Recipes from Albania



Recipes from Albania
On Wednesday morning of last week I woke up with a cold, which had me wiped out by Sunday ... the same day we'd planned our last summer family outing to the lake. I was recovering a bit by Monday but two days later I was supposed to show up at our school, ready to help on an overnight camping trip with 70+ five and six year olds. So time was not on my side this week.

In addition to packing a boat and packing my car for the camping trip, I had to come up with three recipes from Albania. So I confess, I didn't put a whole lot of effort into it. Remember the Chicken in Peanut Sauce from Abkhazia? This week I'm doing something pretty similar: Chicken in Walnut Sauce. Why? Because it was either that or meatballs, which featured in my Afghanistan post. And frankly, I just couldn't be bothered to do any intensive research this week.

So here we go:

Albania is a country in the Balkands region of Southeastern Europe. There are roughly 3,000,000 people living there, but by European standards it is actually one of the poorer nations in the region. Its main industry is agriculture, with major crops including wheat, corn, tobacco, figs and olives.

Albania: a tiny country in southeastern Europe.


Albanian cuisine is influenced greatly by the various countries that have occupied it throughout its history, including Greece and Italy. The main meal of the day is lunch, which I will not be replicating in my little experiment since no one in my family except me and Henry is home at lunch time.

When choosing recipes, I went with what seemed to be the most commonly posted Albanian dishes, Internet-wise. Really this was just because I was tired, sick and much busier than a tired and sick person ought to be.

Recipe the first:


Gjellë me Arra 
Chicken with Walnuts
(from Frosina)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Two dozen or so shelled walnuts, crushed to a powder
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 6 chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock, more if needed

You can also do this with veal. I stay away from veal, personally, because I can't stand the thought of those baby cows in crates (shudder).

My second dish:

Byrek ose Lakror
Vegetable Pie
(from Frosina


For the dough:
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 t. salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 lb. butter or melted margarine

    For the filling:
    • 2 small leeks
    • 1 lb cottage cheese
    • 2 oz feta cheese
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1/4 cup yogurt
    • 1 tbsp melted butter

    And for dessert:

    Date Cookies
    (from Cooks.com)

    For the cookies: 
    • 1 cup oil
    • 1/2 cup orange juice
    • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 tbsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tbsp sugar
    • 3 cups flour
    • 1/2 cup ground walnuts 

    For the syrup:
    • 1 cup sugar 
    • 2 cups water
    • 1/2 tsp lemon juice

      Sounds pretty ambitious for someone with a cold and two trips to pack for doesn't it? Well, let's start with the vegetable pie.

      The recipe says to mix the flour, salt and water together and knead for five minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes, then divide in half. Roll out one half until thin and then butter. Fold the sides toward the center, then butter again. Fold the dough in half lengthwise, then butter again. Keep going until you want to kill yourself. Then butter the top and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Repeat with second ball of dough.

      Grease a standard sized pie-pan. After 15 minutes in the fridge, bring the dough out and roll it until it is the size of the pan. Lay it on the bottom, leaving about a half inch hanging over the edges. Now you are ready to make the filling.

      Now, about the time I was reading all of this in the recipe instructions, my children were pummeling each other with their stuffed animals (this is why I've never purchased any baseball bats or hobby horses for these kids). So I did not do any of this. Instead I bought a package of frozen phyllo dough. To be fair, I did see variations of this recipe online that also called for phyllo dough, so I don't think it was too much of a cheat not to do it the way this particular recipe instructed. Although in retrospect I think I should have used puff pastry (another alternative I found in a different variation of the same recipe). The phyllo dough I used was really dry and papery and hard to work with--though I admit to not having a whole lot of experience with the stuff, so I don't know if that's normal for phyllo dough.

      The filling was comparatively easy to make, since you don't have to cook anything before mixing it all together.

      Leeks are a funny vegetable, just in case you aren't familiar with them. They are kind of like a giant green onion, and they are always dirty. Really dirty, usually full of grit and mud. So make sure you wash them really well. Sometimes I wash them, then slice them, then put them in a colander and agitate them for a few minutes just to make sure I get all the dirt out.

      For this recipe, the leeks should be pretty thinly sliced, since they aren't cooked before they are added to the filling. And only use the white and light green parts of a leek--the dark green parts are inedible. 

      Thinly sliced leeks. Mostly.


