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! :)

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