Bulgaria November 2011

Posted on November 30, 2011 in Bulgaria, Travels

Thanksgiving 2011: Hoppin’ John’s® Celebrates 25 Years!!!


Can it really be twenty-five years ago that I opened Hoppin’ John’s®
in downtown Charleston? Edna Lewis was cooking at Middleton Place, so
my sister Sue and her son Duke and I went there for Thanksgiving dinner,
then we came back and got ready for the opening. Many people had told
me not to open on Thanksgiving Day, that no one would come. But I
correctly surmised that folks would be ready to go out for a walk after a
long day with family, so I had Mark Gray, Charleston’s brilliant
confectioner, make chocolates, and we served Champagne as well. I had
sent 200 invitations and 300 people showed up!


25 years later, rather than feeding the hordes as is my wont on this
day (I can’t begin to recall how many dozens of turkeys I’ve fried!), I
am GOING to Turkey! Mikel and I will be headed out to Istanbul on
Wednesday. I’m looking forward to eating collards and fresh fish and
kebabs and all sorts of East-meets-West treats! Surely I’ll have lots to
blog about!


In the meantime, the new issue of Gastronomica has been released with a typically brilliant opening piece, “National Turkey Day,” by the editor, Darra Goldstein. The issue also contains my article on hoppin’ john, the dish: “Deconstructing My Namesake.” (You can read both articles by clicking on the hot links.)


I hope you all have a happy and safe holiday weekend. Many years ago, my dear friend Dana Downs and I wrote a song about our favorite holiday, which we used to love to play on our friend Mary Edna‘s dock in Charleston. I thought you might enjoy it as well.


Thanksgiving Song

© Dana C Downs and John Martin Taylor October 1996



It’s written in stone

Thanksgiving at home

We dine on roast birds and hams

Oyster pie and candied yams

Great Aunt Bess holds court with Sam-I-Am


It’s written in blood

We all survived the flood

Memories, don’t fail me now

We’re lost in the weather

Now I’m grown and you’re not here

But we’re still together


CH:       I fall down on my knees

            And thank someone, anyone

            I fall down on my knees

            And thank someone, everyone

            I fall down on my knees

            And thank you


A watermark in time

A perfect for-the-moment kind of rhyme

A harvest feast of love and death

Pumpkin pie and bourbon breath

Bless the babies, Pass the butterbeans, and How’s your knee




Bridge:  Oh, the Great Refrain

            Autumn serenade

            It doesn’t matter how you live your life

            You’re family.

            You got your grandpa’s ears, you got Aunt Dick’s chairs,

            You got your mother’s bad manners and a drop-dead stare

            We all got our cross to bear


            Oh, oh the Great Refrain.


It’s written in stone

Thanksgiving at home

Friends and family all around

Makes my life worth living

It’s my favorite holiday



Verse is  Cmaj7 Am7 Dm Am7 Am Dm Em


Chorus is F Am F Am F Am F Em


Bridge is  C Am C G F G Am

                F G F G F G F G F G Am

               F G Am



November 10, 2011 A lovely old way with fish


could filet a fish long before I could speak French, or even dreamed of
speaking another language. I knew good food, because my mother was an
outrageously good cook. She cooked everything from haute cuisine française to
skillet cornbread. And she had an immense cookbook collection that I
inherited when she died — the genesis of my cookbook store idea. I read
through her collection as she lay dying, but I didn’t get hooked on
culinary history until I interviewed Karen Hess
in 1984. She and I became fast friends and we shared historical finds
with each other over our 23-year friendship, right up until her death in


Her books were encyclopedic and inspiring, full of
her sweeping theories that she defended with assiduous research. I
didn’t always agree with her, but she was so damned smart and
interesting, I didn’t really care. I could kick myself for not bringing
her books with me to Bulgaria.


Her work was centered on
the kitchen of the American South, though her research ventured around
the world and reached back a thousand years or more. She was well-versed
in French cuisine. Her annotated edition of Martha Washington’s Boooke of Cookery (a
mostly 17th-century collection owned by the first First Lady) included
an all-but-identical version of the following recipe that I published in
my third cookbook. I vary it slightly from time to time, but it is
always an elegant surprise to me.


gutting and fileting the fish (and removing the gills and all traces of
blood or guts), I made a fish stock by adding the fish head and carcass
to a pot with a bouquet garni, a chopped onion, and some white
wine, then a generous sprinkling of peppercorns and water to cover.
Brought to a slow boil, it was allowed to simmer slowly for 15 to 20
minutes, no more, as I skimmed the foam frequently from the surface. The
stock was strained well and the solids were discarded.


