Croatia

Croatia was one of the more difficult countries to pick recipes… from what I read (and what I can still remember several weeks later), their cuisine is pretty varied, with different regions enjoying food similar to Bosnia, Italy, Austria, or Hungary.

When I was looking through possible recipes, one that immediately caught my eye is pasticada, also known as a Dalmation pot roast.  Dalmatian like the region… not like 101 Dalmatians.  It is a cut of beef that is marinated and slow cooked with bacon inside of it, then served with a savory tomato/fruit/rosemary/bay leaf/etc. sauce and gnocchi.  Sounds delicious.  We also made a poppy seed roll called makovnjaca for dessert.

Potato Gnocchi (recipe)

We looked at a few gnocchi recipes and went with this mashed potato based one.  We started with boiling and mashing potatoes, which were mixed with butter and left to cool.  Then they were mixed with flour, eggs, salt, and cut into small pieces.  It made a LOT.  We still have 1/3 of the uncooked gnocchi in the freezer for a future meal.

Croatia_gnocchi_uncooked

I didn’t get a good picture from after boiling the gnocchi, so you’ll just have to wait for the picture with the main course to see how they turned out.

Pasticada (recipe)

We started with a cut of beef and stuffed little pieces of bacon stuffed inside it.  This was marinated with apple cider vinegar and mustard, and then it was browned in oil.  The onion, garlic, and vegetables (carrots and celery root) were sautéed in the oil, then the meat and veggies were simmered for a couple hours in red wine, water, and sugar.

pasticada_1

 

By the way, it was our first time experiencing a celery root… that thing looked and smelled like pure evil.

celery_root

More wine and sugar were added throughout the cooking time, as was the tomato paste, apple slices, prunes, and figs.  Later the bay leaves and rosemary went in, too.

pasticada_2

 

At the end, a little bit of semi-sweet chocolate and plum jam were added to taste.  The meat was removed, the remaining sauce/produce were blended, and it was served over the gnocchi!

pasticada_with_gnocchi

Makovnjaca (recipe)

This recipe started with making a yeast based dough that was left to rise for several hours.  After that, the (ground) poppy seeds were cooked in hot milk on the stove with honey, lemon rind, cinnamon, and rum.  Then this was left to cool off a bit.

The dough was rolled out and covered with the poppy seed filling.

Makovnjaca_1

This was rolled up and could be topped with either sugar or poppy seeds.  Due to some misunderstanding of the recipe, we did not scale it at all and ended up with TWO rolls, so we made one each way.

Makovnjaca_2

After baking:

Makovnjaca_3

And here it is cut into slices (the swirly was actually much better in the second roll, but I never took a picture of it):

Makovnjaca_4

We were very pleased with how this meal turned out.  The gnocchi, beef, and sauce were fantastic.  You definitely had to be mentally prepared for a very rich meal, since the sauce was puréed fruit, aromatic vegetables, and herbs.  But it was delicious.  We both rated it pretty highly.  I’m also excited to get out the frozen leftover gnocchi sometime when we need a quick dinner idea.

The makovnjaca (poppy seed roll) was good, although I would have liked for it to be a bit sweeter.  I normally am okay with less sweet desserts, but this took it a bit too far for my taste.  That said, I thought the dough was very good and enjoyed the taste of poppy seeds… I can’t say I have eaten something so prominently featuring them.  It was pretty good with a cup of tea.

Bulgaria

For some reason when I hear about Bulgaria, I have always thought it is next to Russia and would have similar food and culture.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit how surprised I was when I realized that Bulgaria actually borders Greece, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, and Macedonia.  So the cuisine was much closer to Mediterranean cuisine than I expected.  Not a bad surprise!

I was also surprised to learn how heavily yogurt seems to be eaten there!  All of the dishes we selected included yogurt, and two of them recommended serving yogurt on the side.  I learned that a type of bacteria used to make yogurt, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, was named by a Bulgarian scientist upon discovery in 1905.  As a side note, the linked article starts with a statement about how “there is hardly a person in the world who doesn’t know Bulgaria is the homeland of the yogurt.”  So I guess that makes me a pretty ignorant person of the world.

