Next up: Albania!
I did a little Google image search on Albania to give myself a bit of a visual of what this country looks like, and the first picture that caught my eye was this:
…..WHAT?!?! THIS IS A REAL PLACE?!?! I used to spend a lot of time on deviantArt, and followed some amazing digital artists who illustrated beautiful fantasy world landscapes, and I legit thought this was one of those, until I opened it and the title said “Albanian Alps in the National Park of Theth.” No, guys. This is not Narnia. This is a place on earth. BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE! So on one hand we’ve got Narnia, and on the other hand we have Pirates of the Caribbean beaches:
And then there’s just all of this:
Say no more, I’m sold.
I mean, obviously there’s more to a country than it’s scenery, but heck, I’ll go on an adventure there if this is part of the deal! (I’m actually fantasizing about maybe taking a few months off at some point to do some traveling, and I think Albania may be on my list now….as are nearly all these countries I’ve baked from so far….*sigh*..#thestruggle)
Ok anyway, if you’d like to know more about what I’ve discovered of Albania, scroll to the end of this post, and I’ll share more. Otherwise keep reading to learn about this delicious Albanian food thing I just made!
I believe in this region of Europe, this sort of thing is considered to be a pie?? I’ve seen a lot of recipes from this region of Europe that involve layers of thin dough and a filling that may be more savory, and its called, or at least translates to “pie.” Hailing from the land of stars and stripes myself, I tend to think of a pie as a crust with some kind for fruit, or sweet filling, served as a dessert, and requires lots of butter and sugar that renders the once healthy fruits inside as….well, much less healthy, but much more delicious! 😉
This kind of pie, a spinach byrek, is a little more healthy than my American pie ideas! If you like phyllo dough, you’ll like this. According to traditional recipes, the layers of dough are made and stretched by hand, until they’re super thin, like phyllo dough. But since this pie requires 30 layers in total, I decided to not make and stretch out 30 layers of my own dough, cuz ain’t nobody got time for that. So phyllo dough it is! (Although, most recipes I found actually did call for phyllo dough, instead of making it from scratch.)
So you’ve got your phyllo dough sheets. Be prepared to do some serious layering! 15 layers of dough for the bottom, with olive oil between each layer. Then once you spread the filling in, put 15 more layers on top! If done right, the layers on top should stay at least somewhat separate, and will get all crispy and golden brown when baked!
I’ve seen versions of this that are filled with meat, or cheese, some with vegetables, some with vegetable and cheese. I settled on a spinach and feta kind, because spinach is awesome, and feta is.. well its also awesome. So yay! I looked at a handful of recipes for this byrek situation, and they all kind of had different spinach amounts. The recipe I used called for 1.5 lbs of chopped spinach. I don’t know how often you guys cook with spinach, but…1.5 lbs of spinach is A LOT of spinach! And when I put 2 and 2 together and figured out that that much spinach would probably not fit in the pan I was using, I decided to cook it real quick in a skillet pan, to try de-bulk it a bit so it would all fit! I’m pretty sure some other recipes I saw also kinda cooked down the spinach too, so I’m not entirely sure if it is traditional to cook it or not before using it as a filling. But alas, it still turned out decently (as far as I’m concerned), so I’m satisfied!
I also ended up with a lot of extra phyllo dough sheets, because apparently I’m bad a math, or maybe just at choosing the correct size of dough sheets. My grocery store carried two sizes of phyllo dough sheets, and I grabbed the bigger one, because lol “mini” sheets, plz I’m a professional here okay, gimme the BIG sheets!…. Turns out the mini sheets would have been perfect, and the ones I got were twice as big as they needed to be. #ImGoodAtStuff. But my solution was to just fold each sheet in half and count it as two layers. So I got enough sheets for 30 layers and only used half of them. I guess that just means I’ll have to find another use for phyllo dough! (Strudel anyone!?!?)
So long story short, this is real good and you should try it. Thanks.
P.S.-I should probably go to Albania now to try an authentic spinach byrek. Ya know…FOR SCIENCE!!