Tonight I used one fish and halved the recipe for two.


Poached Fish with Ginger and Lemon Thyme


can use any fish you like; just don’t overcook it or let the liquid
boil. I like to use sea trout (the southern form of weakfish), or sea
bream (dorade); the skin on each is thin and delicious. Buy whole fish,
have the fishmonger fillet them for you if you don’t want to do it
yourself, then make the stock as described above.

If you don’t have lemon thyme, use regular thyme and a couple of wedges of fresh lemon.

This makes an elegant first course, or, when served with a side dish (I steamed some cauliflower), a nice light supper.

2 cups fish stock (see text above)

1/2 cup dry white wine

A 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced

6 sprigs of fresh lemon thyme

1 shallot, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

4 fish fillets (2 pounds), with skins if delicate

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to its lowest setting and place 4 plates in it to warm.      


the stock, wine, ginger, 2 sprigs of lemon thyme, the shallot, and the
butter in a heavy wide sauté pan over high heat. Bring just to a boil.
Season the fish with salt and pepper.


soon as the liquid boils, lower the heat and place the fish flesh side
down on the ginger and thyme sprigs. Cover the pan and cook at a bare
simmer for about 4 minutes, then carefully turn the fillets over and
continue to cook, covered, until the flesh is opaque and just flakes
when pried, another 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the
fillets. Carefully lift the fish out of the liquid onto the warmed
plates, returning them to the oven to keep them warm.


the heat to high and reduce the liquid to a thick sauce. Strain and
pour over the poached fish, garnishing each plate with a sprig of lemon

Serves 4.


November 8, 2011 Sharena Sol


are many dishes that Bulgarians claim as part of their national
heritage: Tarator, Shopska Salad, Gyuvetch, Kyopoolu, Banitsa, and
Kavarma among them. Their yogurt is the original; I’ve never had better.
They have some of the oldest winemaking traditions in the world. They
are artful grillers. They are rightfully proud of their tomatoes,
melons, and leeks. They use walnuts in ways I had never imagined.


if I had to choose one single culinary item that is truly of the place,
it would be Sharena Sol, or “colorful salt.” It’s called different
things in different villages, and the closely-guarded recipes change
from house to house. In one region of the Pirin Mountains, it’s called “Merudiya,” which is a dialect word for parsley as well.


Sol is a blend of herbs, spices, and salt that is used in most savory
Bulgarian dishes. Most families use different blends for different
dishes. Yesterday, my wonderful housekeeper Emilia arrived with the
eight packages of sharena sol pictured above. The small jar in front
contains the very special sharena sol made by Sveti and Dancho, my hosts
in Moravitsa for the last two weeks of October. They wouldn’t give me
the recipe, but they made me some. Theirs is distinguished by its
inclusion of walnuts. We would spread fresh water buffalo cheese on
toast, then sprinkle it heavily with the spicy mix for breakfast. Other
ingredients included hot red pepper and wild chubritsa (savory). But
mixes might include sweet red pepper (paprika),
cumin, garden savory, fenugreek, mint, coriander, thyme, oregano, marjoram, fine cornmeal, and black pepper. All include salt.


was one of the first new things I learned about when we arrived in
Bulgaria. In the lovely village of Tryavna, I saw jars of it for sale
(see photo, right), but I had no idea what it was. At lunch that day, a
little ramekin of it was brought to the table with the homemade bread I
had ordered. My guide book noted that a traditional Bulgarian greeting
is for the host to offer just-baked bread from which guests, upon
entering the home or tavern, tear off a piece and dunk it in the
flavorful seasoning. You see the tradition surviving at official
governmental functions and in a handful of old Bulgarian restaurants.


are a proud lot and I have been told by many well-educated folks here
that some things, such as wild chubritsa from the mountains, are found
only here in Bulgaria. That’s not quite true, as this link explains,
but it is true that the spice mixes here are unique. I will be going to
Istanbul and staying in the Old City for Thanksgiving, so I will be
very interested to see how the flavorings in the ancient spice market
there compare with these here. The packages of flavored salts that
Emilia brought me, above, are all different. All of them note to store
the seasonings in “dry, airy places away from direct sunlight, with
relative humidity up to 70%” for no longer than 18 months. They all
have specific uses. The “round loaves” mentioned below are traditional
celebratory breads, which may be honeyed or not, and they may have eggs,
like challah, or not. As always in Bulgaria, it depends on the
individual village or restaurant or bakery. “Context is everything!” my
Bulgarian teachers are constantly saying.


