menu. Nor was macaroni and cheese. As a side dish, you'd be eating blitva. "What is blitva?", you ask? Let me tell you.
It's actually Swiss chard leaves...
...that are chopped (at least that's how I do it)...
...and then added to a big pot of salted, boiling water with diced potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold - the red potatoes are good too) that are close to being cooked. You first add the potatoes to a large pot and cover them with about 3 inches or so of cold water. Salt the water and bring to a boil before adding the Swiss chard leaves.
The key to this dish is the simple seasoning - freshly chopped garlic, olive oil, and salt.
After about 10 or so minutes after you've added the Swiss chard leaves, the potatoes should be soft (they've already been cooking for a while) and the leaves should be ready. Turn off the heat, remove the pot to another burner and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the Swiss chard and potatoes to a serving dish. Save the cooking water as you will be adding some of it to the finished dish.
Mash the mixture a bit with a wooden spoon to break up the potatoes and add the chopped garlic, olive oil, and salt.
Add some of the cooking water (I added at least 150 ml, if not more, for a more soupy texture), depending how you prefer the consistency, and serve warm.
This was my dinner last night. I'm sure there are a few variations to this dish in the Croatian community, but it's how I make it. Being a traditional Croatian dish, it can be found in almost every restaurant and on almost every dinner table along the Dalmatian coast in southern Croatia.
Since my husband was out of town, I had leftovers for breakfast this morning (main photo). I found that the flavors had a chance to develop more fully after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. I simply warmed up the leftover blitva and ate it with a fried egg and a piece of dark rye bread. A delicious and healthy breakfast that I hope my children will one day embrace. Needless to say, they did not want to even try this dish last night. I'll keep trying.