Stuffed Eggplants

Stuffed Eggplants (Patëllxhan të Mbushur)

IMG_2999Continuing with the theme of stuffed foods, eggplants make for a perfect vegetable to stuff. Stuffed eggplants are a super easy, quick and delicious meal. Perfectly portioned but I can’t promise you won’t go for second helpings.

What you will need:

  • Eggplants- Small to medium size.
  • Peppers
  • Tomato and Tomato Sauce
  • Onions
  • Ground Beef/Turkey or what ever you prefer (or not if you want to make a veggie meal)
  • Olive Oil
  • Paprika, Onion Powder, Salt and Pepper

Start by chopping the onions and begin sautéing them in a hot skillet with a little olive oil. While the onions sauté, start chopping the peppers and the tomato.

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Once every thing is chopped, add to the skillet along with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Now let the mixture simmer slowly for five minutes.

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Now time to cut the eggplants. Cut the ends and then in half lengthwise but make sure not to cut all the way through. Gently scoop out the insides and leave them in a bowl on the side. This is a slightly difficult process but be patient and be careful. Use a spoon, for an easier process, to scoop out the inner flesh.

IMG_2958 IMG_2963 IMG_2967Take the bowl with the scooped out eggplants and begin chopping them up and adding them to the onion and pepper mix. Add the tomato sauce and let the mixture simmer for a couple minutes.

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In a separate skillet, stir fry the ground beef (or other meat of choice) till fully cooked. You can skip this step if you want to make it a veggie only meal.

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This mixture is so good you will want to eat it on its own. Give it a taste and you will see what I mean.

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Ok now time to stuff. Also known as the fun part!

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Any extra mix can be added around the stuffed eggplants (or taste test some more ;))

Finally drizzle with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or until roasted. Make sure the eggplant is thoroughly cooked before serving.

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Can be eaten alone, with rice, pasta or some fresh bread. Enjoy!!

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Spece të mbushur (Stuffed Peppers)

Spece të mbushur (Stuffed Peppers)

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This is by far one of my favorite meals. This partially because is it a whole meal in one pepper and mostly I am obsessed with peppers.

I understand that this may not be an original Albanian dish. I also know that many people will comment about the fact they they (or most likely their mothers) make it different but, as I have said before, this is a dish I grew up eating in my Albanian household.

What you will need:

Bell Peppers- I used 4 for this meal but you can use as many or as little as you want as long as you adjust the rest of the ingredient amounts. Also feel free to use other color peppers.

Ground Beef or Turkey or what ever other protein you prefer

Onions, Carrots, Extra Peppers

Handful of Rice

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Start by cutting the peppers in half and cleaning them out. My mother sometimes cuts off the top and fills the entire pepper but I prefer this way for two reasons: one, allows for portion control and two, can peppers can lie better in the pan.

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Once the the peppers are all set, preheat the oven to 400, and prepare a skillet for your stuffing by pouring a little oil and letting it heat up. Now start chopping up all your veggies. Make sure to chop them up really small and evenly so they cook evenly and will fit in the peppers.

Once that is done, put everything in the skillet and start sautéing.

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Cook until the onions are translucent and the veggies are soft then you can add the seasoning. For this meal I used the mother of all Albanian seasoning Vegeta. Not to say that this is an Albanian seasoning but, it is used in almost ever meal that my mother has ever cooked for our family. You will probably see me use it many other time in other meals. If you don’t have access to Vegeta (usually found in the international food aisle or international food stores), you can use salt pepper and a little garlic powder.

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Not its time for the meat. Add the ground beef (or protein of your choice) to the veggies and begin breaking it apart and mixing it with the other ingredients. Cook thoroughly until the meat is no longer pink.

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After the meat has cooked through, grab a handful of rice and mix that in as well. If you don’t feel that it is enough rice you are more than welcome to put in more. The key is to make sure there is more meat and veggies than rice mostly because there won’t enough moisture in the pan to cook all that rice. The mixture should look something like this:

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Now its time for the fun part! Also the slightly difficult and dangerous part so be careful. Start stuffing the peppers to the top. If you are afraid that you might not have enough mix only stuff the peppers to the top and continue till you are done with all the peppers. You will most likely have more mixture than you expected so this is when you pile it on top of the peppers till you have little mounds of mixture in each pepper.

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Pour a little water at the bottom of the pan. I would say about a water of a cup maybe less. This will create steam and cook the rice thoroughly.

Now cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake at 400 for 20-25 min. After this time check to make sure that your rice is cooked by sampling a little bit of the mix. If it is not cooked, cover the pan again and cook for another 10-15 min.

Uncover the pan and let it roast in the oven for about 5 min.

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Once its all done, grab yourself one and enjoy! I hope you like this dish as much as I do!