Clockwise from top left, the sharena sols are as follows:


Sharena Sol: “Flavour salty spice mix,” the package proclaims. “Use for
imparting flavour and giving a pleasant taste to cheese, vegetables,
sausages, boiled eggs, sandwiches with forcemeat and other sandwiches,
pizza, round loaves, etc. Ingredients: table salt, summer savory,
paprika, roasted milled maize, etc.” (The English here is more often
than not British English, not American.)


Sharena Sol: “Mix Spice with Salt,” it says, but the rest is written in
Bulgarian: “Use with sandwiches, burgers, toasts, meats, vegetables,
and mushrooms.” Contains red pepper, savory, corn flour, fenugreek,
marjoram, salt.


3. Trapezna (Table) Sol Samardala. Salt Samardala is Honey Garlic, Nectaroscordum sicculum,
which I have seen in garden catalogs, where it is sometimes called
Sicilian Honey Lily. It’s one of those plants whose taxonomy has not
been agreed upon. It is considered an herb, but its leaves have a
garlicky flavor. Culinarily, it is used as a garlic substitute to add
“unforgettable taste to sandwiches with butter…blood pudding…etc.”


Shopska Chubritsa. Savory is the major herb in this mix, intended
primarily for Shopska Salad, but it also includes spearmint and
coriander, and the package recommends using it with round loaves,
sandwiches, pizza, sausages, and boiled eggs.


(under the Shopska Chubritsa) Trapezna Sol Panagyurska. Panagyurishte
is a town in southern Bulgaria where a vast Thracian treasure was found
in the mid-20th century. I see the word most often on menus, referring
to a dish of poached eggs served over yogurt with a sauce of
paprika-seasoned “cooked oil” (another Bulgarian ingredient I’ll write
about at a later date). One of the ingredients listed is “sweet
trefoil,” which the Bulgarians call Сминдух (“smeendooh,” with the “h” aspirated). If it’s not fenugreek, it’s mighty close.


(the pink package) Trapezna Chubritsa. Table Savory.This one is
predominantly salt and savory, with fenugreek and paprika. The package
notes to use it with both flat loaves and round loaves.


Sol. “Special Recipe from Bulgaria. For garnishing fresh bread,
sandwiches, cheese, sausages, bacon, etc. Ingredients: Salt, red pepper,
maize flour, fenugreek, garden savory. We propose to you a recipe for:
Salty Cookies/’Solenki’: Powder evenly one table spoonful of the spice
mixture over 500g prepared multilayerd dough. Cut dough into cigar
shaped pieces. Lay them onto dry suitable baking tin. Bake at 450
degrees in preliminary heated oven for 15-20 min.” 


Hmmm….may have to try that. I can buy fresh filo dough anywhere.


Sharena Sol. No directions on this one, except to store it below 25
degrees Celsius and 70% humidity. It includes garden savory, Balkan
savory, fenugreek,sweet red pepper, solt, and corn.


Guess I’ll go make myself a sandwich…which one to use?!


A luscious autumn soup


that time of year again, and the winter squashes and pumpkins are
appearing in roadside stands and markets and on Bulgarian tables in all
sorts of manners. In Moravitsa, my hostess Sveti made banitsa with
pumpkins and walnuts from her garden. Banitsa is a general term for the
national pastry of Bulgaria, most often filled with cheese and eggs, and
eaten at breakfast or as a snack throughout the day. Most people buy
the filo-like dough from refrigerated cases, but in tiny Moravitsa,
Sveti bought dried levash-like sheets of the pastry and soaked them in a
little water before layering the thin pastry alternately with cooked
pumpkin, walnuts, and honey. Baked, it’s like a cross between baklava
and pumpkin pie. Yum!


are more often used in savory dishes in the Balkans, but our dinner
guests were surprised to see me combine it with shrimp. It’s an old
French recipe that always seemed right at home for me in the South
Carolina lowcountry. It’s simple to make, and, like most simple dishes,
it’s simply delicious. You’ll want a kilo of pumpkin — 2 to 2-1/2
pounds, peeled, seeded, and chopped. Sveti roasted the pumpkin seeds
from hers, as did my mother, who soaked hers first in salted water then
put them in a low oven until they were dry.


