It’s hard to find things about Albania. I went to the library and the bookstore looking for Albanian recipes and had no luck. Not even the travel section had much about the country. Thank God for the internet.
Albania is a Mediterranean country in South Eastern Europe – next to Greece and Italy. It’s slightly larger than the state of Maryland with a population of about 3 million. It’s had a rough history – it went through a series of attacks and occupations from the Romans, Byzantines, the Bulgarians, Norman crusaders, and the Turks. You’d think they’d have a major identity crisis, but nonetheless, it has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. It’s also one of those rare countries that actually likes the U.S. (And while Bush was still president!) Woodrow Wilson supported Albanian independence in 1919 and they credit the NATO bombing of Serbia of 1999 with saving thousands of Kosovo Albanians. They were also one of the few (and mostly obscure) countries that supported the war in Iraq. I tried to overlook that small detail while I dove into making Tave Kosi.
Finding Albanian recipes may have been a challenge but it was a heck of a lot cheaper than our Afghan cuisine experience. Plus the children had a fun time making the Baklava. Since I am not much of a baker I was a little nervous about making this dessert, but it was so easy, that once I showed the kids what to do, they practically did it themselves. They even took turns and were pleasant to each other! Our main course was Tave Kosi (baked lamb and yogurt) and Tomato Cucumber Salad. The salad was a cinch and yummy – very much like a Greek salad with olive oil, Kalamata olives and feta cheese. The lamb dish wasn’t hard to make but I didn’t quite “get it” when it was all said and done. For instance, I had to bake the lamb in butter and add two Tablespoons of rice before I put in two pounds (!) of yogurt and five eggs. What’s the point of putting in a measly 2 tablespoons of rice when you can’t even see or taste it when it's all done? And, yes, it ‘s called Lamb and Yogurt but it should have been called Lamb, Yogurt, and Egg. More accurately it should have been called Lamb Omelet because that’s exactly what it looked and tasted like. I had no pictures of this dish to go by so, who knows, maybe I did something wrong. And honestly, I don’t have a kitchen scale so I didn’t know how much exactly two pounds of yogurt was so I just threw in a whole big container.
The kids enjoyed the meal – though they rushed through it so they could try the Baklava. We ate the salad with the lamb, but the Albanians eat their salad first (that’s very European). All and all it was a hit – especially the dessert!
Again, Kevin missed our dinner because he was late coming home from work. But I made sure to provide him with plenty of leftovers which didn’t quite look as appetizing by the time he got home, especially the “lamb omelet” with the egg cold and hard from sitting in the refrigerator - just the kind of meal he was hoping for after a long day at the office. (Don’t worry, I heated it up for him!) He actually enjoyed it ( and he found some rice!). Being a sweet tooth he liked the Baklava too.
Tave Kosi - Baked Lamb and Yogurt
1-1/2 lbs of lamb
4 TBSP butter
2 TBSP rice
For Yogurt Sauce:
1 TBSP flour
4 TBSP butter
2 lbs yogurt (or one large container)
Cut meat in 4 serving pieces, sprinkle each with salt and pepper, and bake in oven with butter. When meat is half-baked, add rice, remove the baking pan from the oven and leave it aside while you prepare the yogurt sauce: Saute flour in butter until mixed thoroughly. Mix yogurt with salt, pepper and eggs until a uniform mixture is obtained, and finally stir in the flour. Put the sauce mixture in the baking pan and bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes.
Albanian Tomato Cucumber Salad
2- 3 tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, sliced and quartered
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, diced
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup kalamata olives
Combine vegetables and toss. Drizzle olive oil over salad and season to taste. Garnish with olives and cheese.
1 lb of mixed nuts (I used 2 bags of chopped walnuts)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. Toss together cinnamon and nuts. Unroll phyllo and cut stack in half to fit the dish. Place two sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the prepared dish. Brush generously with butter. Sprinkle 2 to 3 TBSP of the nut mixture on top. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used. Cut baklava into four long rows, then (nine times) diagonally to make 36 diamond shapes.
Bake for 50 minutes, until golden and crisp.
While baklava is baking, combine sugar and water in a small sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir in honey, vanilla and lemon zest, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately spoon the syrup over it. Let cool completely before serving. Store uncovered.