International Cooking: Food from Kosovo

Kosovo is one of those small European countries I didn’t know much about before this challenge. However, I enjoy just about all kinds of European cuisine so I was pretty sure food from Kosovo would be no different.

Kosovo is a small country in Southeast Europe with a pretty intricate history that I can’t do justice to here. I’ll just include some of the more important points.

In the 4th century BC, the Kingdom of Dardania was established in the region. The Roman Empire annexed the area a few centuries later, and it became part of the Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire).

Later, Kosovo came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted until the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913. Kosovo was then ceded to Serbia and Montenegro and became an autonomous province within Yugoslavia. The region was inhabited by both Albanians and Serbians, and they did not get along. This led to the Kosovo War of 1998 and 1999, which resulted in the Yugoslav army withdrawing.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but so far, only 102 out of 193 member states of the United Nations recognize this. Serbia still claims Kosovo as a province but does accept its governing authority. Kosovo is a developing country but has experienced solid economic growth during the last decade. In 2022, Kosovo filed a formal application to become a member of the European Union.

What Do People Eat in Kosovo?

Kosovan cuisine is very similar to Albanian cuisine, though there are also influences from Serbia and other Balkan countries.

Meat dishes are popular, often including lamb and beef, though freshwater fish is also common. Pork is rare since the majority of the country is Muslim.

In summer, fresh vegetables are used in cooking and in salads, while in cooler weather, various pickled vegetables are enjoyed instead.

There are many types of bread available, such as flatbread, cornbread, and kifle. Rice is also a common side dish.

Traditional desserts are often made with sorbet enhanced with lemon or vanilla. Pastries such as baklava are popular also.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Kosovan dishes I didn’t make!

Pite Me Spinaq (Spinach Pie)

Pite Me Spinaq (Spinach Pie)

Pite or pie seems popular in Kosovo, according to some of the Reddit responses. There are many different filling options, but spinach is common and that’s the version I decided to go with. Someone gave me a link to a YouTube video which is what I used to make my pite.

First, I had to start making the pastry. I didn’t realize until I was halfway through that I was basically making a form of phyllo pastry. But this was a little easier since I was making it in smaller pieces at a time, rather than trying to stretch out giant table-sized pieces of dough.

I made the dough with warm water, flour, and salt. After kneading until it was smooth, I divided it into 20 balls and let it rest while I started on the filling.

To make the filling, I combined spinach, feta, ricotta, an egg, Greek yogurt, and salt. I read somewhere that the kind of white cheese used in Kosovo and the surrounding region is similar in texture to feta but a bit milder, and that a mixture of feta and ricotta is a good substitute. So that’s what I went with.

Next, I had to start rolling out the pastry. Each little dough ball had to be rolled out into a circle. Then, I had to brush the dough with oil and stack more dough circles on top, until I had five in total. I did this with the remaining dough until I had four stacks of dough circles.

Once my dough was ready, I had to stretch each stack of dough so that it was large enough to cover the base of my baking dish. The woman in the video I followed had the biggest round baking tin I’ve ever seen! I halved the recipe and used a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. The base was made up of two of my dough circle stacks with another layer of oil in between. Then I added the filling and topped with the remaining dough.

I baked my pite for about 20 minutes. In the recipe video, the woman said to use the highest temperature on your oven. I baked mine at 450°F which was in line with the 230°C she used (as that was her oven’s maximum temperature). I thought it better to use her exact temperature than go to 550°F, which is the highest temperature on my oven.

This baking time was pretty spot on for me; I did check my pite at 15 minutes but it needed the full 20. This is what a slice looked like:

Pite Me Spinaq (Spinach Pie)

I was pretty pleased with the result; the pastry was a lot like store-bought phyllo but better. Although it was a bit of a time-consuming process, it wasn’t actually difficult. The filling was also delicious; this is something that I think I would make again because the work was definitely worth it. I’d love to try some different fillings too!

The recipe I used is from Kuzhina e Lules on YouTube.

Tavë Prizreni (Lamb and Vegetable Stew)

Tavë Prizreni (Lamb and Vegetable Stew)

Kosovo has yet to declare an official national dish, but tavë prizreni is often considered the unofficial one. It is a stew made from meat (lamb or beef) and vegetables including onion, tomato, bell pepper, eggplant, and okra. I didn’t add the okra to mine because I had decided to buy fresh instead of frozen for the first time in case I liked it better, and it got moldy. This week I learned that fresh okra does not last long in the fridge!

There’s a lot of confusion online about this dish; some sources said it was a vegetarian dish while others seemed to conflate it with tavë kosi which I made for Albania. I was able to verify on Reddit that it’s not typically a vegetarian dish, and I ended up specifically looking for a recipe in Albanian or Serbian (the languages spoken in Kosovo). The easiest way to do this for me is to Google the recipe name and look for YouTube results in foreign languages; often those are the top results when it comes to the more obscure recipes.

