Cooking Class: Shaily’s Balkan beat

A new cookbook brings us the flavors of Balkan Jewish cuisine.

(photo credit: DANIEL LAYLA)
Delicious salads, crispy tapas and other festive dishes from Balkan cuisine will make the Passover week all the more delicious. On the first page of food editor and TV host Shaily Lipa’s new cookbook My Balkan Kitchen, there is picture of her squeezing lemon into a bowl filled with roasted eggplant, garlic, olive oil, chopped tomatoes and green onion. Soon all this sumptuous food will be turned into a salad, the flavor of which you can probably taste before even reading the recipe. A few pages later, there an even more surprising recipe – rolls of lettuce stuffed with red bulgur salad called kisir, the Turkish way of making tabouleh.
That is what this book is about – dishes that may sound familiar but with twists that may even surprise those who grew up on Balkan food.
Lipa herself, the daughter of a Greek-born father and a Turkish-born mother, dived into a root search while writing the book.
Here are a few dishes from the book that are kosher for Passover.
MOM’S LEEK PATTIES (Keftes de prasa)
Makes 40 small patties
Lipa says that her mother makes these every Passover and Rosh Hashana, and they are eaten even before sitting down, sometime straight from the pan.
✔ 1½ kg. leeks, white part
✔ 300 gr. ground beef or minced chicken
✔ 3 eggs
✔ 1⁄3 cup matza meal
✔ Salt and pepper
✔ Oil for frying Cut leeks along the stem and wash well.
Chop into large pieces.
Cook the leeks in a lot of water about 45 minutes, until very soft. Strain and let cool.
Squeeze all the water out.
Grind the leeks in the food processor or meat grinder until chopped but not too much so it does not turn into paste.
Transfer to a bowl and add the beef or chicken, eggs and matza meal. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
Pour ½ cm. of oil into a nonstick frying pan and turn heat to medium. Fry a small patty as a trial. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Form 3-cm. balls and press them to form small, flat patties.
Fry patties 3 minutes on each side until golden. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
Serve cold or warm. The patties will keep in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.
You may heat them in a 170° oven for a few minutes before serving.
Note: To add more flavor, add 1 cup of chopped herbs to the mixture.
Makes 20 rolls
We eat the stuffed matza during hol hamoed.
We also take them with us when going on picnics and road trips.
✔ 10 matzot For the stuffing
✔ 3 Tbsp. oil
✔ 1 medium onion, chopped
✔ ½ kg. ground beef
✔ 1 egg
✔ 1⁄3 cup parsley, chopped
✔ Salt and pepper
For the coating
✔ 3 eggs, beaten
✔ Oil for frying
To prepare matza for filling:
Wet the matzot with water, wrap in a clean kitchen towel and let them soak and become soft.
To prepare the stuffing: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté the onion about 5 minutes until soft. Add meat and continue frying until it changes color. Cook 10 more minutes, mixing occasionally until the mixture is dry.
Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Add egg and parsley, season with salt and pepper and mix.
With a sharp knife, halve the matzot, place 1 Tbsp. of the filling at the wide end of each half and roll. Dip the rolls in egg, and shake to remove excess.
Pour 1 cm. of oil into a nonstick frying pan and heat over medium heat. Gently place the rolls seam-side down and fry 3 minutes. Turn and fry for 3 more minutes until golden on all sides. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
Serve at room temperature. The rolls will keep when refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Makes 10
Tomatoes are perfect for being stuffed.
They keep their beautiful shape and wonderful flavor after baking. Choose ripe but firm tomatoes and try to choose ones that are all almost the same size, so they will cook at the same time.
✔ 10 large red tomatoes
For the sauce
✔ 1 small onion, chopped
✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ 1 heaping tsp. sugar
✔ 1 tsp. dry oregano
✔ Salt and pepper
For the stuffing
✔ ¼ cup olive oil
✔ 1 large onion, chopped
✔ 1 cup round rice, washed and strained
✔ 1⁄3 cup pine nuts
✔ 1½ cups boiling water
✔ Salt and pepper
✔ 1 cup fresh herbs, chopped
Heat oven to 180°. Remove tops of tomatoes and put aside for later.
Using a teaspoon, scoop out the flesh of the tomatoes.
To prepare the sauce: Chop the flesh of the tomatoes coarsely and transfer to a deep baking dish. Add chopped onions, olive oil and sugar. Season with oregano, salt and pepper and mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat, add oil and onion and sauté for 5 minutes until onion is transparent. Add rice and fry 1 minutes, mixing, until rice is coated with oil and is heated through. Add pine nuts and cook for 1 minute. Pour boiling water, season with salt and pepper, mix and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer 6-8 minutes uncovered until all the water is absorbed into the rice. Add herbs and mix. Let cool a little.
Stuff each tomato with the rice almost to the top and cover with the tomato tops.
Place tomatoes in the baking dish with the sauce. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven 40 minutes, until tomatoes are golden and soft. Serve warm with tzatziki sauce.
Makes 6-8
This is a classic Balkan dish. The peppers are deep fried so they are more “meaty.”
Choose small peppers, as they are easier to fry and are more succulent.
✔ 10 small red peppers
✔ 1⁄3 cup natural vinegar
✔ 4 cloves garlic, minced
✔ 1 heaping tsp. sugar
✔ Salt and pepper
✔ Oil for frying
In a medium pot, pour 5 cm. of oil and heat over medium-high heat. Fry the peppers whole, 3-4 at a time (so as not to reduce the temperature of the oil), 5 minutes on each side until peppers are golden.
Transfer to a sieve.
In a large bowl, mix together vinegar, garlic and sugar. Add the fried peppers, season with salt and pepper and mix.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
Refrigerate in an air-tight container up to 5 days.
Recipes and photos courtesy of Al Hashulchan magazine. The cookbook My Balkan Kitchen was published by Al Hashulchan. Translated from the text by Janna Gur, Al Hashulchan. Styling Amit Farber