What is patatnik?
Patatnik (пататник) or patetnik is a traditional Bulgarian potato-based dish characteristic of the Rhodope Mountains. It is prepared with grated potatoes and onions, as well as spearmint. It is originally cooked over fire or a stove, but is nowadays also baked in an oven. Some variants add sirene (Bulgarian feta), eggs, or even peppers.
The Rhodope cuisine
The Rhodope region is a mountainous region that offers a cuisine with regional products that is distinct from national Bulgarian cuisine. Straddling Greece and Bulgaria, this thickly forested region spreads over more than 4,000 square miles, and is scattered with scenic villages where life has changed little for centuries.
Patatnik is emblematic of this cuisine, but other recipes are characteristic of the region as well, including cheverme, which is lamb roasted on a spit over an open fire. Another famous dish is the Rhodope klin, which is made from filo dough with a filling of potatoes, rice or nettle (sometimes spinach), roasted in a baking dish over an open fire. Another popular recipe, kachamak, is made from boiled corn flour and is served with cheese or bacon. As a dessert, Rhodopeans eat marudnik, which looks like a pancake, baked on a tikla (hot flat stone), and served with wild berries preserve.
Potatoes in Bulgaria
Although the Rhodopes region had been populated for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that potatoes were introduced. Superstitious elders initially rejected them as “devil’s apples”. But potatoes eventually proved successful as they thrived at high altitude, similar to the environment in Peru and Bolivia.
Eventually, villagers decided to adopt the potato and experiment with a potato version of banitsa that eventually evolved into patatnik. Now, the dish is promoted as a culinary tourist attraction to be eaten in cozy traditional pubs (mehanas) in the mountainous villages. Every mehana now serves its own version, whether with tomatoes or red pepper, whether baked in an oven or cooked on a stove. The common flavor remains the distinctive mint flavor.
What is the origin of patatnik?
The word patatnik comes from the Rup dialects, which are mostly spoken in the southeastern part of Bulgaria. It is a combination of the word for potato, with the Slavic masculine –nik suffix attached to it. In some areas of the Smolyan Province, the dish is called kashnitsa.
How to make patatnik
Patatnik is a rather simple, yet deliciously filling dish, which is reminiscent of a few distant cousins, such as rosti, a Swiss dish from the canton of Bern consisting mainly of potatoes, in the style of an individual fritter. Patatnik is also very close to hash browns, latkes, and even more closely related to tortilla espanola, the emblematic Spanish potato omelet.
I prepared the patatnik using a traditional oven recipe that uses a dusting of flour at the bottom and at the top, as well as eggs. The few dollops of butter that cover the pie give a richer flavor that would otherwise be obtained by frying the patatnik, as in other recipes.
- 3 lb potatoes
- 2 onions
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons dried spearmint
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon butter , for greasing
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Peel the potatoes, and grate them in a bowl.
- Peel the onions and grate in the same bowl.
- Add salt, pepper, vegetable oil and dried mint. Crack eggs and add them to the mixture. Stir well.
- Grease a round pan with 1 tablespoon of butter, then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour to dust the pan.
- Pour the potato mixture into the pan. Press with your palms to flatten. Sprinkle last 2 tablespoons of flour on top. Add a few dollops of butter on top.
- Bake for 45 minutes.