I’ve been pretty excited about cooking food from Bulgaria. I didn’t have a great idea of what I would be making, but there’s this line from an old Australian TV ad that comes to my mind whenever Bulgaria is mentioned: ‘taste my Bulgarian feta!’ I couldn’t remember what the ad was for, but luckily my sister remembered enough for me to find it. It’s an ad for CGU, an insurance company. They had a whole series of similar ads and they were pretty entertaining. You can find the one I was thinking of here on YouTube.
Anyway, the point is, I like feta! So that was enough for me to be excited about cooking Bulgarian food. I also have to admit to being partial to Eastern European cuisine.
Bulgaria is a Southeast European country, west of the Black Sea. It is in a geographic location known as the Balkans, which takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch through Bulgaria.
During the 6th to 3rd century BC, the area that is now Bulgaria was a battleground for ancient civilizations such as the Thracians, Persians, Celts, and Macedonians. The Roman Empire brought some stability when they conquered the region in 45 AD.
After the Roman Empire fell, things grew unstable once more. The First Bulgarian Empire was formed, followed by the Second Bulgarian Empire after the Byzantines conquered the first. In 1396, this too fell and the region was under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries.
Modern Bulgaria was formed after the Russo-Turkish War in the late 19th century. It became a socialist state in 1956 under the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc, but has since then transitioned into a democracy and market-based economy.
Bulgaria is a developing country with an economy based largely on services, followed by industry and agriculture. It faces issues such as widespread corruption and a shrinking population.
What Do People Eat in Bulgaria?
Feta, of course! Well, that’s not all, but it’s definitely a very popular ingredient. It will be Bulgarian feta though, which is known as ‘sirene’ and is typically saltier and tangier than Greek feta. Bulgarian yogurt is also very popular, both as an ingredient and as a condiment with many meals. It’s a little less thick and has more tartness than Greek yogurt. I’m comparing with Greek feta and yogurt here because that’s what you could use as a substitute if you have to, which I did this week.
Bulgaria has similar meals to the neighboring Balkan countries, though there are Middle Eastern influences too in the form of dishes like baklava and kofta.
I was pleased to get to another country with lots of breakfast options, since sometimes those have been lacking, and I love breakfast foods. In Bulgaria, common breakfasts often include eggs, but you may also eat various pastries, pancakes, or a printsesa.
There are a lot of popular soups and stews in Bulgarian cuisine, though I only made one cold soup since it’s hot here and I had plenty of other dishes to make. Pastries are popular also.
Pork, veal, and lamb are popular meats, but fish and chicken are pretty common too. One of the more popular ways to cook meat is to grill it.
There are many delicious-sounding Bulgarian desserts, including a pumpkin strudel which I almost made. I just didn’t feel I could fit it in with everything else I wanted to make, and sweet things tend to be lower on my priority list. I’ve taken note of it though and I’ll make it one day.
What I Made
- Panagyurski Eggs (Poached Eggs with Yogurt, Feta, and Paprika)
- Banitza (Cheese and Egg Filled Pastry)
- Chushka Biurek (Fried Stuffed Peppers)
- Kebapcheta (Pork and Beef Sausages)
- Mish-Mash (Scrambled Eggs with Red Peppers, Tomato, and Feta)
- Tarator (Cold Cucumber and Yogurt Soup)
- Shopska Salata (Cucumber, Tomato, and Feta Salad)
- Moussaka (Baked Meat and Potatoes)
- Printsesa (Ground Meat and Cheese on Toast)
Scroll down to read about other popular Bulgarian dishes I didn’t make!
Panagyurski Eggs (Poached Eggs with Yogurt, Feta, and Paprika)
You may have seen Turkish eggs (or Çılbır) before, since they seem popular lately. These panagyurski eggs are similar and could be referred to as the Bulgarian version of the same thing. You mix yogurt with feta and garlic and top it with poached eggs and a paprika-butter mixture. The yogurt and feta should be Bulgarian, but I used Greek. I paired with some sourdough. This was really delicious and so easy; I’m sure I’ll be making it again. I loosely followed the recipe from Balkan Lunchbox.
