Thursday, January 19, 2012
I had been teasing C for months with promises of a feast inspired by, if not actually replicating, some of the yummiest food I had in Bulgaria. Being vegan in Eastern Europe turned out not to be that difficult after all, and all the language preparation I did in advance helped enormously. If I reach deep down into the core of my being, I may find that I can still ask for a non-smoking table at a restaurant in Bulgarian. I think. But, you know how it is, dear reader. If you don't use it, you lose it. At least, should I run into an errant Bulgarian, wandering through the malls and buildings of Silicon Valley, I am still armed with the words for "please" and "thank you." Aren't those the most important, anyway?
Getting back to the matter of food, though, one of the best dishes I had while traveling in Bulgaria was a stewed vegetable dish in the ski town of Bansko. It was rich and tomatoey and brilliantly simple. I ate it with a round flatbread that had been brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika. Lovely. To this, I wanted to add the ubiquitous shopska salad, which made its appearance on every menu I saw. Sitting in a Bulgarian restaurant, I was a constant witness to servers making their way from the kitchen with plates that looked like nothing so much as snowy mounds of grated cheese. This, as it turns out, is shopska salad. Basically, it's a cucumber and tomato salad, sometimes with olives, topped with a white cheese of some variety. Because Daiya was in short supply (if you will grant me the understatement), I never actually got to try this dish. My curiosity, though, compelled me to take a crack at what I think it would be like.
I tossed together some diced tomatoes and cucumbers (quite a splurge in January!) and dressed the salad lightly with salt, pepper, and a bit of apple cider vinegar. Then I sprinkled the individual servings with mozzarella style Daiya. The result? It was the least impressive of the three items I made for our Bulgarian feast. It may be that I missed some key element, and I may need to appeal to people who have eaten shopska salad to advise me on this point. Or maybe the Daiya, which really is best when its warm and stretchy, just couldn't fill this particular bill.
Totally successful, however, were the vegetable stew and the armenian style flatbread. I'll include the recipe for the stew below. Stewing vegetables, as it turns out, is much more freestyle than exact. Even the recipes I found online were remarkably inexact. I decided to just gather my vegetables and go for it. For the flatbread, I specifically did not want the harder, layery pita bread. The flatbread I had and enjoyed in Bulgaria was round and soft, so I combed the internets looking for something like this. I took a gamble on a recipe for Lebanese-style flatbread and it was perfect. Also very forgiving. I threw this recipe together with hardly any kneading and let it rise twice while I ran around with C to get groceries and check out a reception site for our wedding (ieeeeeeeeee!). I also used a combination of white and whole spelt flour for health reasons and to accommodate our beloved roomie's allergy issues. Rather than grilling them, which might have been lovely had I the time or inclination, I baked them in a 450 oven for about 7 minutes per side. The resulting breads were toothsome and tender, just what I wanted. We at them with a bit of earth balance and a generous sprinkling of some of the paprika I brought back from Bulgaria.
Monastery Stew (Vegetable Hotch Potch. Whatever)
3 medium russet potatoes, diced
2 heads broccoli, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 pound white mushrooms, quartered
1/2 pound green beans, cut
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cubes vegetable broth
Preheat oven to 450. In a large dutch oven, saute the onion in a bit of olive oil. When it starts to become translucent, add the carrots. I just kept cutting the vegetables and adding them to the pot as I finished them. Do the mushrooms last. Then pour the tomatoes over the whole thing. Add about an additional cup of water, and the two broth cubes. Cover the pot and slide it into the oven. Bake 30-34 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Check the stew every 10 minutes or so, stirring to let the flavors mingle.
C and D both said that this tasted very rich. And it's so so simple.
Posted by CPNC at 1:09 PM