Coincidentally over the past month, we’ve had two Bulgarian women join our staff of ~80 at the Center where I work. When I mentioned that to another friend, they wisely said “ahhh… the Bulgarians are taking over the world!” :) Of course, one of my first questions for them both was – “do you like to cook?” Thankfully Anna said yes, and invited both me and Boriana over to her house to cook a traditional Bulgarian meal together! I should probably stop inviting myself over to people’s houses like that :)
Anna and Boriana met together before our cooking session to choose the best recipes that would be representative of their culture. Both women grew up in Bulgaria, and Anna has a book full of handwritten family recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother. Boriana is still learning to cook, but was happy to join us and helped me translate the recipes as Anna was cooking. They decided that we would make Tarator (a chilled yogurt cucumber soup), Shopska Salad, and Mousaka. Since there are three recipes to share, I’ll start with the soup and salad in this post and address the more complicated Mousaka recipe in a Part II post later this week. Both of the recipes below serve about 6 people.
1 English cucumber, peeled
4 garlic cloves, minced with a garlic press
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
3 c. plain yogurt
1 1/2 c. ice-cold water
Good quality olive oil
There are two traditional ways to prepare the cucumber for this dish, either coarsely grated or diced very small. The small dice is the method preferred by both Anna and Boriana, so that’s what we did. The cucumber, garlic, dill, walnuts and salt were placed in a bowl.
Add 3 c. yogurt and mix well. Gradually mix in about 1 1/2 cups ice-cold water, or more or less to your desired consistency for the soup. Taste and add more salt if needed. Drizzle with olive oil and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Note: in the summer, the dish is sometimes served with ice cubes in it to keep it very cold!
3 green bell peppers
2 English cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
6 medium tomatoes, large dice
1 bunch green onions, both white and green parts thinly sliced
1/2 bunch parsley, finely minced (about 1 c.)
1 tsp. sea salt
1/4 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
Bulgarian feta (made with sheep’s milk)
Before preparing the salad, roast and peel the green peppers. If you haven’t done this before, in-depth directions for roasting peppers are provided here on allrecipes.com. Dice the roasted peppers and place in a large bowl. Add remaining chopped vegetables, salt, olive oil and vinegar. Toss well to mix the salad.
Taste and adjust olive oil, salt and vinegar to taste (we were kind of guessing on amounts while Anna prepared the salad to her usual tastes). Plate the salad onto 6 plates. Finely grate Bulgarian feta cheese generously over the top of each salad. Grating the cheese adds a smoothness to the salad that you don’t usually get with crumbled feta. Bulgarian feta is also made from sheep’s milk, so it has a different flavor than the typical cow’s milk Greek feta available in most U.S. grocery stores.
We started our delicious Bulgarian meal with these two cold dishes while we waited for the mousaka to finish baking. I’ll share the mousaka recipe in my next blog post. I also borrowed an English language Bulgarian cookbook from Anna (there aren’t many of those), so maybe there will be additional Bulgarian recipes to share with you in the future!