don’t need many shrimp for this dish, but I make my soup with shrimp
stock that I already have in the freezer. Buy a pound or more of shrimp
and use the heads and shells (or just the shells if you can’t get
heads-on) to make a stock. You will only need about 200 grams, or 1/4
pound, of peeled raw shrimp for the soup. Celery is traditionally used
in this soup, along with a mild stock, but if you don’t have celery,
don’t worry about it. It’s very hard to find in Bulgaria. I used celery
in both the stock and with the pumpkin. Shrimp always love a little
spice, so I added a pinch of cayenne to the mortar (you can see it in
the photo). Elizabeth David, the great British food writer who wrote
lovingly of French food, warns that “cooked pumpkin … tends to go sour
very quickly, so this soup should be used up on the day, or day after,
it is made.”


poached six whole heads-on shrimp in shrimp stock, sprinkled them with
salt and cayenne, then, when time to serve, peeled the bodies only,
leaving the heads and tails intact, and used them as a garnish. Totally
unnecessary and a mess for the diners. But ours loved it!


stock transforms this plain French potage into a superb Creole soup. If
you google “potage créme de potiron aux crevettes” you will find dozens
of classic recipes. Many include leeks, some include garlic, a few go
the pumpkin pie route and call for cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg. But
nearly all are made with water. BORING!
A recipe for shrimp stock appeared on the blog over four years ago. I consider it basic to life.


Cream of Pumpkin and Shrimp Soup


served this soup as a second course at a dinner for the Peace Corps
Bulgaria Medical Staff. At right, Ivelina and Georgi are all smiles
(photo by Mikel Herrington) over the soup.


1 kilo (2 to 2-1/2 lbs) peeled, seeded, and chopped


salt and pepper

1 quart whole milk

1 rib of celery, optional

2 cups shrimp or other stock

200 grams (1/4 pound) peeled raw shrimp, plus

        shrimp for garnish (see above; optional)

fresh lemon juice and cayenne

2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature


the pumpkin with salt and pepper to taste. In a large heavy saucepan,
bring the milk to a boil, then add the pumpkin and celery. Simmer until
the pumpkin and celery are very soft, a half hour or more. In the
meantime, sprinkle the shrimp with a little lemon juice and cayenne, and
pound in a mortar.


the pumpkin mixture in batches in a blender, adding a little of the
shrimp to each batch, and putting the puree in a clean heavy pot. Simmer
the soup very gently for ten minutes, then puree it again (or run it
through a fine sieve). Season to taste, and, when reheating to serve,
stir in the butter.


Serves 6.



November 2011: A look back on three months in the Balkans

hard for me to believe that we have been here more than three months,
but when I look back at my photos (my favorite way to take notes), I see
that we surely have squeezed a lot into these 16 weeks. I have posted
dozens of photos on my Facebook page.
(Feel free to “friend” me if you wish, but be prepared to endure my
personal peccadilloes and politics if you do.) We have visited Peace
Corps volunteers on the Black Sea Coast, in the Stara Planina of Central
Bulgaria, and down in the Rhodopi and Pirin Mountains to the South. We
spent several days with our wine guru,
Debbie Marlowe, down in the Struma Valley, where elegant, world-class wines are being made.

have purchased some primitive agricultural tools, toured monasteries,
and eaten tripe. I have entertained dozens of guests at home, and we’ve
already had three out-of-town guests. I have NOT learned to speak
Bulgarian, which I am finding unusually difficult, perhaps because I
rarely hear it (and, admittedly, never study), but I have had little
difficulty communicating with the hospitable people of Bulgaria. I love
the blurry shot of me at right that Desi, my language instructor in
Vratsa, took. It pretty much sums up my knowledge!