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Homemade Bread

Homemade Bread

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There is no smell in the world more comforting than the smell of homemade bread. Homemade bread can be found in almost every culture and in a variety of forms. Here is how my mother, her mother, and many other generations of Albanian women before them have been making homemade bread.

This is what you need:

2 cups of water
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon oil

Min 4 1/4 cups flour

I have to admit, to me, making bread has always seemed like an overly complicated task. But, after watching my mother make it over and over again, I realized it’s really not that difficult. (For those of you who might be curious. Those are my mothers hands making the bread.)

Start with a large bowl where you will mix all of your ingredients plus have room to allow the bread to rise.

Add the water, sugar, salt, yeast and oil.  Now mix mix mix….

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Gradually begin adding the flour till the dough starts to stick together. Now put your upper body to work and start kneading the dough. Knead it into a nice little neat ball.

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You can see my mother got down, on the floor, on her hands and knees to add a little more strength to her kneading.

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This is what your ball of dough should look like.

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Cover the dough with a wet cheese cloth or a wet paper towel and place the bowl in a warm environment where it can rise slowly. We usually place it in the oven. But under no circumstance should you turn the oven on at this point!

IMG_9872This part of the process requires a lot of patience. You have to wait till the dough has risen to over twice it’s original size.

Once the dough has risen, you can start forming it into smaller balls. (This is of course up to you. You can leave it whole and bake it that way or form it into individual size portions.)

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You need to let the dough rise again. This helps the bread become lighter and crustier.

Finally, bake in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes or till the top is golden brown. Make sure to watch that the bottom of the bread doesn’t burn. To prevent this it’s best to lightly coat the baking dish with a little oil.

Enjoy the wonderful smell of homemade bread that will permeate your home!

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Kime me Vez

Kime Me Vez

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This is definitely one of those unique Albanian foods. I have not, as of yet, seen it in any other cultural cuisine. It is one of those meals that can be made in about half an hour and will fill you up. Just one warning though…be prepared to shed a few tears. You will see why.

What you will need:

  • Salt
  • Paprika
  • Garlic
  • 4-6 Eggs
  • Boiling water
  • Ground Beef (You can use pork, turkey or any other ground meat of your choosing)
  • A deep and wide non stick pan

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And last but not least. The most important part of this meal…Onions. Lots and lots of onions.
Ok maybe I’m exaggerating a little. 3-6 onions will do. All depends on how many people you are feeding. Think of it as an onion and a half per person.

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Now let the crying begin. Set a pot of water to boil and begin chopping the onions. Be aware though, if your friends and family are around, the smell of the chopped onions will make them cry too. But trust me, it’s all worth it in the end.

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Once everything is chopped, start to saute the onions till they are translucent.

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At this time you can add a the garlic, salt and paprika. You don’t want to add the salt and garlic too early because the first will dehydrate the the onions too soon and the second might burn which will just ruin the dish.

Now, remove the garlic from the pan and begin to cook the ground beef. Add a little salt and paprika to the beef as well.

Then, you can combine the two and add enough water to just barely reach the top of the mix. Make sure to taste for salt because it will be the last time you can stir everything.

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Finally, my favorite part. Crack the eggs slowly on top on the mix. Arrange them around the pan and do not disturb or break the yolk.

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Since, everything except the eggs are cooked, all that’s left is to cover the pot and leave let the mix simmer till the eggs are cooked.

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Each person gets their own egg. Enjoy with bread, fresh pasta or even rice.
Dig in!

Pastice

Pastice (pronounced “pastiche”)

may not be a traditional Albanian food but it’s so commonly found in most Albanian homes that it’s soon to be a traditional cuisine

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This tends to be our go-to meal on busy weekday nights when we need to make something fairly quickly. This is also a great make ahead meal.

To start off you will need the following ingredients:

  • 6 (six) eggs
  • 2 cups of milk
  • Pasta of your choosing (We usually use Fettucine)
  • Feta Cheese
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

While you preheat the oven to 350 degrees, start boiling your pasta. Cook it till it is al dente because it will continue to cook in the over so, you don’t want the pasta to turn into mush.IMG_9666

While the pasta is cooking, begin making the mix in a separate pan. Mix together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and oil. I purposefully left out how much feta cheese to use because everyone puts in their desired amount. IMG_9667I used about a cup and a half of crumbled feta. Mix it in but make sure you leave the feta in chunky crumbled pieces. IMG_9668Once the pasta is al dente, add it to your egg and feta mix. Keep mixing till all the pasta is coated and spread out evenly. IMG_9669

Now place it in the oven and let it cook for 45 minutes or till the top is golden brown. Your nose will be the first to let you know when it’s done!

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You can let it cool a little or you can eat it right away. Either way it will be delicious!

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Now take a bite and enjoy!