Recipes from your Bulgarian Aunt


Lela Stanka has embraced our visit to Nikolaevo by cooking up a storm, and I’ve been watching carefully and taking notes. Without further ado, here are her gifts to us (and you), traditional home cooking from Central Bulgaria. We also got a jar of lutenitsa as a gift from Lela Stanka, but that’s ours and we’re not sharing.

Rose Hip Tea


A ubiquitous recipe throughout European cultures that has been mostly forgotten in the present day but makes the perfect entry into foraging and wild food. Wild rose hips collected in the late summer and autumn are steeped in hot water overnight to make a tangy, floral tea.

– 1/2 cup rose hips (make sure they have no holes)
– 1 1/2 cups water

  1. Rinse the rose hips and cut them in half of crush them. The goal is to break the skin. If you were careless and collected ones with holes, you might find some grubs here.
  2. Put rose hips into water and boil. You can let it steep overnight if you want it to be stronger
  3. Pour through a sieve and serve.


This traditional Bulgarian pepper spread is AMAZING. This spread pairs well with practically anything savory, from rice and bread to eggs and meat. It’s like the Ajvar that’s served in much of the Balkans, but better (I may be biased). The best Lutenitsa is homemade, and while we didn’t have time to make it with Lela Stanka, I did get her to share the family recipe:

Makes 12 14-oz. jars of Lutenitsa

– 100 sweet peppers, about as big as an average adult hand
– 2 small or 1 medium-sized eggplant
– 5-6 medium-sized carrots
– 1 8 oz can of tomato paste (note: hers is homemade and contains no salt, so she recommended lowering the salt content below to make up for salt in store-bought tomato pastes)
– 2-3 tbsp salt
– 3-4 tbsp sugar
– 3-4 cloves garlic
– 1 cup vegetable oil

Roast and peel peppers:

  1. This step is pretty time-intensive, so it’s often done in batches or the day before. Put peppers in a covered dish and roast in an oven or pepper-roaster (these are store-bought or homemade ovens common in Bulgaria). Let them steam for 2-3 hours, until limp, then remove and let cool.
  2. Once cool, peel the peppers. Dip fingers in a dish of cold water and peel the skins from each pepper, then pull the stem and seeds from the top of the pepper. Discard skins, pepper stems, and seeds. Place the peeled peppers on a plate or flat surface for a few hours, dumping off liquid from the peppers as it collects.

Make sauce:

  1. Roast eggplants in the oven. Make cuts in their sides before roasting them to prevent explosion, and remove them from the oven when they start to get dark spots and feel soft. After removing them from the oven, put them on a plate to let the juice drain out for an hour. Move eggplants to a new plate and dump the eggplant juice (it’s bitter).
  2. Cut carrots and boil until soft
  3. Combine the veggies. Grind the roasted peppers with the roasted eggplant and boiled carrots. When mostly mashed, add the tomato paste. Put it in a big pot and mix in salt/sugar to taste.
  4. Heat mixture over medium heat, stirring in oil in 1/4 cup amounts. When the mixture starts boiling, reduce to a simmer.
  5. Mash the garlic into a paste. When the sauce in the pot has a jam-like consistency, turn off heat, add the garlic paste, and mix thoroughly.
  6. Transfer sauce to jars and follow your standard steps for canning. Lela Stanka boils her jars for 30 mins.

Village Potatoes


These are your standard roasted potatoes, but with Bulgarian spices and seasonings.

– 15 small to medium-sized potatoes
– 1 tsp cumin
– 2 tbsp Bulgarian oregano
– 1 tbsp regular oregano
– 1 tsp tumeric
– 1 tsp curry powder
– 1 tsp salt
– Cooking oil
– Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Peel potatoes, and cut into thick ~1 cm wedges. Put potato wedges into a pot.
  2. Put enough water into a pot to cover, add ~1 tsp of salt
  3. Bring potatoes to a boil and cook for ~5 min.
  4. Pour oil into the bottom of a roasting pan. Mix spices together, and then mix into the oil in the pan.
  5. Using a strainer or slotted spoon, transfer potatoes into roasting pan and mix.
  6. Bake at 220-230 Celsius, until golden brown.

