Writer and beekeeping-enthusiast Elizabeth Gowing shares her top 6 recipes from her new book 'Travels in Blood and Honey'
Llokuma are relatively easy to prepare, with ingredients you’re likely to have to hand in your kitchen, but served to make a day feel special; for example a perfect Sunday breakfast.
Served with the yoghurt and garlic dip they are also the perfect hangover cure.
In traditional Kosovan weddings when the bridegroom’s party of male friends (minus the groom) has set off to collect the bride from her home, superstition says that they must return a different way from the route they took to her house. On their journey, they stop off at a friends who will serve them llokuma.
Llokuma are also made when a baby is born.
Last time I counted, the recipe made 32 pieces.
Beat two eggs in a bowl.
Add a cup of yoghurt.
Add half a cup of sparkling water.
Add 1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda.
In a larger bowl, mix 450g of plain flour with a tablespoon of baking powder and a palmful of salt.
Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and fold together.
Add more flour if the mixture is too wet – it shouldn’t stick to your fingers – and then decant from the bowl and lightly roll in flour on a surface.
Press out to 0.5 cm thick.
Cut into rectangles 3cm x 5cm.
Put into smoking vegetable oil (at a depth of a little more than 0.5 cm).
The llokuma should puff up to four times their thickness in the oil. Turn them as soon as they start to brown. Eat immediately.
Although I later returned many times to Syzana’s house and ate more of the excellent pite I never watched it made there from start to finish. One day, on a flight to Pristina, I was discussing with the Albanian woman sitting next to me how I’d like to know how to make the dish.
‘Would you, by any chance, know a recipe?’ She was kind enough to dictate one to me as we sat in the clouds a mile above Eastern Europe. Sometimes, when I wasn’t clear about the details of what she was describing, she used her airline meal napkin to demonstrate the layers of the pastry, just how you pinch them together. I apologised for interrupting her journey but she waved away my apology. ‘It’s good,’ she said. ‘I want my daughter to learn too.’
The 23-year-old next to her was her daughter, and it emerged that the reason it would be particularly useful for her to learn the art of good pite-making was that she was on this flight to Kosovo to celebrate her engagement.When my friend Valbona heard about Ardita’s mother’s recipe she was sceptical. Different areas of Kosovo have very different approaches to pite-making and she offered to share her version with me.
What follows is my combination of the two recipes.
For the pastry:900g plain flour
For the filling:250g nettles – remove stalks
Measure out the flour into a deep bowl. Add the salt and water until the dough is the ‘right’ consistency (when I queried what this meant I was given a simple guideline, which I learned later was not of Valbona’s own devising. The mixture should feel like the flesh in your earlobe. Try feeling your earlobe now and you will see what a useful guide this is).
Knead the dough on a floured surface (Valbona uses the heel of her right hand while her left spins the ball of dough in a movement I couldn’t reproduce however hard I tried). Cover with a plate to rest.
Chop the nettles finely and wash them twice in hot water then two or three times in cold water. Drain. Chop the onion finely, and fry to soften it.
Mix the nettles and onions together. Add the egg, creme fraiche, flour, milk and salt, and mix together.
Return to the dough and form into 25 balls a little larger than golf balls.
Gently knead each of these using a motion from the heel of your hand down your thumb, and roll each of them out to 10cm diameter.
Take one of the circles you have made and spread oil on top of it. Place another circle on top and drape these two over the fist of one hand so that the discs begin to distend with their own weight. With your free hand stretch the discs further. Repeat this process with new discs, pulling the pile to increase its diameter with each new addition, until you have a stack of seven discs of 40cm diameter.
Repeat the process to make another stack from the other six balls.
Oil a tepsi and line it with the seven layers, making sure they go up the sides. Cover with the filling.
Place the six-layer stack on top of the filling and pinch and twist the edges together to seal the filling in.
Spread oil on top of the pite. Prick the pie with a fork and place in a 200°C oven for 35-40 minutes.
The pite is served in slices like a pizza.
It is often made with spinach and/or the white crumbly cheese, or with pumpkin.
