I’m finally starting to act upon my New Year’s resolution of blogging more national dish recipes! Earlier this month it was Liberland, now it’s Albania’s turn. And you even get two dishes for the price of one: tavë kosi and qofte të fërguara.
Tavë kosi is a baked dish of lamb and rice covered with yogurt (in Albanian, tavë means casserole, and kos, yogurt). It’s not always terribly exciting, based on the few times I tried it in Albania. Sometimes the casserole seems to be made of nothing other than those three core ingredients. The lamb can be dry and the yogurt mixture can have the texture of an overcooked frittata. In my recipe, cooking the lamb shanks with the rice in a pressure cooker ensures one gets both moist and tender meat, and flavorful rice. Adding feta to the yogurt and going easy on the eggs makes the mixture very soft — borderline liquid — and therefore less dry. And I’m adding garlic, herbs, and spices, too.
Still, I feel like tavë kosi needs an accompaniment. So in pure Food Perestroika style, I’m serving my meat with more meat, the qofte të fërguara. Don’t be scared, it just means fried (fërguara) meatballs (qofte). Between the lamb, yogurt, lemon, olives and oregano, we have a harmonious and more interesting flavor profile. And if you want less meat, well, you could start your meal with a vegetable salad.
Albanian qofte can take various shapes — round balls, patties, ovoids. I’m opting for balls here, just slightly flattened. More importantly, given that most countries in the world each have their own form of meatball, I wanted my qofte to be somewhat distinctive. Onion, oregano, and breadcrumbs are common ingredients in Albanian recipes, and I added lemon and olives, a southern influence from neighboring Greece. I’m using preserved lemon, which can be purchased here. This is more of a North African thing, and purists can replace it with fresh lemon and salt, but it has the merit of making the entire lemon edible (and it’s just a pickled lemon; pickling is used in any cuisine). Finally, I usually like my meatballs stewed rather than fried — it makes them considerably softer. However, by cooking them sous-vide before frying, I get a very tender result that can still be called qofte të fërguara (a good thing, since I have no idea how to say “sous-vide” in Albanian). You’ll notice that the meatballs don’t look the same in all of my pictures. That’s because I tweaked the recipe after making the tavë kosi. What you see in the picture directly below this sentence is what you should be aiming for.
Pressure-cooked lamb shanks
Yields 8 servings
1300 g lamb shanks
black pepper, ground
20 g olive oil
120 g peeled onions, small dice
10 g peeled garlic, thinly sliced
1.2 g ground star anise
75 g Arborio rice
100 g white wine
150 g water
1.5 g fresh oregano, finely chopped
- Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a pressure cooker over high heat, sauté in olive oil until brown on all sides, then reserve.
- In the same pot, sauté the onions and garlic for a minute, stirring constantly. Mix in the star anise, and cook for another minute.
- Add the rice and the wine, and simmer for a couple minutes.
- Return the lamb to the pot, and add the water. Close the pressure cooker, bring to pressure, and cook for 1 hour. Let rest until the pressure goes down.
- Take the lamb shanks out of the cooker, and pick the meat from the bones, trying to keep it in large chunks. In a bowl, gently mix the meat, rice, cooking liquid, and the oregano. Cover and reserve.
Yields 8 servings
80 g butter
50 g flour
80 g Bulgarian feta, crumbled
500 g plain yogurt
black pepper, ground
pressure-cooked lamb shanks
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, and stir for 2 minutes to make a roux. Remove from heat, and mix in the feta.
- In a bowl, combine the eggs and yogurt, then season with salt and pepper. Mix in the roux in a few additions, to avoid cooking the eggs. Reserve.
- Place the pressure-cooked lamb shank mixture at the bottom of a 23 cm diameter pie dish. Top with the yogurt mixture — you may have a little bit left over; don’t overfill the dish.
- Bake in a 175 C / 350 F oven for 40-45 minutes, until the yogurt barely jiggles when you shake the dish. Let rest a few minutes before serving.
Qofte të fërguara
Yields 8 servings (16 meatballs)
110 g peeled onion, small dice
15 g extra virgin olive oil
550 g ground lamb
20 g breadcrumbs
5.5 g salt
1 g piment d’espelette
2 g fresh oregano
45 g pitted Kalamata olives
45 g pitted Castelvetrano olives
90 g preserved lemon
about 15 g canola oil
- In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft. Let cool.
- In a bowl, mix the onion, ground lamb, breadcrumbs, salt, piment d’espelette, and oregano. Pass the mixture through the small die of a meat grinder. Make 16 meatballs of about 40 g each, round but slightly flat.
- Cut olives into halves, and cut the lemon into 8 pieces. Place the meatballs, olives, and lemons into one or more sous-vide pouches, and vacuum-seal. Cook in a 57 C / 135 F water bath for two hours.
- Take the meatballs out of the sous-vide pouches, as well as reserving the olives and lemon. In a frying pan oven high heat, sauté the meatballs in the canola oil until brown on both sides. Reserve.
Yields 8 servings
qofte të fërguara (with olives and preserved lemon)
- Cut the tavë kosi into 8 slices.
- On each plate, place a slice of tavë kosi, and flank with two qofte. Garnish with the olives and preserved lemon.