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Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Cuisine of Albania

When you think of places to travel have you ever thought of Albania? Yes, the country bordering Greece, Montenegro, Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia. The one with a coastline on the Adriatic Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the southwest. If not let me tell you about the food they eat.The cuisine of Albania, as with most Mediterranean and Balkan nations, has been strongly influenced by its long history. The territory of Albania has been occupied by Greece, Italy and the Ottoman Turks and each group has left its mark on Albanian cuisine.

Milk from goats and ewes is made into kos and many varieties of cheeses. Oranges, lemons, and figs are the main available fruits; some grapes and wild berries are made into fermented beverages. Mixed garden vegetables are used seasonally and as available. These include: cucumbers, onions, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, marrows, okra, squash (kungull), potatoes, and tomatoes. With the establishment of canneries, there has been a gradual increase in the consumption of canned fruits and vegetables in the Albanian food. The favored meats are are lamb and mutton and sometimes chicken. Liver is considered a delicacy Albanian food. Meats are usually prepared in types of stews or as pilafs with rice, or skewered and roasted over open fires. There is also a variety of nuts grown locally: walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and hazelnuts. These may be used as nibbles, crushed (sometimes with garlic), and as sauces over meats and/or vegetables. The most successful crops of the Albanian farmer have for centuries been grains. Predominantly corn, but also wheat, rye, oats, and barley are harvested. These grains have been used to produce a variety of flours for breads that are consumed mainly in coastal areas and cities. But the main type of bread - indeed the main food - is a flat pancake-shaped corn bread broken into pieces and enjoyed with kos or cheese. Olive oil is the main type of fat used everywhere. Albanians enjoy very sweet and rich desserts made with nuts and syrupy sauces. The combination of thin, crisp pastries (identical to the Greek phyllo) with nuts, sugar or honey, cinnamon, and cloves, and finished with a heavy syrup, or very sweet puddings, are as beloved by the Albanians as they are by the Turks and Greeks. People who favor very sweet desserts will almost certainly also enjoy highly seasoned Albanian food, and the Albanians are no exception. Generous portions of garlic and onions, tart touches of lemon juice or lemon grating, and the more subtle enhancement of dill and parsley as well as cinnamon and cloves waft through Albanian food. The combination of crushed or chopped nuts with garlic and oil, to be served with greens or chicken, as well as the combination of nuts and raisins either for nibbling or as part of exotic sauces, are all typically Albanian food.

The main meal is lunch which is usually accompanied by a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and olives dressed with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Seafood specialties are common in the coastal areas of Durres, Vlore and Sarande.

Some of their specialties are: Fërgesë of Tirana with veal a dish made with veal, cottage or feta cheese, onions and spices, Qofte Te Ferguara fried meatballs made of lamb, beef or chicken, Tave Kosi baked lamb with yogurt sauce, Gjelle Me Arra veal or chicken with walnuts, Byrek Shqiptar Me Perime an Albanian vegetable pie with phylo dough, spinach, feta cheese and chopped green onions, Tave Me Prech leek casserole baked with ground beef, Jamime Fasule or bean yahni soup with white beans, onion, tomato sauce, chopped parsley, mint and spices, Turli Perimesh a main dish of mixed vegetables such as peppers, eggplant, okra, zucchini, potatoes etc. with chopped onions, tomatoes and parsley added, Mish Qingjji Me Barbunja veal with large lima beans, Eomlek rabbit casserole with onions and wine, Qafte Me Veze Dhe Limon ground lamb meatballs in an egg and lemon sauce, Speca Te Mbushura stuffed peppers with or without ground meat, rice, chopped dill, parsley and tomato puree and as an appetizer Tarator fried eggplant, zucchini and green peppers with plain yogurt.

Fërgesë of Tirana with veal, Fergesë e Tiranës me Mish Viçi, is an Albanian dish.
Ingredients
• one pound veal cutlets
• 1/2 pound salted cottage cheese or Greek feta cheese
• one tablespoon flour
• 1/4 lb. (one stick) butter
• 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil
• one medium-sized onion
Add salt, black pepper, and chili pepper for flavor.
Procedure
Cut the veal cutlets into small pieces. Dice the onion. In a saucepan, preheat the olive oil and sauté the meat and onion for 15 minutes. In another saucepan, melt the butter and then add flour, cottage or feta cheese, and black pepper, salt and chili pepper to taste. Mix all the ingredients together (adding the sautéed meat and onions) in the saucepan and place in a preheated 350 oven for 15 minutes. Take out and serve immediately. Note: Instead of veal cutlets, beef liver can be used in the same quantity of meat and preparation/cooking instructions as above.
Serves 4 people, sometimes utilized as an appetizer.
Fried Meatballs (Qofte Te Ferguara) Ingredients
1 lb Ground lamb; beef or chicken
Salt and pepper; to taste

1 sl Stale bread; broken up
Crushed dried mint leaves

2 tb Chopped feta cheese
1/2 c Flour

1 Onion; finely grated
1 c Oil
Instructions for Fried Meatballs (Qofte Te Ferguara)
Combine meat, bread, feta cheese, onion, salt, pepper and mint to taste. Form into 1/2-inch thick patties, cylinders or balls. Roll in flour and fry in oil heated to 350 to 365 degrees. Serve these hot with French fries or mashed potatoes. Makes 4 servings.

Spinach Pie (Albanian Name: Byrek me spinaq)

Ingredients:

1 cup oil, preferably olive oil
1 1/2 packets (or about 30) pastry leaves (Filo Dough)
1 1/2 pounds spinach, chopped
1 cup diced feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 eggs
salt, half teaspoon
(NOTE: A medium-sized, round baking pan is recommended because it's more authentic but any medium-sized baking pan will do).

Cooking Instructions:

Brush the baking pan with some of the oil, and start laying the pastry leaves inside. First, lay two leaves, sprinkle or brush with oil, then lay two other leaves, and repeat the procedure until half of the leaves are laid. Make sure that they cover the pan by hanging them about one inch over the edges of the pan.
Sprinkle spinach with salt, then mix well by hand. Add the feta cheese, oil, onions, eggs and salt, and spread this mixture over the already laid pastry leaves. Finish by covering the spinach with the rest of the pastry leaves repeating the first-half procedure and then roll the hanging edges of the bottom leaves over the pie (think of a pizza crust), sprinkle top with oil and bake moderately at 3501_F for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot, accompanied with buttermilk, or beaten yogurt, thinned down in cold water or with chilled stewed prunes. Enjoy it. By Rasma Raisters

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