Një Mbrëmje Shqiptare: An Albanian Dinner Party…And what a dinner party it was!
As with many of these larger cooks, I tend to bite off more than I can chew. I also generally have a well rounded menu – no specific dish noticeably better or worse than another…this would be the first time for that. I’ve decided this time I’ll provide the menu, and then give the little breakdown and verdict on the dishes – seems easier and a bit more organised.
The Albanian Menu
Fergesë e Tiranës me piperka (Cheesy Pepper and Tomato mix – hard to explain!)
Pule me Oriz (Chicken Pilaf)
Pite me Spinaq (Spinach Pie)
Pite me Kungull (Pumpkin Pie)
Qumeshtor (Milk Pie)
Breakdown of the Dishes
The Bread rolls: As per usual, they were delicious. I don’t want to blow my own dough horn, but I’m becoming a bit of a pro! They were super tasty and fresh. The only fault I can find is that I didn’t let the dough rise enough once the rolls were on the tray, and probably could have left them in for slightly longer. The result was that they were slightly denser than I would have liked, but still delicious – especially served with the Fergese.
Fergese: Quite possibly one of the tastiest things I’ve had the pleasure of making during this cooking challenge. I halved the recipe which was a good idea because there was plenty to go around. I served it as a starter with the breadrolls which seemed to go down a treat. I will definitely be making it again as a starter for a dinner party down the line!
Chicken Pilaf: I’m not really a fan of cooking with ‘bone-in’ chicken pieces, and generally avoid it at all costs. This time though, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a chance. I’d seen Laura cook a delicious dish for work that involved drumsticks, and since she was my ‘extend myself in the Kitchen’ Guru for many years, I realised it can’t be that bad! (Thanks Lau!). The result was wonderful. The chicken was tasty and tender, and the rice was just so delicious. It’s amazing what a bit of stock can do to flavour rice. Really incredible…and my Guru actually asked for the recipe to use for work (she doesn’t eat chicken, but said the rice was delish!)
Spinach Pie: I really need to read instructions and plan better. Instead of making phyllo pastry I sacrilegiously bought it from Pick ‘n Pay (sorry Albanian ancestors turning in their graves!). I also bought frozen spinach, but this was due to the fact that I couldn’t find Spinach in 4 different stores in JHB – we have some serious Popeyes on the loose in Gauteng right now! Anyway, I froze both, and took the spinach out on the morning of the cook to defrost. But not the phyllo. I didn’t even think about it or think I had to. My heart sank when I returned from work to read ‘thaw for 24 hours in fridge and leave to stand for 2 hours outside fridge.’ I needed to make it there and then in order to fit in all the other dishes. So a trusty Google search told me to defrost in the plastic for 30-40 seconds in the microwave. Boom! Instant results. The phyllo is quite finicky and I ended up layering torn off bits (which still worked really well). I was initially worried the mixture was too runny, but it turned out fine. I scored it half a mark out of 1, because it was VERY spinachy. I like spinach, but this was just a bit much (as confirmed by the Guru herself). It was like an extended Spanakopita. So tasty, but just too much spinach. I’d have to cook less next time!
Pumpkin Pie: Prior to having my first bite I was devastated to hear Murray ask if there was pumpkin in the pie. When I asked him what it tasted like, he said egg. My heart sank, because I could just imagine this egg pie – sis. He was exaggerating, although did call it a pumpkin omelette, which others jumped onto the bandwagon about. It was super delicious though – creamy and wonderful. I would definitely cook it again, and the mere crumbs left in the dish suggest that it was really enjoyed, despite the egg relatedness.
Qumeshtor: And the award for disaster of the evening goes to…the Milk Pie. At the time I couldn’t understand what went wrong, but on including the recipe for the blog I discovered that I buggered things up royally (I wanted to use the F word, but this is a family space – Hi Mom!). I just threw all the ingredients into the dish and put it in the oven, and it turned out like tasty custard scrambled egg floating on water. I don’t even have a picture because I was partly (although only a bit) embarrassed, but mainly because I was laughing so much with everybody. My friends are troopers and they all tried it, but some of their portions were not much larger than a teaspoon – I call those courtesy tasters! So the taste was there, but the texture was horrendous. It was quite unpalatable and lots was left over. I realised upon reading the recipe this morning that there was a whole method that needed to take place, which may have changed the outcome. So I won’t say I’ll never try it again, but I am hesitant. According to Laura I was so confident too – I didn’t even have a backup, and had to find some frozen dates, Lindt 85% and a couple of pieces of Toblerone to offer my guests! Thank goodness I wasn’t trying to impress anybody with this aspect!
Albania scores an overall 4.5 out of a possible 6. Rolls, Fergese, Pumpkin Pie and Pilaf score 1 point each. Half a point for the Spinach Pie and a big zero for the disaster of the day! A fun evening was had by all though, and I don’t regret the mistakes – they’re all part of the process and the learning that comes with this challenge!
Oh, lastly, Albania is part of the Balkan region – bordered by Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece and Kosovo. According to Wikipedia, “The Cuisine of Albania – as with most Mediterranean and Balkan nations – is strongly influenced by its long history. At different times, the territory which is now Albania has been claimed or occupied by Ancient Greece, Romans, Byzantine and the Ottoman Turks and each group has left its mark on Albanian cuisine.”