My version of Ana’s recipe, to make approximately 30 pieces of baklava
Ingredients:330g filo pastry for baklava (Ana makes her own; there was no way I was going to do that. I removed the pastry I’d bought from its plastic wrapper, unfolding it carefully like a very old vellum book with pages that might easily tear)
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Lay out a sheet of the pastry. Slather it with melted butter and then lay on another sheet. Slather again. Repeat so the final pastry is three sheets thick.
Cover the bottom third of the pastry sheet stack with the walnuts and then roll all the pastry tightly into a cylinder. Repeat until you have used up all the pastry and nuts.
Grease a baking tin.
Cut the cylinder into lengths of 3-4cm and place each small cylinder in the baking tin, snuggling them together. Drizzle any remaining melted butter between each length and over all of it.
Turn down the oven to 150 degrees and bake the baklava at the bottom of the oven for an hour.
When the baklava is out of the oven, put the honey in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water and bring to the boil.
Add the lemon juice and vanilla flavouring.
Pour the syrup over the baklava. Cool and serve.
Since I needed 500g of the stuff in the original recipe (the version below is modified in the light of my experience) and it was the title of the dessert, I guessed afion might be important. But it wasn’t in either of my dictionaries. I sent Gazi an urgent text message asking for a translation, but I got no response.
Thankfully, reading on through the recipe I saw a suggestion for replacing the afion with ground walnuts so I made this version. The next day I finally received the reply from my teacher. He’d never heard of afion either but his much bigger dictionary defined it as ‘opium poppy’. His message continued ‘Are you making something illegal? If so, share a piece with me.’ This is the walnut version, completely legal.
This recipe make six servings.
Mix yeast with a little lukewarm milk and a pinch of sugar and flour.
Leave in a warm place until the mixture starts to ferment.
Sift the flour and make a well in the centre.
Add the egg yolk, 35g of sugar, the butter, the rum, 80ml of milk, the orange juice and rind, and the salt.
Mix, adding the fermented yeast.
Place the resulting dough in a warm place for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the ground walnuts in 70ml milk.
Whisk the white of the egg until it is firm.
When the walnut mixture is cool, fold in the egg white and the yolk, the vanilla, and honey.
When the dough has had 25 minutes to prove, roll it to a thickness of 1cm on baking paper.
Spread the walnut mixture over the dough, leaving a 2cm margin at each edge.
Roll the dough like a Swiss roll and turn out on a greased baking sheet.
Leave for ten minutes and then put in a 200 degree oven for 25 minutes.
These ingredients make roughly 32 pieces of kurore.
Beat the eggs with two tablespoons of oil, the brandy and the grated lemon rind.
Add as much flour as is necessary to produce a soft mass. Divide this repeatedly into half and half again until you have 32 pieces.
Flour your hands and roll the pieces of dough between your palms to make them into small balls. Fry them lightly in oil and drain on kitchen paper.
Cut the dried fruit into small pieces and mix in a saucepan with the almonds and honey. (A tip for transferring honey easily from the jar is to coat your spoon in oil first.) Warm on the hob until the mixture binds together.
Add the fried balls to the honey mixture, turning so that the balls are covered in honey. Leave for approximately ten minutes and then transfer to a well-greased round baking tray, placing the balls round the edge and leaving a space in the middle. Leave to cool before serving.
Makes just over half a litre of relish.
Ingredients:2kg red peppers
Preheat an oven to 190 degrees. Roast the peppers until the skin is black on all sides.
Place the roasted peppers in a large pot. Cover and leave for two hours.
When the peppers are cool, peel the skin off and remove the seeds and stems.
Mash the peppers to a pulp. Transfer to a large cooking pot.
Add crushed garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. Cook for three hours at 190 degrees.
When finished cooking, let it cool. Fill jars almost to the top.
These six recipes have been taken from Elizabeth Gowing's new book Travels in Blood and Honey – the story of an English woman in Kosovo. Wanderlust has five copies to give away, check out how you can win one here.
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