If there is one recipe in the Albanian tradition, it is the recipe for pite me mish, also called byrek me mish, a delicious minced meat pie with filo dough.
Albanian cuisine is simple and tasty at the same time, because it is based on seasonal ingredients and quality raw ingredients.
But we cannot talk about Albanian cuisine without also considering the history of this nation over the past two centuries.
The first major culinary influence comes from the 500 years of Turkish domination, which has strongly influenced not only the food, but also the language, culture, music and traditions in general.
In the following years, there were then the Italian colonization between 1939 and 1943 and the numerous exoduses of the Albanian people to Italy, which made certain typical Italian dishes, such as pasta (makarona in Albanian) or risotto and other Italian dishes widely available.
Finally, there is also an obvious Greek influence in Albanian cuisine, especially in the south, mainly due to their proximity, although between the two nations there is still a state of war that started in 1940 and an unresolved definition of maritime borders.
However, on the table, there is no conflict between the two nations. Indeed, Greek salads, saganaki, tzatziki and other typically Greek dishes are often present on Albanian tables.
You should never leave Albania without tasting the following dishes and sweets:
- Tave me presh, a delicious traditional Albanian dish made with ground beef and leek.
- Tavë kosi (or Elbasan tava), a traditional Albanian dish made with rice and oven baked lamb, is also popular in Greece and Turkey.
- Shendetlie, a delicious traditional cake from Albania, made with honey and nuts and soaked in sugar syrup.
- Sheqerpare, small butter shortbreads soaked in sugar syrup. In Turkey, they are called şekerpare
- Ballokume, a traditional Albanian biscuit from the city of Elbasan, made from corn flour, eggs, sugar and butter and traditionally consumed on March 14 during dita e verës, summer day.
What is pite me mish?
In Albanian, pite means “waffle” and mish means “meat”. Pite me mish is also called byrek me mish, where byrek means “pie”.
Like the banitsa of Bulgarian cuisine, the origin of pite me mish can be found in börek.
What is börek?
Börek, also called burek, boregi or byrek in Albanian, is a pie made of phyllo dough, which can be filled with sweet or salty ingredients. Börek can also be a small individual turnover.
Depending on the region, there are many variations of börek that can be used both as quick snacks served by different street food vendors, in individual versions that are easy to eat with the hands (triangles, balls, cigars, etc.), and as a main course, in the form of a large circular cake, stuffed and hearty, offered at dinners or lunches.
Throughout the Middle East, börek is a true symbol of hospitality and conviviality.
According to the most widely shared accounts, börek was born in the 14th century in ancient Anatolia (now Turkey) during the Ottoman Empire, although many historians claim it was inspired by a recipe from the Roman Empire, a layered cake interspersed with pastry and baked cheese.
Börek has been part of Turkish cuisine for centuries and, therefore, of all the peoples under its reign, mainly the Balkans, but also some parts of North Africa and Sicily.
Börek in Turkish is a word that refers to any dish prepared with yufka, i.e. thin and crispy phyllo dough sheets and comes from the verb “to strike” or “to twist”, because originally the dough was first stuffed and then rolled up on itself, formed into a cylinder.
What are the variants of börek?
It is in Turkey, their country of origin, that we undoubtedly find the largest number of types of börek.
- Su boregi, cooked in boiling water, filled with cheese and parsley and then grilled.
- Sigara boregi or kalem boregi, cylindrical with different fillings, such as potato and cheese, or ground meat, or sausage or vegetables.
- Pacanga boregi which is the speciality of the city of Istanbul, filled with cheese and fried green peppers.
- Talas boregi, of spherical shape, which has the particularity of being stuffed with lamb and peas.
- Gul boregi or yuvarlak boregi which is the sweet version, filled with custard cream or milk pudding and sprinkled with icing sugar.
In Albania, börek can therefore be called byrek or lakro. There are also different fillings, mainly stuffed with vegetables: spinach, potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes and onions, peppers and beans but also stuffed with minced meat like the recipe presented here, or with cheese. The particularity of individual Albanian byreks is their triangular shape.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, people are so crazy about börek that it was voted as their national dish. Börek is served at any time of the day, from breakfast to dinner.
There are two main types: sirnica, stuffed with spinach and cheese, and zeljianica, stuffed with potatoes. The particularity of Bosnian böreks is that they also contain eggs in the dough and are therefore more inflated and hearty, usually in the form of a spiral.
The more modern versions also offer round börek in the form of pizzas. There are also sweet börek made from sour cherries or apples.
In North Africa and especially in Tunisia, they are called brick, the most famous being the egg brick (brick à l’oeuf), the brick sheet being a little thicker than the phyllo sheet and more suitable for frying than for baking.
Phyllo dough, also spelled filo, also called yufka in Turkish, is a thin puff pastry, used in Mediterranean cuisine, the Middle East and the Balkans. Its name comes from the Greek phyllo, which means “leaf” or “sheet”.
The thickness can vary from that of a transparent sheet of paper to several millimeters. In Greek, Turkish, Armenian or Balkan cuisines in general, this dough is used in many pastries, such as börek or baklava.
In Germanic cuisine, the dough is called Strudelteig, and phyllo dough pastries are called Strudel.
Filo dough is as light as its name, as thin as a sheet of paper. Widely used in the Middle East and the Balkans, it has recently spread to Western cuisines, particularly in gastronomic cuisines.
It is said to be a “puff pastry” but it contains no fat or very little olive oil, and its neutral taste makes it very versatile.
The most representative recipe is baklava, a sweet Ottoman dessert made with honey and dried fruits.
In the 11th century, Lughat Diwan al-Turk, a dictionary of Turkish dialects by Mahmud Kashgari, recorded a rolled and folded dough called yuvgha. This name is linked to the word yufka, meaning “thin”.
Pite me mish can be prepared in the form of a pie, in the form of a spiral like the banitsa, or even in the form of individual turnovers. Phyllo dough can be homemade or purchased in a store. Pite me mish or byrek me mish, whatever name or form you give it, you will love it!
- 4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 lb ground beef or pork
- 2 onions peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large potato coarsely grated
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 3 tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- First prepare the minced meat stuffing.
- In a saucepan, add the olive oil and heat slightly.
- Add the onions and fry until golden brown.
- Add the potato, salt, pepper, and mix well.
- Brown, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
- Add the minced meat and paprika and mix well.
- Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper again and mix well.
- Cook covered and over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the grated potato is cooked, the tomatoes are dissolved and the entire mass is transformed into a fairly compact mixture - about 15 minutes.
- At the end of cooking, increase the heat to reduce the liquid, if necessary.
- Set aside and let cool completely.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour and salt.
- Start kneading with the hook attachment, incorporating the hot but not boiling water gradually.
- Knead until obtaining a compact dough.
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
- Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
- Divide the first dough piece into 8 small pieces and form balls. Do the same with the second dough piece.
Flatten each ball very thinly, like a sheet of paper, into a circle about 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. The dough circles must be transparent.
- Place the dough circles thus obtained on a work surface sprinkled with cornstarch and sprinkle each circle of dough with cornstarch as well.
- Brush a high edge round mold with olive oil.
- Brush 8 circles of phyllo dough sheets with olive oil and place them one on top of the other as you go along on the bottom of the pan.
- Spread the meat on top.
- Cover with the other 8 sheets of dough following the same procedure as the first 8 sheets.
- Fold the edges of the upper sheets under the lower sheets.
- Brush the surface of the pie with olive oil.
Bake at 400 F (200 C) for 30 minutes.
This recipe can be prepared with commercially available round phyllo sheets.