Kitchen Traveler—yes, you read it here first. I am officially coining the term (unless of course someone else has beaten me to it) for those that travel through cooking recipes from other countries. If reading books about foreign locales makes you an armchair traveler, then preparing foods from foreign locales makes you a Kitchen Traveler. Even if you have never been to Bulgaria, therefore, you may now find your way there through paths salty and sweet.
I found some old recipes that my mother-in-law might very well have followed as she started out her married life and thought I’d pass them along. Bulgarian recipes of a certain era combine precise metric measurements with, shall we say, slightly less precise direction in keeping with what the cook of the time had available. Forget tablespoon and teaspoon, the recipes below call for a spoonful or the diminutive “little spoonful.” My mother-in-law’s oven did have temperature settings, but I have friends who grew up with ovens that simply had the numbers one through four on the dial to indicate heat gradations. Thus the first recipe calls for baking in a “hot oven.” The tone of the recipes is quite different from those written some years later. These partner with the reader cook—we cut one kilogram onions, we add 1-2 carrots—whereas later recipes use the third person.
The original recipes also are written in paragraph form so that you have to carefully read through them to figure out the ingredients and prep work. My translations show those first, as indeed most Bulgarian recipes published today do, and offer both metric and American standard measurements where applicable. If the measurement references cups, then so does the original and you just have to presume a teacup rather than an espresso coffee cup is what is being referenced. If there is no measurement, that’s because the original offers none, and so you are—as Bulgarian women were then—left to your devices. And if you are offended that I write only of housewives and women, well, that’s how it was in 1960.
1 kg (2.2 pounds) onion, cut into thin slices
½ cup fat
1-2 carrots, cut into pieces
2 even spoonfuls flour
1 little spoonful paprika
2-3 bay leaves
1 cup water
whole cleaned fish rubbed with a little oil and sprinkled flour and paprika
Saute onion in fat along with carrots and garlic. When the onion is a golden color, add flour and lightly saute briefly. Add paprika, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Add water and salt, and then pour it all into a large baking pan. Cover the sauteed vegetables with thinly sliced tomatoes. Place prepared fish on top. Bake in a hot oven.
String Beans in the Oven
1-½ kg (3.3 pounds) fresh string beans
onion, chopped finely
thin paste of 1 spoon flour, paprika, and water
2-3 tomatoes, chopped fine
bunch parsley, chopped fine
1 cup milk
Clean string beans and cut in two length-wise. Steam them in a pot together with onion and salt. When the beans and onion have softened, put them in a baking dish and pour over them the paste of flour, paprika, and water. Add tomatoes, parsley, and enough water to cover the vegetables. Bake in the oven. When the vegetables have browned, pour over them the eggs beaten together with the milk. Bake in the oven again until eggs have cooked. Beans prepared this way are very tasty.
Potatoes Baked with Feta Cheese
1 kg (2.2 pounds) potatoes, peeled and cut into slices
¼ kg (½ pound) feta cheese, mashed (or kashkaval, a cheddar-type cheese, finely grated)
parsley, finely chopped
1 cup milk
2-3 beaten eggs
Stew potatoes in fat. Add feta cheese (or kashkaval) and parsley. Beat eggs and milk together and pour over. Bake until browned. If desired, serve with garlic.
eggplant, peeled and cut into slices lengthwise
stuffing made from mashed feta cheese, eggs, and bread crumbs
flour for rolling
beaten eggs for dipping
yogurt mixed with chopped garlic
Salt eggplant slices and let rest until they release water. Fry them in fat and remove from pan. Take eggplant slices two by two, filling each pair with stuffing. Roll first in flour, then in beaten egg, and sauté in very hot fat. Serve hot with yogurt flavored with garlic.
Baked Plum Confiture
5 kg (11 pounds) blue plums, pitted
2-½ kg (5-½ pounds) sugar
several cinnamon sticks
1-2 cups toasted walnuts (optional)
Pour sugar over plums and add cloves and cinnamon sticks. Bake in the oven in a not very high temperature. From time to time, stir so that the top layer does not burn. When the plums become wrinkled and the juice thickens, remove them from the pan, pour into jars, and cover them well with parchment paper. If desired, add walnuts. My Note: Aside from the fact that not once in decades of eating homemade preserves in many Bulgarian homes did I ever see parchment paper used, one should always—and Bulgarians do—cap jars securely and boil for ten minutes before storing.
Next time, I will post recipes for Drunk Peaches, Cornel Cherry Syrup, Syrup Pastries, Vanilla Sandwich Cookies with Marmalade, and Quince Jam—all to make the summer sweeter as it winds down.