I have to admit to only having the vaguest idea of where Albania was before this challenge. So I didn’t know what to expect when cooking food from Albania!
Albania is located in Southeastern Europe, next to Greece. The landscape varies greatly across the country, with extensive mountain ranges, fertile lowland plains, and many notable lakes including the Lake of Shkodër, the largest lake in Southern Europe.
In ancient times, Albania was inhabited by the Illyrians and the Epirotes, while several important ancient Greek colonies were established on the coast. The Romans annexed the country, and it later became part of Byzantium and then the Ottoman Empire. Albania declared independence in 1912.
Albania is considered a developing country, though still provides universal healthcare and free primary and secondary education to its citizens.
What Do People Eat in Albania?
Albanian cuisine bears many similarities to Greek, as well as to Mediterranean food in general. Greek salad is popular and there are Albanian salads that are similar. Olives (including olive oil) and feta cheese are common ingredients or garnishes.
Albania produces and uses fruits such as lemons, oranges, figs, and olives. Popular herbs include lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Apparently, Albanians also really like onions; Albania is ranked fourth in the world for onion consumption per capita.
Fish and seafood of all kinds are popular throughout the country, with lamb being the most popular meat. Poultry, beef, and pork are also common.
Breakfast is often something light and simple such as bread with butter, cheese, jam, yogurt, and/or olives, served with coffee or tea. There is a kind of porridge or soup that is common in rural areas, called ‘trahana’, but that wasn’t something I could easily make (you can read about it in the section on other popular Albanian dishes).
What I Made
- Fergesë (Baked Tomatoes, Peppers and Feta)
- Pispili (Cornbread with Leeks)
- Qifqi (Rice Balls)
- Tavë Kosi (Baked Lamb with Rice and Yoghurt)
- Sallatë Shope (Albanian Salad)
Scroll down to read about other popular Albanian dishes I didn’t make!
Fergesë (Baked Tomatoes, Peppers and Feta)
Fergesë is one of Albania’s national dishes. It is a kind of dip or casserole made primarily of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, onions, and feta cheese. Its full name is fergesë e tiranës me piperka, and there is also a version made with liver called fergesë me mëlçi, which is usually served as a main dish.
I thought this was going to taste strongly of feta cheese, but it didn’t really. The cheese is definitely there, but I think the roasted pepper flavor was what came through the strongest. I followed the recipe from My Albanian Food but I baked the mixture in an 8×8-inch baking dish instead of the two clay dishes suggested. This was alright. I think I should have chopped the roasted peppers more finely, but the recipe wasn’t really explicit in that respect. I served it with the pispili, below, since apparently that is a common combination.
Pispili (Cornbread with Leeks)
This is a kind of cornbread with leeks and feta on top, and it’s usually served with fergëse or some kind of soup or stew.
I halved this recipe and baked it in a round 9-inch cake tin. It did not seem like there was quite enough batter, and the result was a bit thin, which is probably due to my choice of baking tin. Then again, it looks kind of thin in the picture on the recipe I followed from Foreign Fork, so maybe that’s how it’s meant to be. I did feel there was a bit too much of the leek and scallion mixture on top, so I would probably just use one leek next time. I was worried the leeks wouldn’t cook enough, but they turned out okay. Still, I think I might sauté them briefly first if I were to make this again.
Overall, this was a good dish, but I think I can improve it next time!
Qifqi (Albanian Rice Balls)
The above picture shows my ‘prettiest’ qifqi, which are basically just balls made of cooked rice and egg with some dried mint. Sometimes, they also contain cheese. I wanted to make them since they are apparently very hard to find outside of Albania.
I followed the recipe from Global Kitchen Travels but I did not have the special pan called for, so I decided I would just pan-fry them instead. The mixture was a lot looser than I was expecting, which may be intended, since that wouldn’t really be a problem if I was using the pan I was supposed to. I did get some qifqi that were close to being ball shapes, and others were complete pancakes. However, they did taste good for something so simple. I should have made some kind of Albanian sauce to go with them, but instead I used kewpie mayonnaise. Wrong, I know, but so good.
Tavë Kosi (Baked Lamb with Rice and Yoghurt)
Tavë kosi is considered Albania’s national dish. It consists of chunks of lamb and a little rice on the bottom, with an egg and Greek yogurt mixture poured over the top before baking. I thought the texture would be similar to quiche, but it was closer to mousse I think. That wasn’t a bad thing. What it looks like on the inside:
All the recipes I came across for tavë kosi seemed very similar, and I ended up using one from the BBC website. Sometimes, small blogs have the only authentic-sounding recipes, but they aren’t always written in a way that is easy to follow so I like to use a more reliable source if possible.
I halved the recipe and baked in an 8×8-inch baking dish. I also used ground lamb cut into chunks as pretend lamb stew meat, since ground lamb was on special. This was delicious, even though it doesn’t look too spectacular, and it’s something I would probably make again.
Sallatë Shope (Albanian Salad)
This is a simple salad consisting of cucumber, tomato, parsley, vinegar, and olive oil, as well as peppers and onion according to some sources, with a shredded brine cheese called sirene over the top. I added some lettuce and attempted to grate some feta over the top in place of the sirene, then gave up and crumbled the rest. So, not the best presentation, but it was a pretty good salad to go with the tavë kosi.
Other Popular Albanian Dishes
- Trahana/tarhana – consists of wheat or semolina flour mixed with yogurt or milk, which is then sun-dried in blocks and crumbled until it’s fine. This is available online (usually called ‘sour trahaná pasta’ or just ‘sour trahaná’), but only in large amounts, and since it didn’t really appeal to me, I decided not to try it.
- Petulla – many countries have a fried dough dish, and this is Albania’s. Petulla can be served sweet with honey or powdered sugar, or savory with feta.
- Ballokume – cookies made from fine cornmeal, butter, sugar, and eggs. The dough is traditionally kneaded vigorously in a copper bowl which supposedly improves the texture.
The tavë kosi was easily the highlight of this week. I’d like to revisit the pispili at a later stage as well. Overall, it was interesting to cook and eat food from Albania, and more relaxing, since I made fewer dishes.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Algeria.