I found several good looking dishes for Bulgaria, and it was tough to narrow them down.  Stuffed peppers were a very close runner up, and the three winners were:

  • Tarator: a cold, yogurt-based soup with cucumbers, dill, walnuts, and garlic
  • Moussaka: a casserole dish with potatoes, tomatoes, and ground meat topped with a layer of egg and yogurt.  There is also a Greek version of this dish that uses eggplant, but the consensus seemed to be that Bulgarians are the original moussaka makers.
  • Banitsa: a dish made of philo dough layered with a filling of cheese, egg, and yogurt

Tarator (recipe)

We prepared the soup early in the afternoon–this gave it time to chill and took some of the pressure off the later dinner preparations.  It came together very easily; we just had to do some chopping, measuring, and stirring.   First I got a “bunch” of dill from our garden.

dill_for_tarator_soup

The dill and parsley (conveniently, the two herbs we need for this meal) have both been prolific lately!

prolific_dill_and_parsley

Back to the soup.  The cucumbers, yogurt, ground walnuts, finely chopped garlic, and chopped dill were mixed together.

tarator_soup_ingredients

Then enough water was added to reach the desired consistency.  I like a thick soup, so we didn’t add much water.  I also thought some liquid would seep out of the cucumbers over the time and make it more watery.

tarator

 

Moussaka (recipe)

I didn’t take many pictures since this was a pretty simple casserole.  The recipe calls for ground meat and says that ground pork is most common in Bulgaria, although after reviewing several different recipes for this dish, I found ground beef to show up in more recipes.  So we used ground beef.  This was fried with onion (big surprise there) first, then chopped tomatoes, parsley, potatoes, salt, and pepper were mixed in and transferred to a 9×13 glass baking dish.

moussaka_pre_cooking

This baked for 1 hour.  I was worried that it would burn or dry out, but it was fine.  Then the eggs and yogurt were mixed together, poured on top, and the dish went back in the oven.

moussaka_with_topping

 

I checked on it after the recommend 10 minutes, and although everything looked cooked and done, the top didn’t have the nice golden spotted color I saw on many pictures online.  So we turned on the broil setting to give it some direct heat for a few minutes.  It looked perfect after that.  I forgot to take a picture until after I had scooped out my food, so we can just pretend the picture was set up this way to show off a cross section of the casserole.  I may or may not have been very hungry.

moussaka

 

Banitsa (recipe)

We started preparations for this meal by setting the philo dough out to the thaw with plenty of time (at least 2 hours).  We have had countless struggles in the past with improperly thawed philo dough breaking apart while being unrolled.  Giving it adequate thawing time made a huge difference, as expected.

The next step was mixing together the filling.  I couldn’t find the specific Bulgarian cheese that is referenced in most of the banitsa recipes, but feta cheese seems to be a close approximation.  The crumbled feta is mixed with eggs and (you guessed it) yogurt.  Then several sheets of philo dough were layer out, smothered in melted butter, and topped with this filling.  The filling was very liquidy, so this was a bit of a messy operation.  This was then rolled up and transferred to the baking pan.  I felt brave and went with the traditional method, which involves creating a spiral with each philo dough roll you make (the “cheating” method is to just layer it all in a square or rectangular pan).  I had reasonably good success with this process, although I had to use two pans since I didn’t have anything round that was big enough to hold it all.

About a half a cup of milk was poured over each pan before it went in the oven.

Banitsa_pre_cooking

They looked and smelled amazing when they came out of the oven later.

banitsa

And they looked even better when sliced open.

banitsa_slice

The final meal:

Bulgaria_meal

Meal review:

We liked everything in this meal.  Despite the ridiculous amount of yogurt, was definitely one of our all around winners.

I’m generally not a huge fan of cold soups, but this tarator is the third time I have encountered them on this project.  I liked aspects of the last two in Azerbaijan (which could be served hot or cold) and Belarus, but Tyler was stuck with  most of the leftovers of them.  I think the difference with tarator is the consistency.  I like chunkier soups, and the diced cucumber made it chunky.  I have heard that sometimes the cucumber is grated or even blended, and I’m really glad I stuck with diced cucumber.  I couldn’t eat a lot of this in one sitting, but I did continue to enjoy it as leftovers.

The moussaka was good.  I won’t say it was amazing, but it was a good, hearty casserole.  Parsley was the only herb or spice (other than salt/pepper), and it wasn’t very distinct.  The tomato, beef, and potato held their own, though.  The side of yogurt was a nice additition, and I actually mixed in some of the tarator soup when I had it as a leftover to get some extra moisture and flavor.

The banitsa was the hands-down winner of this meal! I strongly dislike the flavor and texture of eggs, and with four eggs going into the filling for this, suffice to say I was nervous.  But I absolutely loved it.  The eggs mixed with the yogurt and feta well enough for it to not seem egg-ey.  Overall, this had the delicious texture of a pastry (like a croissant or apple struedel), thanks to the philo dough, and when that mixed with the filling the flavor reminded me of macaroni and cheese.  Each bite was a warm, cheesy, pastry-ish treat.  They also recommended serving some yogurt on the side with this, which a nice enhancement but definitely wasn’t necessary to make the dish.  I read that this is typically served as a breakfast dish, which we discovered was a great idea for leftovers.

 

Albania: Meal Review

Since we picked relatively simple recipes for Albania, we made this a weeknight meal.

Albanian style salad

This salad was simple and refreshing.  The bell pepper was especially crisp and tasty.  Although this seems to be a typical salad for the Mediterranean area, it is not too different from something I would find in an American restaurant.  Either way, it was a nice way to start the meal.

