Monday, February 21, 2022


Now that we are back on track with our alphabetical exploration, our next stop was Albania!  It was fun to learn about this country and recognize some similarities from our study of North Macedonia.  Located along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Albania's geography has meant a long and storied geopolitical history as well as rich biodiversity.  Today, it is an active participant in the international scene and is a member of NATO.

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For our foray into Albanian food, I scoured the interwebs looking for an Albanian restaurant in the area.  I thought I found a food truck called Albanian Kuizine not that far away, but it looks like they went under some time in 2020.  Interestingly enough, word on the street (ie - Facebook) is that there are a number of Albanian-owned restaurants in the San Antonio area, but that they tend to be pizza places and serve what we would consider to be typically Italian food.  This makes sense since their neighbor to the west (just over the sea but not that far away) is Italy.  However, we wanted to try more traditionally Albanian dishes, so we decided to find some recipes online and make some ourselves.

First decided to go with fërgesë, a roasted peppers, tomato, and cheese dish that is usually served as a side but can also be a main course if meat is added.  The traditional meat that is used is liver, which would have been a hard sell to the rest of the family, so we went with the vegetarian side dish option.

The second dish we decided to make was byrek, which is essentially a pastry pie that can have various fillings.  Since it was going to be our main dish, we opted for a pretty standard beef and potato filling.

The first challenge I ran into was that our local grocery store was out of pre-made phyllo pastry, which is the kind of pastry that byrek calls for.  I thought about substituting puff pastry (which was readily available), but then looked up a recipe for phyllo and realized how drastically different the pastries were.  For example, puff pastry is all about the butter for its layers and flakiness, but there is no butter at all in phyllo, and it the layers in phyllo are incredibly thin.  So I sighed, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work making phyllo pastry for the first time!

The ingredients for both the byrek and the fërgesë had to be simmered for awhile to cook off the excess liquid, so it meant our house smelled super yummy!
(Bottom left is the meat and potato filling for the byrek, top right are the roasted peppers and tomatoes for the fërgesë)

I was super pleased with the final results!  The fërgesë was super tasty and really nice on crackers.  It was actually reminiscent of the ajvar that we ate for our study of North Macedonia and would make an awesome dip for hosting.

The byrek was a smash hit with the family.  I was thrilled that my first attempt at phyllo resulted in a crispy and flaky pastry, and the filling was delicious.  The kids have asked me if I can make it again, which is good because the recipes I used made two whole pies, so we have another one for tomorrow!

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