FOODS FROM BULGARIA
Sheep’s and goat’s milk are made into many types of cheeses or used as sour cream, milk, or yogurt. Yogurt itself may be used as a cooling refreshment or as a drink either plain or diluted with cold water. It is also used in soups, vegetable dishes, and served with cooked wholegrain, meats, and fish. Sometimes yogurt is used in desserts or served with fruits. Whatever the form of the dish, Bulgarians enjoy dairy products at every meal.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Fruits and vegetables are also an important part of daily menus. Many main dishes are thick vegetable stews, sometimes including legumes, and sometimes served with cooked grains or hearty wholegrain breads. A meal is considered incomplete without at least one side dish of fresh greens, sliced onions, pickles, radishes, cucumbers, or tomatoes; in win-ter, olives and many types of pickles may be used instead. A usual dessert is fresh fruit or a compote of fruits cooked in a syrup.
There is wide variety and excellent quality in apples, plums, cherries, peaches, melons, watermelons, apricots, figs, and pears. The grapes are so famous that much of their crop is exported. Fruits may be eaten fresh, as jams or jellies, or as very thick spoon sweets to be served with glasses of cold water or Turkish coffee, made into fruit compotes, and occasionally into fruit drinks or fruit soups.
When it is necessary to export much of the fresh vegetable produce, the Bulgarian staples become beans, onions, potatoes, and rice. But fresh salad vegetables are eagerly enjoyed when available, and fresh seasonal vegetables become the center of the meal: eggplant, okra, squash, pumpkin, onions, potatoes, cabbage (sauerkraut is prepared and used widely). When possible, many vegetables are pre-served with garlic and brine to create many interesting pickles for condiments, hot peppers being a great favorite.
MEATS AND ALTERNATES
Arguably, Bulgarians are mostly vegetarian by necessity rather than by choice, but if available, lamb and mutton are enjoyed. Pork and veal are seldom used, though pork may be part of a special occasion meal. Fish is mostly consumed near its source: the Black Sea and Bulgaria’s rivers. Varieties include turbot, carp, shad, sturgeon, crayfish, mussels, and snails. Eggs are generally in poor supply but are used often as a custard to bake over the top of a vegetable casserole. Legumes are an important part of the diet in good times and had: small white beans, yellow, red and brown lentils, other beans, and peas eaten fresh and dried. Very occasionally game may be enjoyed roasted or in casseroles with other vegetables: hare, duck, venison, partridge, pheasant, and quail. Nuts of all kinds are an important source of protein. They are chopped or crushed or ground to a fine powder and may be used in soups, salads, meat and fish dishes, with vegetables or with desserts. Locally grown nuts include: green and ripe walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds.
BREADS AND GRAINS
Many breads are made with white wheat flour, whole-wheat flour, rye flour, and cornmeal. Rice may he cooked into soups, mounded into pilafs, sweetened and made into desserts. Crushed wholewheat bulgur and kasha (buckwheat) may be cooked as a base for vegetables or as a side dish. The type of cereal or flour preferred depends on the area; nearer Romania, cornmeal prepared as a baked pudding or as a coarse bread can be as much a staple food as the Romanian mamaliga. Grains are also used to stretch the meaty flavor of rarely used meats (in the same way that meats and vegetables are often combined), especially in meatballs and many types of vegetables stuffed with ground meat and grain filling, then slowly simmered for deep flavor.
The most-used cooking oil is sunflower seed oil. Olive oil is also widely used both in cooking and as a dressing with garlic, onions, and lemon juice to add zest to crisp fresh salad vegetables. Cold cooked legumes may also be dressed this way and served as a side dish. Butter may be melted and used to prepare the sugary, nut-filled layers of phyllo pastry in many forms for rich desserts, and butter may also be eaten with vegetables, but breads are often just broken and eaten plain or with cheeses.
SWEETS AND SNACKS
Bulgarians love to nibble on seeds of all kinds that have been toasted and/or lightly salted, as well as nuts of all kinds. Sweets are very much enjoyed, from a spoonful of fresh honey to thick sweetly preserved fruits with a glass of cold water or a tiny cup of strong Turkish coffee. Special occasions demand the presence of these rich sweets as well as the full range of delectable crisp and sweet nut-filled Middle Eastern pastries based on phyllo dough.
Onions, garlic, and oil are found in almost all dish-es except desserts. Fresh herbs are used abundantly and often just munched out of hand as they are plucked from the fields. Mint, dill, savory, and a native tarragon called ciubritsa are all used generously. In fact, a combination of salt and pepper with freshly chopped ciubritsa is used as a dip for bread instead of butter.
Plain yogurt or yogurt diluted with cold water is the favored drink with meals, or is enjoyed as a between-meals refresher. Wine may be used with meals on special occasions. Mastika, a grape brandy, and Slivovka (plum brandy) are taken as a potent aperitif with a variety of meze (appetizers) before dinner or for special occasions. Turkish coffee, brewed in a special pot and served in tiny cups, is taken at the end of a meat or served frequently as a refreshment for guests.