To some, the Balkans conjures up a vision of a somewhat wild area inhabited mainly by brigands where the diet consists mainly of mutton and sour milk.
I guess there is a remote grain of truth in that idea, but only a grain. For the Balkan people are friendly with the country ranging from the softly pastoral to the grandly mountainous. with great cities like Sofia and Bucharest which are almost fairytale in loveliness and where the food is rich, delicious and altogether excellent.
I guess it is fair to say the Balkans as an area were somewhat dominated by the Turks, with many of the dishes common to all countries, though they all have their own individuality.
As an example, garlic is favoured in Bulgaria, with dill and lovage in Romania. Bulgarians cook in olive oil while Romanians prefer to cook with lard.
The Balkans are essentially sheep countries and mutton and lamb are the chief meats in both regions but veal and beef are also served.
Grains and fruits grow readily, with fruit being served commonly as a sweet course with rich, sweet pastries of the mille-feuilles types.
Eggs, cream and cheese will often form part of a meat or vegetable dish and many of those dishes tend to be quite rich and spicy. However, these can be adapted to suit the cook's own tastes and income.
Good restaurants are to be found in Bucharest where the French influence has been felt. And while travelling, small taverns and even the convents and monasteries are excellent places to find good, wholesome, healthy food.
Bread is part of the staple diet with much importance being attached to the quality of the flour .
Koumis, a beverage composed of fermented cow's milk, is drunk. as are ouzo, raki and slivovitz along with dryish styles of wines.
Some 30 years ago I employed a young chap straight out of school as a kitchenhand who very thoughtfully contacted me recently after briefly seeing me on television.
David now lives in Wellington and has progressed from washing dishes and enjoying simple but useful kitchen tasks and now works for the Ministry of Social Development where he manages Planning and Governance for that department.
Latterly he has been fortunate enough to visit Bulgaria and kindly introduced me to a sausage they make called Kebapche, one that is traditionally served with sauted potatoes, a soft white cheese, tomatoes and are great with a squeeze of fresh lime juice over them.
They are often served with a sauce or perhaps chutney would be a better word, called Lyutenitsa (meaning spicy), made with tomatoes, sweet red peppers and some herbs and spices.
So this week let's have a little practice run ready for the barbecue season (which hopefully isn't too far away) and make some Bulgarian sausages and a well-known chutney to accompany them.
BULGARIAN SAUSAGE WITH LYUTENITSA CHUTNEY
For the Sausages
600g New Zealand pork mince
250g Quality Mark beef mince
150g Quality Mark lamb mince
2 tsp fresh ground cumin
1 tsp fresh ground coriander
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground black pepper
sea salt to taste
250ml plain Greek yoghurt
1 tsp baking soda
water to mix
In a good size bowl combine the yoghurt and the baking soda.
Add the meat and spices to the yoghurt and soda, mixing well.
Add a tablespoon of cold water and again mix well. If this feels dry add another tablespoon of water and continue to do so until you have a sausage type of consistency.
Place in a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to cook, turn on the barbecue and heat the hot plate to a medium temperature.
Cut a corner off the plastic bag and gently pipe the sausage mixture into good sized fingers (about the size you would recognise as breakfast sausages).
To cook simply place on the hot grill of the barbecue. You will find they will cook fast so take care. Turning on the grill plate until they are cooked all the way through.
For the Lyutenitsa
8 good sized tomatoes
3 red mild peppers
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
sea salt and vinegar to taste
Skin the tomatoes by dropping them into boiling water for a couple of minutes then fish them out and remove the skins with your fingers and chop.
Roast the red peppers, peel and de- seed and chop up roughly, about the same size as the tomatoes.
Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and saut the onions, garlic and peppers until the onions are soft and translucent.
Stir in the tomatoes and cinnamon and bring to simmer and simmer for 2-3 hours.
Once the mixture has simmered to a thick chutney consistency add the salt and vinegar to taste. I suggest you add the vinegar a teaspoon at a time and will find somewhere between 2-3 tsp of vinegar spot on.
This can be served hot, warm or cold; as a dip; a sauce for meat or as a side dish.
To serve, present sauted potatoes, Lyutenitsa, feta (or your favoured soft cheese) roasted pepper salad and fresh limes for squeezing buffet style and enjoy.
Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/Bainfield Rd roundabout.
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