Today, we explore Albania! Albania is coastal country off of the Adriatic Sea, and has a cuisine similar to many of its Mediterranean neighbors [Google it...it's gorgeous...I'll wait]. You will find the cuisine influenced heavily by produce of the area. Olive oil, fruit, vegetables, and many herbs thrive in this country due to the country's various microclimates and soil.
There is a Code of Honor in Albania called Besa this translates to a person who is faithful or trustworthy. In current society, this term has morphed into a society of hospitality. Hospitality is fundamental in Albania, and the idea of Besa resulted in hospitality as an act of gratitude or recognition. [Hi America, we need to step up...]
Lunch is the largest meal of the day in Albania, and, traditionally, everyone gets a long break to go home and enjoy this meal with their family [commuting to a corporate job, I can't even imagine what that looks like]! Lunch will often consist of a braised meat dish with various vegetables; accompanied by salads dressed with vinegar or citrus juice, and olive oil.
Albania is one of leading producers and exporters of the herbs in the world! This includes oregano [you know...the herb that appears in most of your favorite Italian and Mexican recipes.]. Oregano is a member of the mint family [the more you know...], and is native to the Mediterranean region. There are so many varieties of oregano with tastes ranging from spicy to sweet to astringent.
Start stream of consciousness now:
Check out your local garden center or nursery, you will find at least 3 different varietals. We grew sweet oregano and spicy oregano in our garden last season. The flavor of the 2 were so wildly different that we had to use them in completely different dishes in differing amounts.
Back to oregano, it, like many other woody herbs, is often more pungent and flavorful when dried. When using fresh oregano, use some at the beginning of cooking, and add more to finish a dish at the end of the cooking. You will find that when you add the herb in layers, it provides differing flavors and aromatic compounds at different stages.
Tavë kosi is the perfect Albanian dish to highlight the beauty of oregano. [Also, just so happens to be the national dish. Am I good or what?] The ingredients in this dish – lamb, butter, oregano, garlic and yogurt – speak of Albania’s Mediterranean cuisine. Also known as tave Elbasani, after the city in central Albania where it originates, this comforting classic is popular throughout the country. [Will any Albanian nana adopt me for an evening and make me this dish...I'll do the dishes!]
Prep Time: 20 mins Cook Time: 2.5 hours Serves: 6 people
- 100 g butter
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2.5 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 5 cm pieces
- 200 ml water
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 55 g long-grain white rice
- 2.5 oz oregano leaves, divided
- 50 g all purpose flour
- 650 g full fat Greek style-yogurt
- 4 eggs
- Salt to taste
- Season lamb with a teaspoon of salt, and let sit at room temperature for 20 mins.
- Heat 20 g butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Sear the lamb pieces until it is a deep golden brown, approximately 5 minutes.
- Lower heat to medium, and add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
- Lower heat to low and add 200 ml water. Cook over low heat for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until lamb is just tender. Taste and reseason with salt if needed.
- Measure 150 ml of the cooking liquid, stir through rice and 2 oz of oregano.
- Then transfer to a 13 in x 9 in baking pan or any 3 liter capacity baking dish. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 F
- On medium low heat, melt remaining 80 g butter in a small saucepan. Sift in flour and stir to make a blonde roux, cooking, for 2 minutes. Set aside.
- Whisk together yogurt and eggs. Add the roux and a 1/4 tsp of salt to the yogurt and egg mixture. Whisk until smooth.
- Pour over lamb, smooth surface and bake for 40 minutes or rice is cooked through and the top is bubbling and golden brown.
- Serve hot with a green salad and a bright lemon vinegrette.