Sunday, January 25, 2015

Date Night Cooking Around The World: Albania

Last week, I played some catch up with you guys and introduced you to stay-at-home date night. Continuing in our new endeavor to cook foods from every country in alphabetical order (a la Global Table Adventure), we took on Albania last night.

Ok, last week, when we did Afghanistan, I was blown out of the water. The flavors were bold and bright and earthy and I was just--Wow--it was great.

This week? Eh.

Byrek with puff pastry...gotta love that crust...

We had a couple problems for this week's meal. First off, the main course is lamb in yogurt sauce. Now, kosher lamb is pretty expensive, and not as widely available in my area as beef. Also, when eating kosher, you can't mix meat and dairy, which would mean finding a substitute for yogurt in the recipe. The thought of taking that kind of risk with such an expensive piece of meat was just a little too daunting for me, so I figure we'll wait to make lamb when I can follow the recipe to a T.

So, we went ahead with the Byrek (a savory Albanian pie, in this case with leeks, though from my web searches it is often made with spinach), Albanian corn bread (with scallions and feta cheese), and Turli Perimesh (a simmered vegetable dish).

Let me begin with the corn bread, since we baked and tasted that first.

Albanian corn bread, filled with feta and scallions

The flavors were pretty good, but not terribly exciting. Then again, corn bread rarely is exciting. It was only a slight let-down because between the scallions and feta cheese, I expected this corn bread to have a little more bite. The yogurt, butter, and cottage cheese kept it from being too dry, and it developed a really satisfyingly crispy top, but the total effect was a little bland. I think if I were to make it again, I would put in more scallions and try to season it a little better.

I though The Toddler would love this, and so did she (she was so excited to try it, even thanked me repeatedly for making it) but she just licked it, then declared she was all done eating and wanted to go to bed. Toddlers...smh...

Byrek ose Lakror (Albanian leek pie), the highlight of the meal

The byrek was bound to win my heart because she used one of my favorite ingredients: puff pasty. And while the overall pie was tasty, I'd say the frozen puff pastry was the shining star of that dish.  I think what challenged me most were the repetitive ingredients between the byrek and the corn bread; both dishes had eggs, cottage cheese, and feta in copious amounts. If I were eating them separately, either one could be pretty tasty, but as components in a single meal, it was just a little much. And again, there was a failure for any of the flavors to really shine through, other than the earthy leeks. It was still tasty, and filling, so it will be joining me for lunch at work later this week (it's pretty good cold), but it wasn't a home run in my book.

I thought The Toddler would like this too, but she took about one nibble, said it was good, and then asked for something else for lunch.

Turli Perimesh (simmered veggies): colorful, but bland

Now we come to the true disappointment: The Turli Perimesh. This dish sounded pretty good as I read the ingredients: Obscene amounts of onion sauteed with zucchini, yellow squash, potatoes, diced tomatoes, and parsley. Again, though, this dish lacked the bold flavors I tend to love in a good side dish.

The Toddler barely even looked at the veggies. I was not surprised.

Altogether, this meal lacked any component with real flavor, and the vegetables seemed to almost contradict the corn bread. I would hope that if this had been served alongside the lamb, the meal would have come together, though it sounds like an excessive amount of food to put on one plate.

Long story short, I'm not sure I'd make any of these again, though I could see myself creating variations on a theme with the byrek. The spinach version I found sounds pretty close to Greek spanikopita, so I could see it working fairly well.

Hope you'll all come back next week when we'll be heading to Algeria! I have plans to stray from the Global Table Adventure menu into some other corners of the internet. Will you join us there?

Have you ever eaten Albanian food? What did you think? Any ideas for dishes that might better represent Albanian cuisine? Share in the comments! :)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Catching Up and Cooking Around The World: Afghanistan

Hey everyone!

In spite of my best intentions, I have found myself continually slacking on my blogging duties.

So the first thing I'm going to do in this post is play a little catch up on some tasty things I've made in the past two months.

 Latkes with applesauce. A classic combination.

First off, let's take a  look at the Chanukkah cooking. Obviously there were latkes. The Toddler and I spent an evening cooking those up together after several weeks of anticipation. You see, she had gotten a book called "The Runaway Latkes" which included a recipe at the end. She was eager to try it out, and insistent that OUR latkes would not be allowed to run away, but there was a twist. You see the Toddler is terrified of the food processor, so she started crying when I took it out of the cabinet. Thinking fast on my toes, I said, "Well, I guess I could hand-grate it..." and after that the Toddler insisted we get out the grater.

