The cuisine of the Bulgarian villages at the foot of the border mountain Belasitsa is diverse and interesting, but little known to Bulgarians and foreign foodies. That’s why we have included the culinary journey there in our gastro and cultural tour “In the mountain of sweet chestnuts”. The hosts from the mountain villages of Kolarovo, Kamena, Gabrene, Klyuch, Samuilovo, Belasitsa, Skrut, and Yavornitsa put a lot of imagination and culinary skills into the dishes, which are mostly meatless.

Loone - stew from the young tips of the pumpkin plant

“Rakarnik” is a typical dish with crabs and rice, which we have been making in our village since I can remember, says Lydia Samardzhieva, secretary of the community center “Prosveta – 1928” in the village of Gabrene. Crabs are caught from the ravines in the area, and the dish is prepared in a pan. People in Gabrene cook the wonderful pottage “Loone”. It is prepared from the young tips and petals of pumpkin plants. Some other dishes from the foothills of Belasitsa are “Plyaska” with leeks, “Kukurech” from lamb intestines, “Krayshnik”, “Rasol”  (stuffed sauerkraut leaves with rice or minced meat ), and filling wrapped in the leaves of the “butima” plant.

Kraeshnik/Krayshnik - a dish that is served on solemn occasions

Masters of local cuisine are also Rukie and Zyumka Izirovi, a mother and daughter  (Phytolacca Americana) from the village of Yavornitsa. They master dishes such as beef meatballs,  “Krayshnik”, “Plyaska” with leeks, nettle porridge, dishes with wild plants such as purslane. For dessert, they make pies and baklava with chestnuts. The specialty in the village of Klyuch is the so-called  “Krayshnik” – a dish of dough, which is served on solemn occasions. Knead the dough with yeast. It is shaped like bread and a hole is left in the middle, in which fried fish is placed. In other villages, they fill the limb with cooked stew.

Sarmi with butyma, wine
Sarmi wrapped in the leaves of the butyma plant

In the region of Belasitsa mountain, there is a very interesting plant, which is widely used by local people. It is called “vinoboy” or “butima”  (Phytolacca americana). In the 17th century, the plant was brought to Europe and it was used as a natural colorant for wine. In fact, the whole plant is considered poisonous in large doses, especially the fruit. Therefore, before the leaves are used for cooking, they must be blanched.

Imam bayildi
Imam bayildi - stuffed eggplants with vegetable stuffing

How to make stuffed “Butima” leaves

To prepare that dish we need to use only young leaves that are dried or stored in a jar. If they are dried, the “Butima” leaves are pre-flooded with boiling water. Then we start to prepare the filling. Firstly, stew finely chopped onions in the fat, grate carrots and add a cup of rice. Season with black pepper, salt, mint, and pour two glasses of water, then leave the mixture on the stove and turn it off. The filling can also be prepared from stewed rice with leeks to which red and black pepper, mint, and salt are added. Then put 1 teaspoon of stuffing in one leaf. After wrapping the leaf, arrange all rolls in a pan and cover them with a few sheets of “Butima”. Pour a glass of water over them and bake them in the oven until ready.

Fenugreek salad
Fenugreek salad

How to cook baklava with Turkish delight?

To prepare the baklava filling, beat 3 eggs, adding a cup of sugar and two cups of oil. Mix half a teaspoon of soda in 200 g of yogurt. Add it to the egg mixture and beat with a packet of vanilla. Add the flour until the mixture is thick enough, like for pancakes. The barks are putting in pairs. The bottom of the pan is smeared with butter or oil and on the top, we put the stuffing. In the end, we add Turkish delight and finely ground walnuts, and the crusts are rolled up.

Plyaska with leeks
Plyaska with leeks

How to prepare fried pies “cigarette burek”?

We use large crusts and cut them into 4 pieces. Then we wrap them in cigars stuffed with egg, salt, and cottage cheese and fry them in hot fat.

How to make a sweet pie with Turkish delight and walnuts?

Firstly we prepare the filling for the pie from 3 eggs, 1 cup of yogurt, 1 cup of oil, and one cup of sugar. Then we add the flour until we get a liquid dough, like that for pancakes. We take one or two pastry crusts and we put a little oil or butter on them. Then we spread them with 2 or 3 tablespoons of stuffing, add little breadcrumbs, and we put chopped Turkish delight and walnuts. We should leave the pie to bake in a pre-oiled pan. When it is ready, we cut it into small pieces.

Trien, crushed beans
Trien, crushed beans is a dish in which the beans are mashed

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