It’s a wet, miserable Monday afternoon… so time to do some cooking…
There was only ever one place to start my journey to Albanian housewife success and that was with byrek. The flaky pastry stuffed with cheese, meat and/or spinach is not unique to Albania but is definitely part of the staple diet here.
The best byrek I’ve had yet was made by my mother-in-law. And no, I’m not just saying that for the brownie points. There’s a real art to a quality byrek and hers is melt in the mouth delicious.
So here’s the pathway to basic byrek success… (note: agologies for the I-instagramed-my-lasagne quality of the photos – I am definitely not a food photographer!)
- 1 x pkt peta (pastry). Ask at your local Turkish supermarket for a suitable equivalent
- 5 x veze (eggs). Whisked
- Qumesht (milk). We used about 1 ½ cups
- Gjize (soft cheese). Crumbled up feta is a good alternative
- Vaj (oil)
Mix eggs, milk and gjize together to get kind of a gloopy, lumpy mixture. No need to over whisk the eggs. But do make sure that you haven’t got any enormous lumps of gjize in your mixture.
Warm up a large flat flan-type dish. Heat up a bit of oil in it and spread the warm oil around the bottom and sides of the dish so that the byrek won’t stick to it.
Start with covering the bottom of the dish with a couple of layers of the pastry. Then spread a few spoons of the gloopy mixture over. Then add a few more layers of pastry – before adding more of the gloop. It’s a rough science – you kind of just patch work the pastry over the bottom of your dish. Proper Albanian housewives have large circular dishes perfectly sized to take the round sheets of peta. But I’m just a beginner – I haven’t got one of those yet.
Place dish in oven and cook for 20-25 min until the top is crispy and the innards are spongy but not soggy.
Best eaten warm. But great cold from the fridge for breakfast.
If you want to get more adventurous, you can cook up some mince and onions etc and spoon it over with the egg mixture.
A part of our big plan for this year is to spend time on the farm where hubby grew up and sort out the farm house which has been sadly neglected since his parents moved away. The farm house is part of a ‘homestead’ of three homes – two of which are occupied by relatives – built by hubby’s grandfather a long long time ago. It’s situated about a 20 minute drive from the town of Burrel – a 90 minute drive northeast of Tirana through a stunning landscape of mountains and lakes.
The site of the farm was chosen for its source of spring water which still feeds the site today. The main crop is grapes (for making wine and raki). Animals are also kept for food and for sale at the market – namely pigs and chickens and cows. There is also a donkey, the work ‘horse’ of the farm. He’s essential for collecting key supplies from the main road during winter when the road down to the farm is inaccessible by car due to the high rainfall reducing it to nothing more than a long stretch of bog.
We decided before we left London that come the spring we would relocate out to the farm and put some work in to making the childhood home habitable again so our visit over the last few days was partly to check out the amount of work involved – but mostly, a chance for me to be welcomed into the family and eat the pig killed to celebrate my arrival.
What an incredible place it is… and what amazing souls who not only survive in the remoteness but have made a proper home. And what a welcome!
The pig was BBQ’d outside on the lawn while inside the wood burner cooked byrek and the kitchen was filled with salad and olives, cheese, and yummy cake. We ate until we were going to burst and then were told to eat more! The homemade wine was delicious and there were frequent toasts (gezuar!) made with raki retrieved from an enormous barrel.
I was well out of my comfort zone and really felt the isolation of the place. It made me appreciate the absolute luxury I grew up in and appreciate the simplicity of not having ‘stuff’ around to complicate life.
Needless to say, we have a challenge ahead. The farm house is not in as good a state as we had expected (and our expectations were low). There’s a lot of work to do. And I had to use some imagination to picture how it must look in the spring and summer when the grapevines grow to form a luxurious green canopy that spreads out from the house.
I think we’re up for it though. And now that our Albanian wedding venue is all booked in, we have some head space to start planning what we’re going to do to revive the family home.
We’re here! In Albania!
It’s my second full day. It is starting to feel like we’re here for more than just a holiday. And its overwhelming on a number of fronts.
We’ve moved into a brand new, almost completely empty apartment that’s being generously loaned to us. It’s awesome but it feels a little like we’re camping so today we hit the markets to find some bargains to help kit the place out – primarily deck chairs so that we can sit on the balcony with a Birra Tirana and watch the world go by!
We’re also in the suburbs – a big change from living in the centre of London. But the suburb is brand spanking new – eight years ago there was nothing here. Now there are roads, blocks of apartments, shops, restaurants, a school and a cable car up to the top of Dajti, the tallest mountain overlooking Tirana. And the development continues at great speed.
While the hubby’s family has helped make our transition the smoothest possible, there is no mistaking that this is a whole other world we’ve just moved to – from goats grazing on the side of pot-holed roads, to some very creative construction work.
Then there is the language barrier. I’ve never been a great one for languages but I can comfortably say my vocabulary has doubled since I arrived – not hard when I only knew half a dozen words before my arrival. I’m coping for the moment – but being someone who likes to chat, I know that learning the language is critical to my future happiness.
I’ve also become the proud owner of proper slippers… no Albanian home is without them:
And the pace of life has slowed to a crawl. It’s awesome. There is no rush for us to do anything and the whole year is yawning out in front of us. Bliss.