Finding fall comfort food from Macedonia

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Ajvar, a spicy red pepper and eggplant condiment, is popular in the Balkans and often served with grilled meats, eggs, or simply with cheese and bread. During the fall, when peppers are in season, the spread is made by families in jars to last through the winter. Photo by Oliver Fitzgerald.

Despite geographic changes and political shifts in the region, some ingredients of Macedonian cuisine remain constant. Peppers are still a mainstay. Charring them, peeling the skins, and preserving the flesh to last throughout the year, chef Katerina Nitsou describes the ritual of adding olive oil and garlic to showcase late summer peppers. She calls the condiment ajvar “an institution” in Macedonia that, when prepared in large batches, becomes a day-long event. She also shares the chicken moussaka recipe her sister calls “the recipe to make when you don’t know what to make,” from “Macedonia: The Cookbook.”

Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant Dip
Ajvar
Serves 4-6

Ingredients 

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 6 red bell peppers
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 ½  teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions 

-Using a fork, pierce the eggplant skin a few times all around.

-Roast the peppers and eggplant over a charcoal grill or a gas flame until the skins are completely charred and blistered. Alternatively broil them in the oven (directly on the rack or on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper), rotating every 15 minutes until charred, 30 to 45 minutes.

-Place the roasted vegetables into a paper bag or a heatproof container. Seal and set aside for 20 minutes until cool.

-Peel off and discard the skin and stems from the eggplant and peppers, and remove the pepper seeds. Coarsely chop the flesh and set aside.

-In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat and saut. the onion until very soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat.

-Add the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and black pepper to the pot, and stir in the pepper and eggplant pulp.

Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend the mixture to a coarse paste with a slightly chunky texture. Be careful not to completely puree the mixture. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator.

Chicken Pie
Pileshki Musaka

Ingredients 

  • 2 lb (900 g) boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 ½ cups (220 g), plus
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup (125 ml) whole milk
  • 5 eggs, whisked
  • 2 cups (480 ml) sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • Kosher salt

Instructions

-Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a 9- by 13-inch (23 by 33 cm) baking dish with olive oil.

-In a large bowl, combine the chicken, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.

-In a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Pour the onion and butter into the bowl with the chicken. Toss to coat and set aside.

-In a separate bowl, whisk together 1¾ cups (220 g) of the flour, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and the black pepper, milk, and eggs until you have a smooth batter.

-Pour the batter into the oiled baking dish to create a base. Scatter the chicken and onion mixture over the batter in a single layer.

-Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and switch the oven to broil.

-Mix together the sour cream, olive oil, and 1 tablespoon of the flour. Spoon the sour cream mixture over the chicken and broil for about 5 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbling.


Use leftover chicken for this easy pie with sour cream that adds another dimension of flavor and richness. Photo by Oliver Fitzgerald.


Rich with influences from the cuisine of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and the Balkan Peninsula, chef and writer Katerina Nitsou explores the food and culture of her family in her new cookbook, “Macedonia.” Photo courtesy of Interlink Books.

Credits

Host:

Evan Kleiman