My wife Anne had originally picked the destination for this week’s European trip. She had received a recipe from one of her blog friends originally from Bosnia. Unfortunately, it was during Passover and I could not find one of the key ingredients.
So, I changed my flight at the last minute and I decided to take the family to another Balkan country: Albania.
Albania is a rather small country with a population of less than 3 million. It is a country of the Balkan Peninsula like Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece that we visited over the past few weeks.
Its cuisine is rather rich and varied for a country of that size. It is mainly influenced by Turkish, Italian but also Greek and Roman cooking, as the country has only become independent for the first time in the early part of the 20th century after almost 5 centuries under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
Lamb is probably the most widely used meat in the country. Although I decided to make my tave me presh with beef, it can actually be made with lamb as well. Yogurt is also a staple in a number of dishes, including lamb dishes like Tavë kosi, Albania’s national dish.
When I picked tave me presh, I knew Anne would love it, and I was right. As soon as the dish came out of the oven, she rushed to get a taste. She had been sick for a week and had barely eaten for a few days. Plus, it was the middle of Passover which is not known to be the most enjoyable culinary experience of the year. After her first bite, she was sold. She even told me she felt like a prisoner who had just been freed after 20 years of captivity. OK, her actual words were a little more… colored… but you got the point.
I personally liked it but I can’t say that I loved it. I wanted to taste the original tave me presh so the only seasoning I used were salt and pepper, which is probably why my Ashkenazi wife loved it. The North African Jew that I am would have definitely kicked it up a notch… or two…
I typically use leeks in one of two ways: steamed with vinaigrette and crumbled hard-boiled egg on top makes a great French salad. Or as a base for soup, which I rarely make… in this Albanian recipe, leek is the star which makes this dish so unique.
I will definitely make this dish again as Anne has already asked for it. However, I will experiment with spices. Oregano? Marjoram? Thyme? I am waiting for your suggestions in the comments.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
– 2 lbs. of leeks (mostly white parts)
– 1 lb. of ground beef
– 1 large onion, finely chopped
– 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce
– 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
– 1 cup of beef stock
– vegetable oil
– salt and pepper
Sauté the leeks in a little oil for 8-10 minutes. Lay on baking dish.
Sauté the onion in a little oil until translucent. Add ground beef and continue to cook for a few minutes.
Add the beef stock, tomato sauce, red bell pepper, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Pour the meat mixture over the leeks.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for at least 1 hour. You can leave in the oven for another 10-15 minutes if you prefer the dish more consistent with a little less sauce.