I didn’t get a ton a pictures of this process, but here’s what I got!
And now on to some current events of Albania! As of mid-March 2017:
-As seems the trend with most of the world right now, Albania seems to be dealing with its fair share of political turmoil. There are parliament elections happening in June, and there are protests happening in regards to that. The opposition party appears to be refusing to register to vote until the govt. agrees to establish a “caretaker government” to oversee the elections. The opposition party does not trust the far-left govt. to keep the elections fair, and have been boycotting parliament for some time now. On top of that, there is an on-going attempt at reforming the countries justice system, which is being held up by the protests. Albania has been a candidate to join the EU for the past few years, but the EU wants them to get their justice system figured out first, which isn’t happening fast. Albania is also trying to create a better economy, and joining the EU would help that, but they’re also expecting a rise in tourism this year, which would also help a bit (well dang, guess I definitely should visit!). Goodness. Fingers crossed for Albania to get some stuff figured out! A few sources: here, here, and here.
-The ever popular Eurovision Song Contest, taking place in Kyiv, is coming up in May, and singer Lindita is set to represent Albania. She’s a 27 year old Kosovo-Albanian singer and song writer, has participated in Albanian Idol, and also American Idol, and will be singing in Eurovision with her song “World” which is about “self-acceptance and spreading love to all.” Source: Here. I personally have never watched Eurovision, other than a few random performances here and there, but wow is that a….unique..show. From what I’ve seen and heard of it, Europeans love it, and Americans are like “what is this!?!” haha! Might have to check it out this time around…
-Here’s something that I personally find awesome! There is currently a big watercolor event happening in the capital city of Tirana! There are about 400 watercolor artists coming in from 65 countries to participate in this biannual exposition thing. One of the participating artists, Helidon Haliti said “The watercolor biennale represents a missing part of the visual arts landscape in Albania. Everybody starts with watercolors but the roots are damaged as artists grow.” So basically this is just a big international event to celebrate the art of watercolor painting. Whaaaaaat! The artist in me is super excited about this and I wish I could go! I love watercolor paintingggg! So yeah, that’s an awesome thing that’s going on for the next month-ish. If any of you readers are anywhere near Tirana before April 12, you should go! 🙂 🙂 🙂 You can read more about it here.
Ok! Recipe time! The site I got it from has a few Albanian recipes on it, so feel free to test out any of the others as well! The Byrek recipe is about halfway down the page. Also mine didn’t turn out like the picture they had, but it looked a bit more like pictures I saw elsewhere soo….I’m hoping I did it in an acceptable way! RECIPE SOURCE HERE.
I’ll edit in my adjustments as well:
Byrek me Spinaq (Spinach Byrek)
1 cup oil, preferably olive oil *(1/2 was plenty for me)
1½ packets (or about 30) pastry leaves (filo dough)
1½ pounds spinach, chopped *(I cooked it down before using, otherwise if you’re going to use it fresh, maybe use half of this amount??)
1 cup diced feta cheese
½ cup chopped green onions
salt, half teaspoon
-Preheat oven to 350°F
-Brush the baking pan (I used a 9×13 cake pan) with some of the oil, and start laying the pastry leaves inside. First, lay two leaves, sprinkle or brush with oil, then lay two other leaves, and repeat the procedure until half of the leaves are laid. Make sure that they cover the pan by hanging them about one inch over the edges of the pan.
-Sprinkle spinach with salt, then mix well by hand. Add the feta cheese, oil, onions, eggs and salt, and spread this mixture over the already laid pastry leaves.
-Finish by covering the spinach with the rest of the pastry leaves repeating the first-half procedure and then roll the hanging edges of the bottom leaves over the pie (think of a pizza crust), sprinkle top with oil and bake moderately at 350°F for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
-Serve hot, accompanied with buttermilk, or beaten yogurt, thinned down in cold water or with chilled stewed prunes. Sometimes a green salad adds to the meal! (I just served it as is, cuz I didn’t have any of those extra things!)