spent some time with Rroma coppersmiths in a village in Transylvania
(left), where Mikel was at a conference for a week. The Rroma (“gypsy”
is considered derogatory) suffer minority status and bigotry throughout
the Balkans, but this blog is not the place for me to go into that huge
issue. While I was amongst the villagers in Brateiu in Romania, I told
them that I was a food writer. One woman barked at me: “There is no
Rroma cuisine, because we don’t have the money to buy food.” She and her
family were selling antiques on the highway. Next to them, the
coppersmiths invited me into their home for coffee. I ended up staying
for a couple of hours, fascinated by their history (we spoke Italian
with each other.) Interestingly, their surname is Caldarar, which means
coppersmith or boilermaker. They are not travelers, but have been in the
same location for over 300 years. Some of them consider themselves

a fascinating part of the world — Saxon Transylvania. While Mikel was
in meetings, I drove — alone — the terrifying but achingly beautiful
Transfagarsan Highway,
Europe’s second highest, which climbs to 7000 feet via death-defying
hairpin turns (right). It’s a fascinating part of the world, where the
Saxon minority has a disproportionate presence in the arts and culture.
In the village of Cisnadioara, also known as Michelsburg, famous for its
13th Century church atop a rocky crag overlooking the town, I ate
classic German fare in the local pension “Sub Cetate” (“under the
citadel”), where the menu was written in German as well as Romanian.
It’s apple-growing country, and if it weren’t for the road signs, I
could have imagined myself in Adams County, Pennsylvania
(see September 10, 2009, blog).
Needless to say, I ordered the homemade lard spread (with onions and
bread) and the cinnamon-scented apple soup (see photos, below). My
mother was a big fan of fruit soups, and
her personal book of recipes
from before 1954, includes the following recipe, which is very similar
to what I ate in Cisnadioara. I have not cooked this recipe in a very
long time, but Mother’s fruit soups are all similar, thickened with a
bit of tapioca. The soup I had in Romania was served hot.

Mother’s Chilled Apple Soup

3 cups diced tart red apples
3 cups water
2 two-inch sticks cinnamon
8 cloves
pinch salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons quick cooking tapioca
freshly grated nutmeg

all of the ingredients except the tapioca and simmer for 15 minutes,
mashing the apples after 10 minutes. Press through a sieve, add tapioca,
and bring to a full boil. Cool and chill. Serve with a sprinkle of
Serves 6.

(“Chorba”) is another Transylvanian specialty, a “sour” soup that has
spread throughout Eastern Europe, but is claimed by both Romania.
(Bulgarian chorbas are hearty soups usually made with beans, lentils, or
tripe. More on that later.) The word comes from Persia, via the Turkish
çorba,” and it can refer to any number of soups made
from meat and vegetables. The main difference between ciorba and other
Romanian s
oups is that the ciorba always has an added sour element — lemons, buttermilk, the juice from sauerkraut, sour cream, or borş (fermented wheat bran). [I eventually will get around to tasting boza,
a sort of national drink of Bulgaria. I eat everything, as you have
probably ascertained by now, but I just haven’t had the hankering for a
muddy, slightly alcoholic breakfast drink yet.] At the summit of the
Fagaras Mountains, a cold cloud cover blew in, so I ducked into one of
the restaurants and ordered the Ciorba Ardeleneasca de Porc
(Transylvanian Sour Pork Soup, also written on the menu in German),
pictured above. As in Bulgaria, the potatoes were incredibly delicious;
there are over two dozen words for “potato” in Romanian, each pointing
to the region where they were grown. When I was there, people lined the
roads and highways with sacks of potatoes for sale. In the photos,
below, the summit appears before and during the sudden drop in
temperature and atmospheric pressure. (Interestingly, just today I was
reading in Charles Mann’s wonderful new book, 1493: Uncovering the New World that Columbus Created, and he notes that in Peru, the ancestral home of potatoes, the International Potato Center has preseved over 5000 varieties!)
next time you make a hearty soup or stew, hold back on the salt and try
seasoning it with lemon juice or vinegar instead. The acid brightens
other flavors in a way that salt cannot.

Northwestern Bulgaria

last two weeks I spent living with a retired couple in the northwestern
village of Moravitsa (accent on the second syllable: moe RAH veet zah)
in hopes of immersing myself in the culture and learning Bulgarian, but,
alas, she spoke Italian which we resorted to often. The image above
shows the dramatic mountains that rise up majestically over the city of
Vratsa, just a couple of kilometers west of Moravitsa. The photo
was taken on my final day there, from a vantage point that I climbed to
with the family of my language teacher, Desi, who also arranged for me
to stay with Sveti and Dancho, my hosts, who had hosted a Peace Corps
Volunteer who was going through Pre-Service Training last summer.

paid for the experience, with my fees covering my room and board for
two weeks. I was very specific about my needs and wants:  that I would
be treated as a family member, be invited to participate in both duties
and privileges of the household, and that my hosts would speak no
English to me and that they would be typical villagers, living mostly
off the land. I could not have had better hosts, whose vast garden and
pantry (canned goods from the garden) supplied us with most of our
meals. Some days Sveti baked bread, but more often she bought bread at
the local shop. Meals were supplemented with delicious local cheeses and sausages.