Albanian_style_salad

Byrek (spinach pie)

We enjoyed this dish.  It wasn’t quite hot enough when we ate, unfortunately.  This could be due to it cooling off while waiting for the main course to finish, or due to needing a few more minutes in the oven… either way, I had salad on my plate by the time I realized this, so microwaving was not an option. 😦  I have been enjoying this as a leftover and would consider making this again… you can’t really go wrong with Phyllo dough and Feta cheese!

Albanian_Byrek_finished

Tave Elbasani (lamb cooked in yogurt sauce)

As far as I know, this was my first time eating lamb.  I’m also not a fan of eggs… so this recipe was definitely out of my comfort zone.  The meat was pretty tender, lean, and tasty.  The yogurt sauce was thick and somewhat tart, but not too egg-ey.  Overall, the ratio of yogurt sauce to lamb was off–we had a lot of leftover yogurt sauce.  We enjoyed trying something different with this dish, but it wasn’t a favorite.  We probably won’t be making this one again.

Tave_elbasani_complete

The finished product:

Albania_meal

Albania: Tave Elbasani

We started by cooking 4 lamb chops (about 1 lb) on the stove. We cooked each side for a few minutes over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of butter per side. After they were browned, we lowered the heat and let the cook through, flipping occasionally.

Tave_elbasani_cooked_lamb

Meanwhile, I made a roux for the yogurt sauce. I melted 4 tablespoons of butter in a skillet, then added 2 tablespoons of flour and cooked over medium heat until it turned a nice golden-blonde color. I took it off the heat to let it cool down.

Tave_elbasani_roux

I then mixed together one 32 oz. container of plain Greek yogurt with four eggs and about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Then I mixed in the roux. I made sure it had cooled down a little so that the hot roux did not start to cook the eggs in the yogurt mixture.

Tave_elbasani_yogurt_sauce

I put the lamb chops in a prepared 8×10 pan (I would have used a casserole dish if we owned one) with 1/4 cup of rice.

Tave_elbasani_lamb&rice

I poured the yogurt sauce on top of the lamb chops.

Tave_elbasani_before_baking

This went in the oven at 350 F until the yogurt sauce looked thickened and golden brown. This took about 50 minutes.

Tave_elbasani_complete

Tave Elbasani

Ingredients:

1 – 1 1/2 lb lamb or beef
2 T butter
1/4 cup rice

For the sauce:
4 T butter
2 T all purpose flour
32 oz. plain Greek yogurt
4 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Cook the lamb or beef in the 2 T butter over medium-high heat until browned on big sides.
2. Lower heat and simmer meat until cooked through.
3. Melt 4 T butter in a skillet over medium heat.
4. Mix 2 T flour into melted butter and cook until thickened and blonde in color. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. Mix Greek yogurt, eggs, salt, and pepper. Then add in butter/flour mixture.
6. Sprinkle rice in the bottom of a prepared casserole dish. Put cooked lamb in dish, the pour yogurt sauce on top.
7. Bake at 350 degrees until yogurt sauce is thickened and golden brown, about 50 minutes.

Albania: Byrek (spinach pie)

We started by mixing together crumbled Feta cheese with chopped spinach. We used about 8 oz. of spinach with 6 oz. of Feta, but I think there is some flexibility with this ratio.

Albanian_Byrek_spinach&feta

I then melted 4 tablespoons of butter. I put some on the bottom of a glass pie pan, the started layering Phyllo dough and the spinach mixture. I put a little melted butter on top of each layer of Phyllo dough.

Albanian_byrek_layering

I finished by topping with several sheets of Phyllo dough and brushing a lightly beaten egg on top.

Albanian_byrek_uncooked

It was baked at 350 degrees F for 15 minute or until golden brown on top.

Albanian_Byrek_finished

Byrek

Ingredients:

8 oz. spinach
6 oz. Feta cheese
4 T butter, melted
1 8 oz. package Phyllo dough
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:

1. In a small bowl, mix together spinach and Feta.
2. Spread some melted butter on the bottom of a pie dish.
3. Spread several sheets of Phyllo dough in the pan. Top with a little melted butter and some of the spinach/Feta mixture.
4. Repeat step 4 until you use up the spinach/Feta mixture.
5. Top with remaining Phyllo dough
6. Spread beaten egg on top layer of Phyllo dough
7. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Albania

Albania is a country of 3 million people just north of Greece. Their food has Greek and Mediterranean influences, as well as Middle Eastern influences from their time under Ottoman rule. The cuisine changes as you move from the Mediterranean south to the mountainous north.

We selected three Albanian dishes to prepare:

Albanian style salad–full of fresh veggies, topped with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing and Feta cheese

Byrek–spinach pie

Tave Elbasani–lamb cooked in yogurt sauce