      In a large bowl, mix the cottage cheese, feta cheese, eggs, salt, yogurt and melted butter. Then add the leeks and mix until everything is well incorporated.

      If you scratch-made your dough, just pour the filling into it. Roll out the other piece of dough and top the pie with it. Crimp the edges or just roll the top up with the dough on the bottom. Brush with butter.

      I used phyllo dough, as I mentioned, following the instructions from a different version of this recipe, which advised me to lay down two sheets, brush with olive oil, then repeat with another two sheets until about half the package is gone. Here's what the bottom of my pie looked like:

      Lovely.


      After I had this elegant presentation complete (haha) I poured the filling in and topped it with the second half of the package, laid down in the same way (two sheets, brush with oil, two sheets, brush with oil). My recipe also advised me to roll the edges of the dough together, but the suggestion was laughable. The dough was so dry and papery there was no way I was going to get it to stick together, so I just trimmed it off with a pair of scissors and sprayed olive oil around the edges in the hope it would help seal the dough. In my defense, I knew in advance that this probably wouldn't work.

      Yes, this really was as ridiculous as it looks.


      When assembled, the pie goes into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.

      The next dish on my list was the chicken with walnuts. This is actually a pretty easy recipe that just starts with cooking the chicken breasts in olive oil.

      Can't get any easier than this ...


      Meanwhile, gather the flour, walnuts, egg yolks, garlic, butter and chicken stock. You'll have to act fast when you are ready to bring the sauce together.

      Sauce ingredients, ready to go.


      When the chicken is done (I use a meat thermometer to make sure), take it out of the pan and add the flour. Keep stirring until brown (don't overcook!), then add half of the butter, garlic, walnuts and egg yolks. Continue to stir--you don't want the yolks to solidify.

      Now if your recipe turns out like mine did, you will end up with a kind of lump of walnuts. Although the original recipe did not call for chicken stock, I found I had to add some just to get it to a sauce-like consistency. Just use as much as it takes to make the sauce smooth ... more if you like a watery sauce. When it's ready, remove from the heat and add the chicken, stirring to coat.

      Chicken in walnut sauce. (Hailey just looked over my shoulder and said "Ew!!")


      The recipe then says to melt the rest of the butter and pour it over the chicken to serve. I decided not to do this, since we don't really need any more fat in our diet.

      My pie was ready at just about the time I finished the chicken. I attribute this to my impeccable sense of culinary timing (not really, it was just a very unusual coincidence). Here's what it looked like:

      Albanian leek pie, gone terribly wrong.


      I actually peeled a few layers of phyllo off of the pie and gave them to my kids, who are very fond of "paste-a-wee." It improved the appearance at least a little. Here's what it looked like when I sliced it:

      Despite its origins, this pie was actually pretty good.


      Here's the entire meal. My kids actually tried everything, because of the promise of dessert. Predictably, the pie did not go over well (though they picked off the phyllo dough and ate that). They did like the chicken, surprisingly. I don't think any of them left the chicken.

      Albanian leek pie and chicken with walnuts.



      But the best part was the cookies.

      I was smart this time, and I baked the cookies in the morning, while the kids were at school. I was really looking forward to trying these because the recipe is unusual compared to American cookies, which are usually full of sugar and butter. This recipe calls for a comparatively small amount of sugar and some orange juice, which is sweet-ish but not usually used to sweeten cookies. Additionally, the fat comes from vegetable oil instead of butter.

      First three ingredients: oil, vanilla extract and orange juice.


      First put the orange juice, oil and vanilla extract into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients, then add to the orange juice mixture until a soft dough forms.




      Break off pieces of the dough and roll into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and press one date into the center of each cookie.

      Ready to bake!


      Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

      Here's where the recipe gets a bit tricky. After the cookies have cooled, spread the crushed walnuts out on a plate. Mix together the water, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil over the stove. Dip each cookie into the syrup, then press into the walnuts. (Note: the recipe told me to press the tops of the cookies into the walnuts, but I thought it would be prettier if the walnuts were on the bottom.) Repeat until all the cookies are done.

      As predicted, this is not a sweet cookie. The syrup also makes it super crumbly and soft, but yum! These cookies are really delicious, and the date adds enough sweetness to make up for what the dough lacks in sugar. This was definitely my favorite part of my culinary trip to Albania! My kids, however, were pretty lukewarm about them. Not enough chocolate, I guess.

      Yum!


      Next week: Algeria.


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