With many thanks to my dear friend Lazar Stojković for this detailed culinary and social background info!
This dish originated in Southeastern Serbia where people are traditionally very frugal. In fact, there are as many Serbian jokes about the thriftiness of people from Pirot (a town which somehow ended up being the poster child) as there are British jokes about the Scots.
Another thing Southeastern Serbia is famous for is its grill / BBQ (ser. “roštilj”) which is among the best in the entire Balkan Peninsula. The grillmasters of Leskovac (about 60 km from Pirot) pretty much rule supreme in that department. A few staple foods there are as follows:
Pljeskavica (amounts to about 5-10 ćevapi)
Leskovac grilled sausage (usually spicy)
Vešalica (deboned pork chops, cut along the length)
Chicken liver rolled in bacon
Now, aside from the wonderful quality of the meats, the important thing here is also the quantity.
If you order just Mešano meso (eng. “Mixed meat”), you’ll get a little bit of everything mentioned above on a single plate. It’s quite manageable. However, if you order Leskovački voz (eng. “The train of Leskovac”), you’re in for a big surprise.
You’ll be getting a full portion (not just samplers!) of each of the aforementioned dishes on its own plate, arriving one by one so you can eat everything while it’s still warm. Not too many people can go through a “train car”!
Anyhow… being very economical (malicious people would say penny-pinching) grillmasters with strong distaste for throwing food away, people from Leskovac came up with an idea how to reuse uneaten Ražnjići (eng. “Small skewers”) that were not used in a meal.
The story goes that they would carefully remove the meat from the skewers and reuse it in Leskovački uštipci to avoid throwing it away and being forced to buy new meat for a new meal.
Interestingly, the name of the dish itself means “Uštipci of Leskovac”, which sounds to me a lot like a boast along the lines of “in your town, uštipci are made of yeast and flour, but ours are made of top-notch BBQ meat” (which had originally come from Ražnjići, but I guess that’s a part no one mentions).
Eventually, the dish grew so much in popularity that it “earned its right” not to be made from previously grilled “recycled” meat. 🙂
Once you and your guests realize these are basically spicy bacon cheeseburgers in a single bite form, they will be devoured with ferocity, Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
600g / 1 ⅓ pounds mixed ground meat – veal and pork neck meat is ideal
180g / 6 ½ ounces of dry artisanal slab bacon
100g / 3 ½ ounces of Serbian Kashkaval yellow cheese (Serbian качкаваљ or kačkavalj) – TFG recommends cheddar or Dutch Beemster XO as more easily found replacements)
3 cloves of garlic
1 green jalapeño pepper
1 red Fresno pepper (or use a red or green jalapeño if unavailable)
¼ cup minced celery leaves
2 tsp ground bay leaves
½ tsp hot cayenne
1 ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
Finely chop bacon, cheese and hot peppers. Peel garlic and finely chop.
Combine ground meat, celery leaves, bacon, cheese, garlic, ground bay leaves, nutmeg and hot cayenne. Add salt and pepper to taste, run once through a meat grinder and knead.
Form fritters in the size of a walnut. slightly flatten with palms and fry in a skillet with some oil. If you are using a grill (preferred), make them a larger size.
Serve with Sebian ajvar pepper relish.