First of all, a huge thank you to Jimmy K for connecting me to his friend, Esat whose family immigrated to NYC when he was a young child. He shared some of his childhood food memories with me, and gave me the 411 on real Albanian cooking and commonly used ingredients - I hope he pursues his idea of writing a contemporary Albanian cookbook!
Tonight I made Lamb Stew with Okra and for desert, Walnut Cake with a Lemon Glaze. Both dishes were infused with wonderful ingredients: garlic, onions, celery, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, lemons, thyme, walnuts and yogurt.
My human guinea pigs (a.k.a. dudes) agreed that the stew was fantastic...I will admit to adding about a 1/2 cup of red wine and about 8 tiny new potatoes and parsley for color - I couldn't help myself. The cake was crazy-good. As it was baking, I made a lemon syrup from sugar, water, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, juice from 3 lemons and grated lemon peel. Once baked, I poured the syrup over the hot cake and returned it to oven or 10 minutes. The cake absorbed the syrup, and any that wasn't absorbed collected on the bottom of the pan and made a kind of sponge cake whose flavor reminded me somewhat of baklava. It was the perfect combination of sweet, savory and tart.
Albanian food is a mixture of the national cuisines of the surrounding countries. In time, it has accumulated concepts from both the Balkan and the Mediterranean nations. Together with the Greek and the Turkish cuisines, the cuisine of Albania is one of the most famous in the Mediterranean area. However, depending on a family's economic status, their diet can range from being almost exclusively vegetarian (by necessity) or rich in protein (for the most excluding pork), vegetables and rice. Olive oil is the primary fat source - amen.
Here are a few facts about the beautiful country of Albania:
Situated on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, with Montenegro and Serbia to the north, Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south.
-Slightly larger than Maryland.
It was an honor and a privileged to cook and sample (albeit as a total amateur) this beautiful country's food.
NEXT STOP: ALGERIA