Banitza (Cheese and Egg Filled Pastry)
A banitza is made of layers of phyllo pastry filled with an egg, oil, and yogurt mixture, and feta cheese. Unlike the burek I made for Bosnia, you don’t make one big spiral here. Instead, you assemble the spiral in sections, which I found a lot easier. Once the pastry has all been used, the rest of the egg mixture gets poured over the top and you bake it in the oven.
I used a recipe that was kindly provided by Reddit user s_Malinka, who says it’s adapted from their mother-in-law’s recipe. I was happy to have a real Bulgarian recipe for this dish. It ended up turning out really well, though I think my spring-form pan wasn’t as big as the ‘large, round baking dish’ that the recipe called for. I also had to use Greek yogurt and feta instead of the Bulgarian that should be used. This was really good and I’ll probably make this again once I get my hands on the more authentic ingredients.
Chushka Biurek (Fried Stuffed Peppers)
These are roasted red peppers which have been stuffed with an egg and feta mixture before being breaded and fried. I found it hard to make them look nice, but they did taste pretty good. They are usually served as an appetizer with yogurt. I couldn’t find peppers that were the right size; there’s apparently a certain variety, smaller than regular bell peppers, that can be found in Europe which is probably what is typically used. Instead, I just got the smallest red bell peppers I could find.
I used a recipe from Zvezdev’s Kitchen, which is run by a popular Bulgarian chef called Ivan Zvezdev. Some Bulgarian Reddit users suggested him to me, and his YouTube channel turned out to be an excellent resource for this week’s recipes.
I really enjoyed this dish, though it was a little fiddly to make.
Kebapcheta (Pork and Beef Sausages)
Kebapcheta is a simple dish to make, consisting of ground pork and beef and flavored with a little cumin. The recipe I used also included garlic, though the author states it’s not necessary. I always find garlic necessary so I used it. The meat is shaped into logs and grilled. I used my George Foreman grill for this, and it worked pretty well.
In Bulgaria, you might order ‘three kebapcheta with sides’, the sides usually being potatoes in some form, salad, and sauce. I added some onions too. The sauce I made is lutenitsa, which is made of roasted red peppers, eggplant, and tomato. It went really well with the kebapcheta.
I ended up preparing this initially with fries and feta cheese, because I saw that mentioned online as a common side. Someone on Reddit said this wasn’t very traditional, but in order to make it a meal my husband would eat I served with the fries anyway (he just didn’t have cheese on his).
However, to go with my leftover kebapcheta the next day, I made what was suggested as a more authentic substitute for the fries: a mixture of potatoes, onion, and dill. I enjoyed this too, but I’m not sure if I prefer it to the fries or not. Both combinations were delicious.
The kebapcheta recipe is from Bulgarian Charm and the lutenitsa recipe is from Authentic Food Quest. I halved the lutenitsa recipe but still ended up with a lot. It’s great on toast, eggs, and Triscuits!
Mish-Mash (Scrambled Eggs with Red Peppers, Tomato, and Feta)
Mish-mash is scrambled eggs with roasted red peppers, tomato, and feta. There’s also some onion in this recipe, which I got from Zvezdev’s Kitchen. I’m pretty sure the eggs turned this color because the recipe called for canned tomatoes. I think there was just too much tomato liquid. However, the eggs tasted good and went really well with some sourdough. They just don’t look very pretty!
Tarator (Cold Cucumber and Yogurt Soup)
I was on the fence about trying this, because it reminded me of the dough that I made for Afghanistan. I didn’t really enjoy that, but there were a lot of tarator fans on the Bulgaria subreddit and so I gave it a go. Apparently it goes well with kebapcheta, consumed out of a glass, and so I prepared it to go with my leftover kebapcheta.