the photo above, we had a lovely lunch of grilled sardines (from their
freezer) and salad from their garden, along with homemade wine and rakia
(a fruit-based brandy that is eaten with salad before the main course).
The traditional tablecloth was hand-woven in the village in the
workshop “Et Niki”
on old looms (left). I toured the workshop one day and ended up buying a
lot of beautiful linens. Their prices are very reasonable and they
ship. The website (hot link, above) is in Bulgarian, but Iva Chenova,
whose husband is the son of the original owner, speaks English. Their
phone/fax is (011) 359 910 9 32 52. In addition to tablecloths and
napkins, they make the traditional costumes for national folkloric

and Dancho’s garden (right) was on its tail end, but peaches and pears
were still on the trees; the cabbages, leeks, and hardier herbs were
going strong; and the last of the peppers and tomatoes were ready to be
harvested. The little summer house in the background anchors the corner
of the yard with a covered shelter and fireplace where we cooked many
meals, enjoying them outdoors during the Indian Summer days. That part
of the garden is on a lower level, with grass and tables and chairs and
swings and lounge chairs. The summer house is open on two sides. The
basement of the house is filled with their canned goods (see below), and
they included me in both the canning process and in reaping the

of the problems I have with the Bulgarian language is that going to a
dictionary doesn’t always help. Nouns can become adjectives, but nearly
all the rules of Bulgarian (except pronunciation, which is regular) have
exceptions, and the adjective forms rarely appear in dictionaries
(There is one dictionary that I’ve been told I should try to find. Well,
I found it here — only $900!). Nor do dialect words, of which there are thousands.
Case in point: rustova troshiya, a sort of giardiniera
for winter use, but not sealed in a hot water bath. Instead, a couple
of aspirin, a little sugar and salt, and a little vinegar is added to
the bottom of the sterilized jar, and sloshed around to partially
dissolve the solids. Raw vegetables are packed in the jar, which is then
filled with boiling water. (See photos, below.)

You then turn the jar upside down a couple of times/day for a week, then let it sit for a month. You now have garnitura
(vegetable side dish, to serve with meats) for the winter. The ones we
made had cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, green tomatoes, parsley root,
broccoli, and peppers — all from the garden. I brought home a
liter-and-a-half jar.

The canning is mostly very familiar to me,
though I am used to processing jars with vacuum lids in a boiling water
bath. Many of the flavors of Balkan conservi ring my southern
bells — pickled okra and beets, canned peaches and pears, the jams and
jellies,  but some of it is new to me. I will be exploring much more of
the cuisine in the blog as time moves on, but, for now, I need to cook
supper. I think I’ll make a leek and potato soup with the incredibly
delicious local leeks and potatoes. Dancho and Sveti had several
beautiful rows of them in their garden.  Known as праз (praz) or праз лук (praz luk — leek onion), they are indispensable in the Bulgarian kitchen. (My friend Angelina tells me that голям праз” (literally “big leeks”) means “I don’t care” — like our sarcastic rejoinder, “Big deal.”) According
to the Centre for Genetic Resources in The Netherlands, most landrace
leeks and onions are from Egypt, Bulgaria, Russia, Pakistan and
Uzbekistan. In Bulgaria, leeks are common in gardens, and they are sold
in bunches of 6 to 10, depending on their size. The going price for a
bunch is 2 leva ($1.42). They are a meter tall (see me and leeks,
right). They are used in everything from Баница (banitsa), a
filo-like dough filled with eggs and cheese, to soups, stews, meat, and
vegetarian dishes. Dancho told me that the only way he won’t cook them
is on the grill, which cracked me up since that’s my favorite way! (When
I asked if they ever eat cooked green tomatoes instead
of using them in pickles, they said no, but Sveti immediately picked
some, sliced them, and Dancho added them to the grill that evening. He’s
been telling everyone how delicious they are ever since!

living two weeks with a family who ate mostly from their garden, I can
say with impunity that, like lowcountry cooking, the real cuisine is not
what you find in restaurants, but in homes where folks have not lost
touch with the land. I have eaten like a king for two weeks. Don’t get
me wrong: I don’t think that the versions of lowcountry or traditional
Bulgarian that are served in restaurants is bad; it’s just not the same
thing as home cooking.