Bulgarian Cuisine ― 3 Must-Try Recipes

They say geography is destiny – the defining coastlines of cultures and languages. But when you get right down to it, what really matters is the food!

And Bulgarian cuisine follows the logic of its geography in the heart of the Balkan region where so many paths cross.

Often described as a mixture of Turkish and Greek cuisine, though, the characteristic dishes such as sarma’’ and musaka” however have their own local versions, with tastes and sensations that proudly differ from their neighbors’. Even abroad Bulgarians have always Bulgarian white cheese (similar to “feta”) in their fridge and many of us make our famous Bulgarian Yogurt ourselves. Containing the unique and extremely healthy Bacillus Bulgaricus, we are convinced it’s the best yogurt in the world!

For Bulgarians cooking is not just a daily routine, but it’s a national craft. For this, they have even invented the emblematical Чушкопек (Chushkopek) – an electric kitchen appliance for roasting paprika, and an official Bulgarian patent from the late 1960’s. The word comes from Chushka – paprika and Peka – roasting, and almost every Bulgarian family has one. Even those who go abroad find a way to bring it along to a place of honor in their new home. And as with bigos for the Poles, or goulash for a Hungarian, this special aroma carries with it the memories of childhood and home.

The Queen of Bulgarian Cuisine

Шопска салата!

Шопска салата (shopska salad) is a unique vegetable combination which will win your heart at first taste. Eaten almost every day and on any occasion in summer, it is the favorite salad of the Bulgarians. It consists of finely-chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and fresh parsley, cooked and peeled red peppers and seasoned with salt, sunflower oil and a bit of vinegar, all this hidden under a pile of grated white Bulgarian cheese.

Шопска салата (shopska salad) is a unique vegetable combination which will win your heart at first taste. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

What makes shopska salad differ from Greek salad is the blending of the tastes rather than feeling each vegetable and the cheese as separate elements. But the truth is, the salad which bears the three colors of the national flag, was actually an invention of the national tourism agency “Balkantourist” during the communist era in the 1950s. Served in all Bulgarian restaurants, it rapidly became popular among Bulgarians and foreigners. Today, Bulgarians eat it before meals with a small glass of Rakia. Much as we love this salad, though, it is actually quite hard to make outside Bulgaria. The big secret hides in the taste of the tomatoes. So try to find Bulgarian or at least Turkish tomatoes on the market before trying your hand at this fantastic salad. It’s well worth the effort!

Easy & Common

Тapatop (Tarator)

Served mainly in the summer instead of a salad, or as a refreshment between the meals, this cold, uncooked soup goes ideally together with a sip of Rakia – a combination traditionally consumed before the main course – or Mastika, a Bulgarian Anise drink like Ouzo.

Served mainly in the summer instead of a salad, or as a refreshment between the meals, this cold, uncooked soup goes ideally together with a sip of Rakia. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

Ingredients

  • 500 gr yogurt
  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small bunch dill
  • Sunflower oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Walnuts (at your liking)

Preparation

Cut the cucumber into tiny pieces, or into cubes and stir it. Add the crushed garlic, the minced dill and the chopped walnuts, salt and pepper. Mix well together and leave for some minutes. Beat the yogurt and pour it into the mixture. Add some water but watch out that it does not become too thin. It should have smooth, soupy consistency. Decorate with walnuts and dill. Makes a festival out of any summer day!

Nettles With Rice

An easy and economical springtime dish whose preparation gains a certain flare from the comical outing for the whole family – in gloves, or even just plastic bags over their hands, scavenging the neighborhood to pick the nettles. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

An easy and economical springtime dish whose preparation gains a certain flare from the comical outing for the whole family – in gloves, or even just plastic bags over their hands, scavenging the neighborhood to pick the nettles. We garnish it with our famous Bulgarian yogurt (kiselo mljako) – the healthiest yogurt in the world, as it contains Lactobacillus Bulgaricus known for its benefits for the human immune system!

Ingredients

  • 500 gr. fresh nettle
  • 5 spring onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1⁄2 bunch mint
  • Sunflower oil
  • 1 glass of rise
  • Black pepper
  • Salt

Preparation

Heat the oil in a pot and add the chopped onions, after a while also the smashed garlic and the carrot in tiny pieces and stir. Set on medium-high. In 3-4 min add the cropped nettle, parsley and mint and cook for 5 more minutes until they soften. Add the rise, stir and pour 2-3 of a cup of vegetable or beef bouillon. Cook on a low heat until the rice is ready, add salt and pepper. When serving, put a spoon of Bulgarian yogurt in the middle and decorate with parsley or mint leaf.

Lyutenitsa

Bulgarian Лютеница (lyutenitsa) is a simple but scrumptious, mouth-watering vegetable paste, eaten as a spread on a slice of warm bread. It was the natural substitute to tomatoes and peppers in winter, particularly in earlier times. Thinking of my childhood, one of my fondest memories is my grandmother calling me in for an afternoon snack, giving me a bread slice with lyutenitsa and white crubled chese.

Bulgarian Лютеница (lyutenitsa) is a simple but scrumptious, mouth-watering vegetable paste, eaten as a spread on a slice of warm bread. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

Ingredients

  • 1kg (2 lbs) red peppers
  • 1 kg (2 lbs) tomatoes
  • 400 gr (14 oz) aubergine
  • 2 middle sized carrots
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 big cloves garlic
  • 30 ml sunflower (any plant oil will do)
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 s.s. salt
  • 1.s.s. sugar
  • 1 pinch of black pepper

Preparation

Bake, peel and remove the seeds and stems from the peppers and aubergines, boil the carrots. Grate the tomatoes and remove the skin, put the sauce in a big pot to boil until the paste starts to thicken. Stir constantly. Grind the peppers, the boiled carrots and the aubergines and add them to the tomatoes. Stir constantly at low heat. Sauté the onion and the garlic in the oil and remove them before adding the oil to the mixture. Add the parsley, salt, sugar and black paper. The mixture is ready when you can make a path with the spoon that doesn’t close on the bottom of the pot.

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Elena Skuleva
Elena has been a talent scout and agent at a world-leading agency for opera artists in Vienna since 2012. She studied opera singing and performing arts management and worked at the Casting Department of Teatro alla Scala,Milan. BeforeleavingBulgaria, she managed touring opera companies and cultural projects such as The Vick Award for Bulgarian Novel of the Year and was a TV presenter on Bulgarian National Television.

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