All this contains is Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic, water, olive oil, salt, and a little dill. Pecans were in the original recipe too, which I got from Find BG Food, but I didn’t include them. This actually wasn’t bad! I think it was probably thicker than it should be for serving this way, but I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I had thinned it out. I do think it went really well with the kebapcheta; I don’t think it would have been so good to eat this on its own.
Shopska Salata (Cucumber, Tomato, and Feta Salad)
My internet research states that shopska salata is Bulgaria’s national dish. I was kind of surprised and I question whether this is true or not. It is a pretty good salad, despite its simplicity. It’s made of chopped cucumber, tomato, onion, bell pepper, and parsley, with a dressing of sunflower oil and red wine vinegar. It’s traditionally topped with sirene, but I used regular Greek feta. You may think there’s something familiar about this, and that may be because I also made a version of this salad for Albania. I’m trying not to repeat dishes but I think that’s going to be pretty hard in some cases.
The recipe I used is from The Spruce Eats, though I was pretty loose with the measurements.
Moussaka (Baked Meat and Potatoes)
You may have heard of moussaka before, but you probably think of it as a Greek dish consisting of meat and eggplant. This is the Bulgarian version, which contains potatoes instead of eggplant. I don’t like eggplant that much so I was excited to find out about this version. I used another recipe from Zvezdev’s Kitchen. First, you par-cook the potatoes, then you cook some onion, ground beef and pork, tomatoes, paprika, and savory, which is a popular Bulgarian herb. You add the meat mixture to the potatoes and stir, then put it in the oven for a while. To finish, you make an egg and milk mixture, which gets poured over the dish before baking for another 15 minutes or so.
Ivan Zvezdev says that moussaka is often made with a much thicker topping, but that’s because people try to make bigger slices without using as much of the more expensive meat. I thought that was an interesting detail.
This was really delicious, and pretty easy, though a little time-consuming. I served it with the shopska salata.
Printsesa (Ground Meat and Cheese on Toast)
Also known as a ‘Princess Sandwich’, a printsesa is a piece of bread topped with a mixture of ground meat (beef, pork, or a combination of both), egg, and cheese. It’s baked in the oven until the meat is cooked and the cheese is melted, and that’s it. There are also other varieties, which may omit the meat, and the seasonings might change too.
I used a mixture of beef and pork, and the recipe I followed, from Taco and Tiramisu, included paprika, savory, and fenugreek as seasonings. Unlike other Bulgarian recipes I made this week, the cheese here was not feta. Originally, a cheese called ‘kashkaval’, translating to ‘yellow cheese’ would be used. I just used regular cheddar.
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. Mine was kind of heavy on the egg, since I only made one serving and I wasn’t going to only use half or a third of the egg. This was so delicious though! I’m sure I’ll be making it again any time I have a small amount of ground meat to use up.
Other Popular Bulgarian Dishes
- Kavarma – a slow-cooked pork and vegetable soup. It is usually flavored with onion, paprika, tomato, and wine, and can be either mild or spicy.
- Kačamak – a cornmeal porridge, typically seasoned with paprika and topped with feta. This is popular not only in Bulgaria, but in the surrounding regions.
- Patatnik – a pie made from grated potatoes and onions, similar to the potato babka I made for Belarus. Patatnik is usually seasoned with mint, but sometimes summer savory is added. Other popular additions are feta and eggs.
- Bob chorba – a bean and vegetable soup seasoned with summer savory or spearmint. Some variations may include paprika, potatoes, or even meat.
- Tikvenik – a pumpkin strudel made by enclosing a sweet, spiced pumpkin filling in phyllo pastry.
- Garash cake – a chocolate cake made by stacking five thin cakes made from ground walnuts, egg whites, and powdered sugar. A sweet cream and chocolate ganache is spread between the layers and over the cake, which is then covered with chocolate icing.
This was an excellent week filled with some delicious food from Bulgaria. I learned that although feta is an important part of Bulgarian food, there are other key aspects too. My favorite dishes were probably the printsesa and the banitza, though it was pretty hard to choose!
Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Burkina Faso.