We found very little when we looked for classic dishes of Albania, and what we did find look very boring. But the compensation was that the dishes looked easy to make. It seems that Fërgesë of Tirana is the classic dish (Tirana is the capital of Albania) so that’s what we decided to make.
But first, a bit about Albania. From the Frugal Traveler:
… a deeply weird place: a majority-Muslim country where the mosques are mute but the miniskirts are loud, where horse carts share highways with Hummers, and where people shake their heads to mean yes — except that sometimes they shake their heads to mean no.
Yes, Albania can make you shake your own head in confusion, but what can you expect after almost 50 postwar years of hermetic Communism and, more recently, a mania for pyramid schemes that plunged the poor European nation into near-anarchy? In this stumbling nation, I was hoping that my Frugal Traveler budget might afford me more luxury than it had elsewhere. People in neighboring Montenegro, Croatia and Italy, however, warned against such romantic notions. Albanians, they kept informing me, were criminals, corrupt and untrustworthy. But Tirana, it turns out, is quite lovable.
Ceratainly when you look a the map of Albania is looks an incredible place: lovely mountains on the East, the Mediterranean on the West, close to Italy, a long border with Greece. But the food…
The menu for Fërgesë of Tirana is surprisingly simple with very few ingredients. We had to shop for feta and veal, so headed to Sprouts, but alas, no veal. On to King Soopers where veal was $16 a pound. We decided that Albanians must be rich, despite such being such poor country, until we remembered that they also make this dish with liver. We decided to compromise between the two and used sirloin steak.
The original recipe was for 4 people so we cut it in half, and the 2-person recipe is shown here.
- 1/2 pound steak
- 1/4 feta cheese
- 1/2 tablespooon flour
- 1/8 lb. (1/2 stick) butter
- 1.5 tablespoons virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium-sized onion
- salt, black pepper, and chili pepper to taste.
Cut the veal cutlets into small pieces. Dice the onion. In a saucepan, preheat the olive oil and sauté the meat and onion for 15 minutes. In another saucepan, melt the butter and then add flour, cottage or feta cheese, and black pepper, salt and chili pepper to taste. Mix all the ingredients together (adding the sautéed meat and onions) in the saucepan and place in a preheated 350 oven for 15 minutes. Take out and serve immediately. Note: Instead of veal cutlets, beef liver can be used in the same quantity of meat and preparation/cooking instructions as above.
It was quick and easy to prepare and cook, although we didn’t saute for 15 minutes – that would have way overcooked the meat, especially since it was going to be in a hot oven for another 15 minutes. So we cooked the meat and left it slightly underdone. Now, half a stick of butter for two is a lot of butter, but we did as we were told, and mixed that with the feta, the salt, pepper and chili.
After stirring to blend the feta with the butter, we mixed it all together and put it in the oven for 15 minutes. What do Albanians eat with this, we thought? The recipe called for no vegetables on the side, and no carbs in the form of bread, rice, potatoes or pasta.
So this old dish turned out to be a very modern one in that it was a very low-carb meal. The flip side is that it’s a very high-fat meal. We’d thought it would be pretty awful but it was surprisingly good and very filling, probably due to the high fat content. We did cheat though and use bread to mop up the sauce.
That was the good part of the evening. Later on we could hear a rushing of water and wondered if we’d left a tap on somewhere. It turned out that the hot water heater had broken and water was flowing out of it. So we filled the kettle and other containers with water, and turned off the water to the house, so now, as I write in the morning, I have my coffee but no way to shower or clean things.
I’ll be visiting Home Depot in the hope that they can install a new hot water heater today, so we’ll see. We have 4 guests coming over for dinner tonight, so it’s going to be interesting to see if we can make a four-course meal for 6 people and have a dinner party with no running water.
Update: A little learning is a dangerous thing. I’d previously replaced the bath taps and had to turn off the water to the house, so knew how to do that. So when I had to turn off the water to the hot water heater I turned off the water to the house since that automatically came to mind. As I was at Home Depot I realized there must be a shutoff to the water heater itself, and sure enough there is. And I’m getting a new water heater installed this afternoon before the dinner party, so it will be nice to shower before the guests arrive 🙂