With diverse Balkan and Ottoman influences combined with the local European fare of Bulgaria, the culinary inventions are flavourful, refreshing and light.
In today’s edition of The Ambassador’s Kitchen, we explore the ingenious Bulgarian gastronomy with Eleonora Dimitrova, Ambassador of Bulgaria to India.
Dimitrova, a passionate home chef, takes pride in serving home-cooked Bulgarian meals to her guests. “When I am entertaining guests at home, I prepare all the food myself and don’t rely on a chef,” she says. While she sources her cheese and spices from Bulgaria, she picks up vegetables, meat and other ingredients from the local INA market. The Ambassador learnt to cook from her mother, who loved treating family and friends with traditional delicacies. She treasures her mum’s old diary, which has handwritten recipes that Dimitrova refers to while cooking.
Fresh and flavourful
Bulgarian cuisine has been established as a unique culinary fare from South-east Europe. Inspired by the culinary cultures of Turkey, Romania, Persia, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, the Bulgarian fare boasts diverse culinary associations that form a distinguished palate. Bread, yoghurt, fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and white-brined cheese are widely consumed. Fruits like apricots, melons, plums and peaches are used in large quantities. Vegetables used include cabbage, cucumber, zucchini, lettuce, green pepper, mushroom, celery, cauliflower and radish. Garlic is also used in a variety of dishes. Parsley, dill, djodjen, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, tarragon, lovage, thyme and bay leaf are some of the herbs and spices that lend flavour to various dishes. Pork is widely consumed, followed by chicken and lamb. Rakia, a fruit brandy, is one of the most popular traditional alcoholic beverages in the country.
The Bulgarians are proud of their yoghurt that is thick, creamy and not strained. “We have a lot more yoghurt as compared to the rest of Europe. Bulgaria is the historical namesake for Lactobacillus bulgaricus, the microorganism used in dairy products. It was discovered by Stamen Gigov Grigorov, a Bulgarian physician and microbiologist in 1905,” shares Dimitrova.
The Bulgarian envoy put together a splendid spread that started with a refreshing Shopska Salad (a cold salad made of cucumbers, tomatoes, white-brine cheese, green bell peppers and onions) and Tarator (a cold summer soup made of yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill and walnuts). She also served pickled chillies done Bulgarian style, roasted and marinated with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and fresh parsley. “These chillies are delicious when paired with bread. All my Indian friends love this,” says the Ambassador.
Dimitrova also made Bulgarian baked beans (made of white beans, carrots, red peppers, onions, tomatoes, paprika and black pepper), a traditional dish made in Bulgarian households at least once a week. She also showed us how the traditional Pogacha bread is made. A baked masterpiece, the soft and fluffy round wheat bread takes hours to finish. “It demands skill and precision and of course, a lot of love,” she says, as she serves us a memorable fare that’s light yet flavourful, steeped in the customs of a beautiful land.