Sunday, January 9, 2011

B is for Bulgaria: Every Bite is Better with Bulgarian Food

I have to face the fact… I am awful at geography. Just two days ago, I found out that Cleveland is north of Columbus, and Cincinnati is south (my friend Brian gave me a lot of smack for it).  I decided to choose Bulgaria because I knew NOTHING about the area. Until this week I wouldn’t have been able to point Bulgaria on a map if my life depended on.  Now, not only can identify it on a map, but I learned that Bulgaria is home to a rich cultural heritage that has produced a unique and diverse cuisine.

To truly understand the cultures that influence Bulgarian cuisine I found it necessary to learn a little about the history that shaped Bulgaria.  In addition to all my Google research, I met with Dr.Charles Gribble , a semi-retired professor for The Ohio States University Slavic department. Dr. Gribble  got a Ph.D. in Slavic Linguistics from Harvard University and was the President of the Bulgarian Studies Association. He has been to Bulgaria numerous amounts of times and is also married to a Bulgarian woman. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about Bulgaria.

Five countries and The Black Sea surround Bulgaria, with Romania to the north, The Black Sea to the east, Greece and Turkey to the south, and Serbia and Macedonia to the west. Along with the influence for the boarding countries Bulgaria also has Roman, Ottoman, and Slavic influence, all which can clearly been seen in the similarity of their cuisines. Spanakopita, a dish that is often thought to be Greek, is  a Bulgarian dish that can be eaten at every meal. Feta is also a Bulgarian staple, however it has a distinctively different flavor from the Greek feta that most people are use to. Since there are no Bulgarian restaurants in Columbus I decided to test my luck at finding Bulgarian food at a Greek and Macedonia store. Much to my surprise, Zeta European Emporium and Easy Living Deli   both sell Bulgarian feta…and at a bargain price (feta at Giant Eagle is much more expensive than this exotic luxury!).

Centered around Bulgarian cuisine is a special specific type of Bulgarian yogurt , kiselo mljako, (which I terribly failed at making), peppers, tomatoes, pork and wine. I never would have guessed that one of Bulgaria main exports is wine, but their Mediterranean climate allows for ideal conditions for grape cultivation, specifically Rakia, Mastika, and Menta. Dr. Gribble told me that while in Bulgaria his usual breakfast consisted of bread, tomatoes, yogurt and cheese.

I learned much more than I ever thought I would learn about Bulgaria just by researching their food. When it comes to historical sites and delicious food there is more places to visit in the Balkan and Mediterranean then the typical tourist attractions. Not much is ever talked about Bulgaria and other countries get the credit for her cuisine. I feel like Bulgaria is the misfit child, but I hope everyone gives Bulgaria a chance and I sure you will be just as surprised and intrigued as I was!


Okay so cooking this week was...interesting. First, I totally failed at making the yogurt. I didn't let the yogurt sit enough so it didn't get thick enough. It is currently in the fridge still and I am hoping it will thicken up. Point is...follow the recipe.

I also chose to make Bulgarian Moussaka. It's different from the Greek Moussaka in that the Bulgarian version uses potatoes not eggplant. I think Bulgarian food requires an acquired taste. At first bite it wasn't bad, it just wasn't all that great either. However with each bite it did get better, and I ended really enjoying it. Everyone at least got seconds, Brook got thirds. We didn't have yogurt to eat it with, which might have made it better. We did add some Bulgarian feta which added a tangy flavor.  Try the recipe and tell me what you think!!! 

Bulgarian Moussaka

serves 6-8
  • 1/2 lb Ground beef
  • 1 Small onion, diced
  • 4 potatoes, sliced
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup of white wine (I used Mastika a Hungarian wine that you can find at Whole Foods)
  • 1 cup of water
  • salt, pepper, oregano, dried parsley, olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a casserole pan. 
  2. Cook onions, ground beef, and tomatoes in olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Cover and cook until meat is browned and until the liquids from the tomatoes are almost evaporated and the mixture becomes dry.
  3. Arrange 2 sliced potatoes on the bottom of the pan, sprinkle with salt and black paper, cover with ground beef mixture and cover with the remaining potato slices. Sprinkle with salt and black paper
  4. Add water and wine. It should cover to at least the top layer of the potatoes. 
  5. Place in oven for about 45min, or until liquid is evaporated.
  6. While the dish is baking, whisk together flour, egg, milk, and a dash of salt, pepper and parsley.
  7.  Pour over the already dried Moussaka. Bake 5 more minutes. 
  8. Take a few bites and enjoy. Try adding feta if you find the flavor to be bland.

Kiselo Mljako
Makes About 16oz
  • 1 liter sheep milk (found at Whole Foods)
  • 4oz of plain yogurt with ACTIVE BACTERIA.
  1. Put the milk in large saucepan and heat it over medium heat
    till boiling.
  2. Let the milk cool for about 35-45 min.
  3. Whisk yogurt until it is smooth.
  4. Add 1/4 cup of the milk to the yogurt and mix well. 
  5. Little by little add yogurt-milk mixture to the rest of the milk and mix.
  6. Pour into a glass jar with a lid and keep it in a warm place for about 2.5 hours.
  7.  Uncovered at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  8. Place in refrigerator for 3-4 hours. ENJOY. 
**tell me if this recipe worked for you**

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