Category Archives: Bulgaria

Autumn Soup and Feta Bread

Here are two vegetarian recipes that I adapted from a cookbook borrowed from my co-worker – Bulgarian Rhapsody by Linda Forristal. A simple pea and cabbage soup called “Autumn Soup” is flavored with paprika, parsley and just a bit of vinegar.  And a quickbread called Tutmanik is studded with feta cheese crumbles and garnished with paprika. 

The soup is a simple vegetable soup, but satisfying. The touch of vinegar at the end reminds me of the way my mom would make chicken soup where we would add a few drops of lemon juice right before eating. That bit of sour just generally brightens the flavors in the rest of the soup.

Autumn Soup
1 Tbsp. oil
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
7 c. water
1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
3 c. shredded green cabbage
3 c. potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 c. frozen green peas
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. vinegar

Saute onion and celery in oil over medium heat until translucent and just starting to brown. Add water and 1 tsp. salt and bring to a simmer. Add cabbage and potatoes and bring to simmer again. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, thaw and puree peas in a blender or food processor. You may need to add a bit of broth to fully puree the peas. Add peas to the soup.

Melt the butter in a small pan, add flour and stir to make a roux. After it is all incorporated, remove from heat and stir in paprika. Transfer about 1 c. of soup broth to the roux and mix in gently, gradually adding more broth to try and prevent clumping. Add roux back to the soup to help thicken it a bit. Stir well and take soup off heat. Add parsley and vinegar, serve.

Tutmanik – Feta Cheese bread
2 eggs
1/4 c. oil
1 c. yogurt
1/2 lb. feta
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
paprika to garnish

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix together the eggs, oil, yogurt, feta, and salt.  Sift together flour and baking powder, and stir in gently to the egg mixture. Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan. Pour the batter into this pan, and garnish with sprinkles of paprika.

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes, or just until a toothpick comes out clean. Serve with a dollop of yogurt as shown in picture.  This bread is supposed to be served for breakfast, but it did make a nice accompaniment for the soup. I halved the recipe and baked it in a smaller oblong baking dish. It was like a moist feta cheese biscuit!


Bulgarian Mousaka

Mousaka is perhaps most well known to Americans as a Greek dish, but my co-worker Anna assures me that it actually originated in Bulgaria – and who am I to argue? I had no idea that there are so many different versions of mousaka. Usually they involve some combination of meat plus potato and/or eggplant, with a top layer of custard or bechamel sauce.  Some types of mousaka also include tomatoes, and I even saw one that used rice. The version that we made consisted of ground beef, potatoes and zucchini, covered with a fluffy egg custard. Anna indicated that the dish traditionally would not have included zucchini and would probably have had a higher meat to potato ratio – but it was delicious this way and can probably be easily adjusted depending on what you have in your pantry.

olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chubritsa (a special herb, see below for substitutions)
2 lbs. ground beef (or beef/pork mixture)

In a saucepan over medium heat, saute the onions in olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and cover to cook until onions are softened, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and add garlic, paprika and chubritsa (shown to the right). Chubritsa is an herb grown in Bulgaria, Satureia hortensis. In the cookbook I borrowed, it was recommended to substitute Greek oregano. Both Anna and Boriana said that savory has been the most similar herb they could find in the U.S., and Anna suggested maybe adding a bit of cumin as well.
Whatever you decide to use, mix in the herbs and cook for about a minute. Add ground beef and raise heat, stir and cook for a few minutes until beef is just cooked through. Pour beef and onion mixture into a deep casserole pan (Anna’s was a deep 10″x14″ pan).
3 zucchinis, peeled and diced
6 c. potatoes, peeled and small diced
Add zucchini and potatoes to beef mixture with about 1 tsp. salt and mix it all together in the pan. Make sure you have enough room in the pan to be able to add the custard topping towards the end of baking. Pour approximately 4 c. water over the meat and potatoes, up to just about the same level as the other ingredients, without covering them.
Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 375F and bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until slightly browned on top, moisture has been absorbed/evaporated, and potatoes are tender (like shown in the photo above).  Towards the end of baking, prepare the topping.

6 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. flour
3 c. yogurt

With an electric mixer, beat eggs and salt together for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy and a pale yellow color. Mix in cumin, black pepper, and flour and mix well. Fold in 3 c. yogurt by hand until just mixed.  Pour over the top of the baked meat and potatoes.

Bake for another 30 minutes or so, until nicely browned on top. Let cool for 10-15 minutes (if you can stand to wait, we couldn’t!).  Slice and serve with yogurt on the side.

Bulgarians are taking over the world

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!

Shopska Salad
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 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!