#2 Albania – Byrek Mi Spinaq #AtoZWorldCookingChallenge

For the background to this #AtoZWorldCookingChallenge Click HERE

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In Albanian, this savory spinach pie is called Byrek Mi Spinaq and with its delicate layers of filo pastry, spinach and feta cheese, it’s a very popular and cheap dish. An added bonus is that once assembled the pie can be frozen  and thawed before baking which makes it a very easy and reliable last minute accompaniment to a dinner party.

I was particularly interested in the ingredients of this local Albanian staple as it comfortably serves two adults, two portions, for under £5 and the preparation time is minimal.

In Tirana, the capital of Albania, the most common filling is a mixture of cheese, eggs and spinach, which is the combination I decided on, however, it can also include a number of different minced meats, or a sweet filling such as pumpkin or sweet potato.

Byrek is traditionally made with several layers of dough that has been thinly rolled out by hand. I’ve suffered at the hands of homemade filo pastry on too many occasions to remember and as such opted for shop bought! The finished masterpiece locally is often served either in individual triangles, especially from street vendors in Tirana and surrounding towns, or one large byrek that is cut into smaller pieces. Byrek is traditional to southern Albania but is made throughout the country with variations.

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 6 filo sheets
  • 1 large packet of baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 packet diced feta cheese
  • ½ cup chopped spring onions
  • 2 eggs (whisked)
  • season to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C
  2. Brush a baking pan with some of the oil, and start laying the pastry sheets inside. I purchased a pack of six sheets and cut each in half.
  3. Sprinkle or brush each sheet on top with oil, repeat the procedure until half of the sheets are laid.
  4. Make sure that the filo sheets cover the pan by hanging them about one inch over the edges of the pan.
  5. Sprinkle spinach with a pinch of salt and pepper, you can even add a few chilli flakes if your feeling a little naughty, then mix well by hand.
  6. Add the feta cheese, oil, onions, eggs to the spinach and spread this mixture over the already laid pastry sheets.DSCF1460
  7. Finish by covering the spinach with the rest of the pastry sheets repeating the first-half procedure and then roll the hanging edges of the bottom leaves over the pie, sprinkle top with oil and bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Serve hot with whatever takes your fancy: Yogurt,  stewed prunes, salad or just eat by hand as a snack.

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Afghanistan – Kabuli Pulao #AtoZWorldCookingChallenge

For the background to this #AtoZWorldCookingChallenge Click HERE

Kabuli Pulao is the national dish of Afghanistan and seemed the obvious starter for my challenge, to cook a dish from every country in the world. This rice based dish can work well whether your preference is a vegetarian or non-vegetarian dish.

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The dish is made out of full grain basmati rice with an optional meat filling. The meat generally used locally, is beef, lamb or chicken. I opted for lamb.  Whilst the meat juices complemented the rice, the pièce de résistance was the sweet contrast of the plump sultanas, caramelised onions and carrots, against the spice mix and the delicate saffron infused milk……. (Trust me on that one ).

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup pistachios
  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 medium carrots (finely chopped into match sticks)
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup jumbo sultanas
  • 1/3 tsp of crushed cardamom seeds
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 3 lb. boneless leg of lamb cut into large chunks (optional)
  • 1 cup of stock (vegetable or meat)
  • 2 medium sized onions finely sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 – 2-inch piece of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 4 cups basmati rice (extra long if possible)
  • 1 pinch of Saffron soaked in 2 tsp of Milk

Method

  1. Soak 4 cups rice in water for 4 hours minimum then rinse
  2. Add the saffron to the milk (I used a shot glass)
  3. DSCF1457Simmer the rice for 2/3 of the required cooking time then drain well in cold water to prevent it from further cooking further
  4. Toast the slivered almonds and pistachios in a sauté pan until they are a slight nutty in colour then set aside (be carful not to burn and save a few for the final garnish)
  5. DSCF1450Heat up 2 tsp of vegetable oil in a small sauté pan over medium high heat and cook the finely sliced carrots for 3-4 minutes and add the sugar and continue to cook for a few more minutes until the carrots caramelize, add in sultans and cook for an additional minute, then stir in the crushed cardamom. Set aside.
  6. Heat up a drizzle of vegetable oil in a pan and sauté the sliced onions until well caramelised (set aside)
  7. DSCF1454Season meat with 1 tsp of salt
  8. Add a little vegetable oil to a large pan and brown the meat in batches (bite size pieces) until well browned
  9. Add in ½ tsp salt, garlic cloves, garam masala, cinnamon and cumin seeds to the meat
  10. DSCF1455Add the rice to the meat and spices and a little of the stock, then simmer under a low heat
  11. Continue gradually adding the stock until the rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed.
  12. Take off the heat, add half of the nut, onion, carrot and sultan mixture, stir, cover and leave to rest for five minutes (the meat should be cooked but still tender)
  13. Heat the remaining carrot, nut mixture in a separate pan for a couple of minutes ensuring it doesn’t burn.
  14. Plate up the rice and meat and dress with the remaining now warm carrot, nut mixtureDSCF1452
  15. Garnish with the reserved toasted slivered almonds and pistachios and finish with a drizzle of the Saffron infused milk
  16. Afghanistan – Kabuli Pulao #AtoZWorldCookingChallenge

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