Tarator | Bulgaria
Let me start by saying this: Bulgaria massively exceeded my expectations on the food front! Granted, I didn't really know what to expect - I'd never come across a Bulgarian restaurant or met many Bulgarian people, so it wasn't a cuisine that I was familiar with at all. But after spending time there during the peak of summer eating locally grown veggies (the market stalls were spilling over with aubergines, peppers, courgettes, corn and tomatoes), homemade sunflower oil and sheep's cheese I think it's become my favourite Eastern European cuisine!
I spent five weeks in a village called Mihaltsi, on the northern side of the Balkan mountains, with the most kind and generous volunteer host, Audrey. Originally from Scotland but living in Bulgaria for the past three years she is fluent in Bulgarian (which to me is an amazing feat - it uses the cyrillic alphabet and I found it very difficult to pick up!) and has made friends with pretty much everyone in the village and beyond. This was a huge benefit as she sourced a lot of our food locally and introduced me to some of the people who make the produce - in fact, her partner, Ivan, makes sheep's cheese and sunflower oil himself!
It came as no surprise that Audrey also knows how to make many traditional Bulgarian dishes - and for those she doesn't know how to make, she quickly gets the instructions from her friends. We tasted an amazing red pepper and tomato dip called "lutenitsa" (which apparently takes a day to prepare!), a delicious savoury cheese, egg and filo pastry dish called "banitsa", and a cold aubergine and garlic salad, to name a few dishes!
Just a few days into my stay I already tasted my favourite Bulgarian dish: tarator. A cold yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and dill soup. In 30 degree heat this is absolute heaven! I LOVE Greek tzatziki and, to me, tarator is like a soup version with dill instead of mint. I felt as if I could consume tarator by the gallon! We usually made it with sheep's yoghurt as we had it almost on tap from Ivan's sheep, but cow's yoghurt will do just fine as well (the thicker the yoghurt the better!). The traditional way to cut the cucumber is to cube it, but Audrey grates it into this dish and I actually prefer it this way too.
Ingredients (serves 6)
6 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 large cucumbers, chopped or grated
800g sheep's yoghurt
4-5 tbsp sunflower oil
Salt to taste
One large handful fresh dill, chopped
If using cow's yoghurt use 1kg full fat yoghurt to 700ml water. Use less water if using a lighter fat yoghurt
If you don't know where the cucumbers have come from and they have cucumbers a very thick skin, it's recommended to peel it before using as it may well contain nasty pesticides that you won't want to ingest!
Put the garlic in a large bowl or soup tourine and pour in the yoghurt and water. Mix gently with a whisk until combined. Add the cucumbers, oil, salt and most of the dill and mix again. Finally top with a sprinkling of dill and chopped walnuts to serve. Either serve immediately (you can stir in some ice to cool it more if necessary) or refrigerate until needed.