30 painful minutes of elbow grease later, we had a bowl of grated potatoes and onions mixed with eggs and seasoning. The Toddler took on the important role of "mixer." She was dedicated. So much so that when the time came to start frying them up, she wouldn't hear of abandoning her mixing duty, and screamed to the heavens that I not put anything in the frying pan.

la-la-la-latkes hop in the pan!

30 minutes of painful screaming later, we had a paper towel lined pan full of latkes waiting to be eaten. I served them up with a dollop of apple sauce, and my daughter excitedly ate 2 of them. When I asked if she wanted more, she said, "No, I don't like them. Can I have more apple sauce?"

And so goes the adventures of cooking with a toddler.

In addition to the regular latkes (recipe from the back of "The Runaway Latkes" with an added secret ingredient: cumin), I also threw together a batch of sweet potato kale latkes. I didn't really chop the kale small enough, so they fell apart while cooking, but they were delicious. I would share the recipe, but I was winging it and I really can't remember anymore. I believe there was nutmeg. All of this was followed up on another day with toddler-assisted sugar cookies (recipe from a friend), and date-night doughnuts (or sufganiyot) (my pizza dough recipe with 1/2 C sugar added to the dough, allowed to rise a little longer than usual [30 minutes] then rolled out, cut in circles, fried, and covered in powdered sugar).

Delicious Chanukkah cookies. Mmm...wish I still had some...

About date night: A couple months ago, the Huz came up with a brilliant idea: Stay-at-home date night. Every Saturday night, after we put our beloved daughter to bed, we cook together and then watch a movie while we eat. This has been great on so many levels, not the least of which is that the Huz is now learning some basic cooking skills. On top of that, it's quality time we get to spend together trying new things without having to pay for a babysitter or tip a waiter. Sometimes we plan ahead and make sure to have all the necessary ingredients on hand. Sometimes we make a quick run to the store to get whatever's missing. And sometimes we just stare into the pantry and throw dinner together Macgyver style.

Some of our dinners have included: Mock crab cakes (MMMM!), smoothies, quiche, pumpkin ravioli (from scratch with my brand new pasta machine!), broccoli cheese soup, Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and Mac N Cheese.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich with kale, apple, cheddar, and something else I can't remember...But it was divine!

Recently, I got a little tired of scrambling to come up with ideas on Saturday nights and suggested we find a theme. I thought it might be fun to look for some exotic global recipes. I figured that somewhere out there, someone on the interwebs must have tried cooking around the world, and I was right. Enter Sasha from Global Table Adventures. Sasha started her adventure back in 2010 when she decided that she wanted her 9 month old daughter to have a worldly palate. With the help of her extensive culinary training, and extensive travel history, she set out to cook a meal from every country in the world in alphabetical order.

So this past Saturday night, we decided to follow in her footsteps.

Now, we're not trained in the culinary arts, and keeping kosher means that we can't really make ALL of her meals, which frequently mix meat and dairy, or use ingredients that are just treif. Not to mention how expensive kosher meat can be. So we're primarily focusing on the meat-free dishes. For instance, this first week we went to Afghanistan. Her recipes included a variety of yogurt dips, naan, braised eggplant, rosewater custard, and a chicken and rice dish. In the interest of simplifying things, we stuck with the dips, naan, and eggplant.

Going into this, I had pretty few expectations. I'm not a big fan of yogurt, but the recipes sounded tasty enough, and the eggplant recipe had the word "spicy" right in the title, so that suited me just fine.

We spent about 2 hours cooking this meal from start to finish (beginning with prepping several ingredients which required an hour of inactive time with rising [naan], sweating [eggplant], and draining [yogurt]), but please let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen:

It was worth. Every. Minute.

Afghani dinner date night: noni afghani, buroni bonjon, seer moss, and sabse borani.

I have a short memory, generally speaking, but guys this was definitely one of the most delicious meals I have ever tasted. The naan (noni afghani) was perfectly chewy, and the cumin seeds added that extra dimension of crunch and spice. The eggplant (buroni bonjon), about which I was slightly skeptical because it included canned tomatoes, had a complexity of flavors that I'm not sure I could do justice in writing. The lemon garlic mint yogurt sauce (seer moss)...omg...just tangy and spicy and out of this world. The spinach dip (sabse borani) was thick and rich and and complemented by the slightly sweet carmelized onions.

I offered some to the Toddler for lunch today and she gobbled down the naan and asked for more. She tasted the dips, told us she loved them, but only ate a bite of each. She wouldn't touch the eggplant, which I didn't really expect her to eat, anyway. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

While the recipes are not "last-minute dinner" compatible, with a little prep time available, they are NOT complicated to make. I strongly urge you all to give these recipes a try. You won't regret it.

To see the recipes and learn more about Afghani cooking, follow the links in this post to

And hopefully when next week rolls around, you'll get to read about Albanian cooking. :)