Balkan Bounty

The Balkan countries really captured my imagination when I was teaching European history at the Waldorf School a few years ago, perhaps because I knew absolutely nothing about them, except for Greece.  Since then I’ve read some pretty horrifying books — borrowed from Lucas who was taking a history class on the region — about all the recent conflicts in these countries, but it has not lessened my fascination with them.  Romania, the country of gypsies, Count Dracula, the mysterious Carpathian Mountains, the Danube river delta, cherries, and the fifth romance language, is a place I’d love to go someday.

So, appropriately, my first recipe for this week is from Romania, and in the spirit of trying to be more careful with the budget, I’ve chosen something we can all relate to — grilled hamburgers Romanian style, called “mittitei.” Everyone in the family liked them and the ingredients were all familiar. While it is traditional to roll them into sausage-like shapes, we made them into American-style patties and put them on gluten free buns.

The second two recipes are from Bulgaria, the country to the south of Romania, and both are easy on the pocket book and delicious.

Mittitei, Grilled Romanian Hamburger

  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. crumbled dried thyme
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup beef stock, fresh or canned
  • Vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients except oil in a deep bowl.  Knead vigorously with both hands until ingredients are well blended.  Then pour in the stock and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.  Taste for seasoning.  Divide the mixture into 18 equal portions and roll each one into a cylinder about 3 and 1/2 inches long and 1 inch thick, mostening your hands with cold water as you proceed.

Grill or broil on the highest setting about 3 inches from the heat for about 8 minutes, turning them with a spatula or tongs ever few minutes until they are crisp and brown on all sides.

(This recipe is from

Bulgarian Lentil Stew

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs. oil
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tbs. savory or oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbs. corn flour mixed with a little water

Boil lentils in slightly salted water about 20 to 25 minutes.  Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onions, carrots, and celery for about 5 minutes and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add the cooked and drained lentils, the tomatoes with liquid, and the garlic to the pan and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.  Add the corn flour mixture to thicken the dish, then season with salt, pepper and savory or oregano.  (Tastes great with sausages)

Bulgarian Shopska Salad

  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 long cucumbers
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1/3 bunch parsley
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup Bulgarian cheese, or feta cheese. (We actually used a Spanish goat cheese and it was delicious)

Chop tomatoes, a little larger than diced, cucumber, and pepper and put in a bowl.  Add onions and parsley.  Sprinkle with oil and vinegar and mix it all together.  Grate the cheese on top.


About tamisrenteria

Tamis Renteria, author and anthropologist, writes novels and short stories about people struggling with different religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions. She lives with her husband and youngest son in Tucson, Arizona where she types on a Mac, cooks ethnic food, and gardens among the sahuaros.
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