#36 Date selected: 19/6/16 Date completed: 3/7/16
Country selected: Macedonia
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu:
- (Pogacha so Tikvichki) Zucchini Pie
- Pastrmajlija (Macedonian Pizza)
Restaurant/Recipe address: Both recipes taken from A Taste of Macedonia, Traditional Macedonian Recipes by the Macedonian Australian Welfare Association of Sydney Inc. – http://www.mawasydney.org.au/documents/MacedonianRecipeBook.pdf
Work and illness have taken over lately and I am way behind in my blog posts. I will try and make the next few a little shorter in an attempt to catch up.
The Republic of Macedonia used to be a part of Yugoslavia but claimed independence as recently as 1991. It is a tiny land-locked country in the Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe bordered by Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania.
It’s mostly rugged terrain throughout the country with a central valley formed by the Vardar River and two mountain ranges offering what looks to be spectacular scenary. The country a history of seismic activity and has been the site of several destructive earthquakes. The landscape is dotted with numerous ponds and three large lakes.
The wildlife seems quite exotic to a humble Aussie girl like myself – bears, wolves, wild boars, foxes, squirrels chamois and deer fill the forests. The lynx, whilst rare, can be found in the western mountainous region and deer in other parts of the region. It’s also the first country that I’ve found so far that boasts a specific domestic animal. In this case, it’s the Sarplaninec (Yugoslav shepherd). It’s huge – about a metre tall and fluffy. It’s apparently been bred to flight bears or wolf packs (I know right?!) which sounds crazy to me.
As you’d probably imagine, Macedonian cuisine is very reminiscent of that from the Balkan region in which it’s a part of. Apparently vegetables, herbs and fruit grow well in the relatively warm climate so they appear in much of the cooking. That said, the cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of its dairy products, wines and local alcoholic beverages.
I tried two different dishes for this challenge – and both, whilst very tasty, seemed to contain quite a lot of oil. I’m not sure if this is representative of all Macedonian cooking, but beware!
The first dish I’m actually counting as a fail, but since the next dish turned out practically perfectly, I’m giving myself a passing grade overall.
It was Pogacha so Tikvichki, or Zucchini Pie in English. It sounds like it should be pretty easy to do – chop a whole lot of zucchini, bacon and ham, mix with some flour, eggs, cheese and an inexplicably large amount of oil. Bake in a pan, decorate with onions and capsicum and voila! I ended up using a food processor to chop and may have got a little overexcited. I ended up chopping the capsicum and onion at the same time and mixing them in with the rest of the pie.
Don’t get me wrong, the pie ended up being quite yummy, but it wasn’t to the recipe. I’m also not sure what effect it had to the consistency of the dish. I mentioned earlier that it was very oily (to the point where it pooled in the bottom of the pan when you cut a slice!), but it was also a little mushy.
If I were to try this dish again I’d probably make the zucchini in larger slices – mine was grated quite finely – in order to try and soak up some more of the oil. I’d also be tempted to reduce the oil that was used. It was simply a little too overpowering for me.
The second dish I attempted was a Macedonian Pizza, Pastrmajlija. I was a little fascinated by the idea because this was a pizza that didn’t involve any cheese. Very different from the Italian style pizza I’m used to!
The topping consists of pieces of seasoned pork drizzled with (surprise surprise!) oil. It’s put into a super hot oven and an egg is cracked whole on top mid way through baking. That’s it. Very basic.
It’s a surprisingly delicious dish though. It reminded me a little of a home cooked breakfast – a pizza version of eggs and pork sausage on toast. The oil isn’t nearly as noticeable with this one and gives everything a beautiful crunch to it. Really delicious and moreish and surprisingly filling.
I do have to admit that it wasn’t the easiest recipe to follow however. Not because it’s a complicated process, but because it’s quite vague in detail. The dough is translated as ‘paste’ in this version and it has instructions such as “soak the yeast and after a while put it into flour and prepare the paste.” It doesn’t actually tell you HOW to prepare the dough so it took some interpretation to try and work out what I should be doing when.
To try and work around this I divided the recipe into two and did two different versions. One had a dough that was quickly mixed, kneaded and put into the oven. The other went through a full prooving process to allow it to rise etc. first. I definitely recommend the latter. Giving the dough time to rise properly gave a nicer, less brittle texture to the base. Just a little bit of chewiness whilst still leaving a nice thin crust. Delicious!
I also had some trepidation about putting chunks of pork on top of the pizza without cooking them first. I was a little concerned that they might not cook properly. Rest assured that the high heat cooks it thoroughly and I had no issues at all with it cooking through. If anything, cooking prior would simply dry out the meat too much.
So in conclusion, I have quite a bit of tweaking to do if I’m going to make the zucchini pie again, but would make the pizza again in a heartbeat. Yum!
For my next challenge…..