I ended up finding a recipe in Albanian and it seemed in line with other things I had read, plus there were some positive comments. This is the recipe I ended up using. There was an ingredient list that I was able to translate with Google, but there was one ingredient that didn’t seem to be included. It was a red spice in a package with a red chili on it and I am assuming it’s paprika, possibly hot paprika. So I used regular paprika with just a little cayenne (not enough to make it really spicy).

I started by cooking some chopped onion, carrot, and yellow bell pepper in butter with a bit of salt. Then I added some paprika and cayenne. Next, I stirred in some lamb chunks with more salt.

I added chopped eggplant next. At this point in the video, the man making the dish moved everything into a bigger pot but I started with a big one so I didn’t need to do that. I don’t know what he’s saying so I don’t know if this was intentional and planned or more of a ‘whoops, this pot is too small’ moment.

The okra was supposed to be added next, but since I didn’t have any I added chopped tomato and seasoned with a bit more paprika and cayenne.

The next step was to transfer the mixture to a baking dish and bake, covered, for some unknown amount of time, but I decided to just serve the stew as is. I’m not sure what the oven was meant to add; maybe it was explained in the video.

I thought this tasted really good! I think I was meant to serve it with flatbread of some kind as this was present in the video, but I really wanted to make kifle me djath, the next dish, so I made that instead.

The video I used is from n’Maje t’Gjuhës me Xherin on YouTube.

Kifle Me Djath (Cheese Rolls)

Kifle Me Djath (Cheese Rolls)

These do look a lot like crescent rolls, and they are fairly similar, except they are filled with cheese—I used feta, according to the recipe I followed.

I made the dough from warm milk, yeast, sugar, flour, salt, oil, and egg. One thing that struck me as a little odd was the amount of oil called for in this recipe: 2 decilitres (200 ml) for 1 kg of flour. However, I went with it regardless. I let the dough rise for about an hour before moving on with the next step.

I divided the dough into large balls and let them rise again. Then I combined beaten egg whites with feta for the filling, and beaten egg yolks with melted butter for brushing the rolls before baking.

I rolled each dough ball into a flat circle and cut it into 8 wedges; this will sound familiar to anyone who has made crescent rolls. I added some of the feta mixture and rolled up the dough to enclose it.

Once my rolls were ready, I brushed them with the butter/egg yolk mixture and baked them. Here there was some confusion: the recipe said to bake at 200°C or 350°F but those are not the same temperatures. 200°C is actually closer to 400°F, so that is what I went with since I thought the Celsius amount was more likely to be correct. These rolls did not need the full 20-minute baking time in the recipe; after 15 minutes my first batch looked browner than I would have liked. So I decreased the time to about 13 minutes for the second batch but they were only marginally better. I think maybe 375°F would have been a better temperature.

I like the idea of these rolls but I do think there was too much oil in the dough. The rolls weren’t as soft as I would have liked and I think a big part of that was how much oil was included. I did halve the recipe and stuck with 1 whole egg instead of using half, which could have contributed to the texture being different. But I do think that the main issue was the oil amount. I’ll probably make these again but with a few adjustments.

The recipe I used is from Florina’s Cooking World.

Flija (Layered Pancake)

Flija (Layered Pancake)

This is an Albanian dish that appears to be very popular in Kosovo. It’s like a big layered pancake, with each layer being broiled/grilled before adding the next.

First I had to make two different batters. One was made from flour, eggs, milk, and a bit of salt. The second was made from sour cream, yogurt, and butter. There are a few variations I’ve seen for this second batter; some use just yogurt and butter, a few added various types of cheese like feta, and some had a much higher ratio of butter to yogurt/sour cream than the recipe I chose.

I let both batters sit for about an hour before beginning to cook. I greased my skillet (I used a 10-inch cast iron skillet for half the recipe, which called for a large springform pan). Then I added a thin layer of the egg batter and broiled it for a couple of minutes. I brushed it with the yogurt mixture, then added more of the egg batter, only this time I made a kind of star shape. The recipe said to use a squeeze bottle but I didn’t have one, so I added the batter with a spoon. After broiling that layer, I added more yogurt mixture. I followed that with another star except this time, I went in between where I’d put the first layer, if that makes sense.

I continued to layer like this until both batters were gone, and this was the result when cut:

Flija (Layered Pancake)

You can kind of see the layers. I drizzled over some honey, which was the recommended serving suggestion. I thought this was really good and since there’s no sugar, it’s pretty versatile; it could also be a completely savory dish.

The recipe I used for this is from the Peace Corps.

  • Pasulji – a Serbian bean stew popular in Kosovo, usually made from white beans and smoked meat such as bacon, sausage, and ham hocks.
  • Tespishte – a sweet, rich, cake-like dessert soaked in syrup. Finely chopped or ground nuts are often mixed in.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week! All the food from Kosovo was delicious but the pite me spinaq was probably my favorite.

There will be no post next week since I am taking a break for Christmas, but when I’m back, I will be cooking food from Kuwait.

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