“The burning Macedonian forests sing new songs, new news. Macedonia is liberated. Liberty lives!
– from the Macedonian National Anthem
There was a time, many moons ago, when I could have told you the entire geography of Europe, hell, probably most of the world, along with various things like capital cities, primary languages, religions, etc. It was a time called junior high school, and god only knows why we had to memorize all that stuff. Because, you see, it changes. And it changes continuously. We learned these things as cold, hard facts, as if the world had become set in stone as opposed to simply having been built on it, after World War II. In 1991, the now Republic of Macedonia declared its independence from what, until then, I knew as Yugoslavia, a barely held together conglomerate of several now separate republics (in school, we were never told it was barely held together). This Macedonia is different from the region of Greece referred to as Macedonia, and from the ancient kingdom of the same name – well, Macedon. Of course, like everything else here at Casa S, it’s the food that interests us more, and the cuisine of the area is, based on armchair research, a sort of mix of Greek, Balkan and Turkish with, of course, its own flair.
I do like stuffed grape leaves, and it’s been fun over the last year or so since learning how to make them well, to experiment with various regional fillings. For this evening, a mix of rice, and fried celery and onions, and plenty of both sweet and hot paprika filled the leaves, served up alongside a dill-yogurt dipping sauce.
Our soup of the eve, mussels and calamari slowly cooked until tender in a broth made from fried garlic, onions, celery and chili flakes, then white wine added and cooked down, then tomatoes, whey from making the cheese for the next course, and the shellfish. When the calamari was nice and tender (about an hour), I finished the soup with lemon, parsley, salt and pepper.
Sometimes things happen serendipitously. We all know that. Little could I know, however, that my visit a couple of weeks ago to the Turkish street festival in NYC would come in so handy. I had snapped off a half dozen shots of these older women making börek, coiled phylo dough pastries filled with cheese and spinach, and stood for awhile, fascinated by the whole process. When I was back and reviewing what I needed to do for this weekend’s dinner, I suddenly realized that my planned third course was the Macedonian version of the same dish, burek. I found a couple of videos online that helped review the process – after all, homemade phyllo dough is not something I do every week. And it turned out to be a lot of fun, I followed this recipe for the dough, though the instructions were a bit too complex, so I simply followed the process in one of the videos that I found, though using melted, clarified butter instead of oil. The filling, a mix of freshly made ricotta and some goat’s milk feta that I bought, a little beaten egg, plus lots of chopped parsley and dill, salt and white pepper. In the end, they turned out beautifully, a little more puffed up than I expected, but that was probably more timing because I’d of course made them several hours beforehand and kept them in the refrigerator until ready to bake. On the side, a traditional local salad/condiment of flame roasted eggplant and red peppers mashed with fried onion and garlic, lemon, parsley, salt and pepper.
We couldn’t have a Macedonian dinner without kebapi, the near national meat dish. My version is a mashup of several recipes – freshly ground beef and lamb (2:1), finely chopped garlic and onion, chili flakes, parsley, mint, salt and pepper. Browned in a pan and finished in the oven. Served over sweet and sour cabbage, which in turn was over bacon mashed potatoes. A bit of homemade sour cream spooned over the top and we were all happy campers.
A simple finish of crepes filled with chocolate and hazelnut spread, i.e., Nutella, baked with a bit of sugar on top, caramelized with a torch, and the sprinkled with chopped, roasted hazelnuts and grated chocolate.