Breaded and baked squash


When you want to eat veggies but don’t want them raw in a salad or boiled and limp, breading and roasting comes to the rescue! The spices used in village potatoes (above) could also be used here.

– 1 large zucchini
– 2+ tsps Flour
– Cooking oil
– Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Peel zucchini and cut in half perpendicular to its length. Then slice lengthwise to make flat, thin strips.
  2. Put 1-2 tbsp oil and 2 tsps flower into a baking pan
  3. Dip zucchini strips into flour, then layer into baking pan
  4. When done layering, sprinkle a couple teaspoons of oil on top, then sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste
  5. Bake in oven at 220-230 C for ~20 min, until zucchini have golden-brown spots
  6. After removing from the oven, season with crushed garlic and salt, then serve with yogurt

Feta cheese bread


This bread is one of Stoytcho’s favorite childhood memories. It’s like a savory cinnamon roll filled with feta cheese. A few non-traditional twists on this (like adding dill or other herbs with the feta) would probably also be delicious.

– 2-3 tsps sugar
– 1 cube of yeast (1 tbsp yeast; or a standard 2.25 tsp yeast packet in other countries) – water
– Flour
– 3 eggs
– Salt
– Melted butter
– 6-8 oz of Feta cheese (12 oz if you want more cheesy)

  1. Activate yeast. Mash the yeast cube/mix dried yeast into 1/2 cup of water with 2-3 tsps of sugar, and then add 1/4 cup flour. In a separate small bowl, beat 3 eggs with a bit of salt.
  2. In 5-10 mins, when yeast is bubbly and eggs have rested for a bit, mix the two together
  3. Add 7 tbsp of oil into the mix, then add ~2 cups + 2 tsps of water and 2-3 tsps of salt. Mix.
  4. Then add 4-5 c flour and a bit more water (you can tell this is exact), then mix with your hands to remove lumps. It will be sticky.
  5. Then add flour until it reaches a dough consistency but is still a bit sticky
  6. Knead for 5-10 mins
  7. Oil the sides of a deep bowl, then place dough in it and cover with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled. You can also put it in the fridge overnight; it will keep for about 2 days
  8. Oil or butter a baking dish.
  9. Split the dough in half and roll one half into a large round-ish sheet. Then roll the second half out in another place. Spread melted butter on top of one rolled-out piece dough, and then crumble feta cheese over it. Place the other rolled-out piece of dough on top of the butter and cheese and press down slightly to flatten.
  10. Poke a hole through in the center of the dough circle through to the other side. Begin pulling the dough from the bottom side up through the hole, rolling the dough outward from the hole to the edges of the dough sheets. This will form a ring of rolled dough.
  11. Cut the rolled dough into cinnamon bun-like wedges and place in greased baking dish. When done, cover and let rise again for 30 mins to an hour
  12. Preheat oven to 200 C. Put the rolls in the oven and bake for 10 mins, then reduce heat to 175 C and bake for another 20 mins or until buns are golden brown on top. Remove and serve toasty warm, or when they’ve cooled with fresh yogurt.

For those who found the assembly description confusing:

Below is the step-by-step of assembly in pictures. I suspect this assembly method would also work wonderfully for babka, cinnamon rolls, or other such rolled desserts.

Roll out both halves of the dough. Brush one piece with butter and sprinke feta over it, then place second layer of dough on top.
Poke a whole and begin pulling layer beneath up and out, rolling dough outward from the center.
Continue rolling dough outward from the center hole.
Form into a ring shape, squeezing to make sure distribution of cheese and dough is mostly even.
Slice rolls from the ring shape and place in greased pan.

The food of Medellín’s Zona Rosa: Eat Your Heart Out

Zona Rosa

People sit in front of a Christmas lights display at a park in Zona Rosa

Zona Rosa is Medellín’s happening tourist spot, with all of the hippest shops, bars, and restaurants. Stroll down one of these streets and you could easily imagine you’re in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or any other major metropolitan hub. And while the prices definitely reflect the area, clocking in around 1.5-3 times that of other places in the city, they’re still highly affordable if you’re coming from a country like the U.S. or Canada.

We spent most of our time in Zona Rosa enjoying the relative comfort of the Panela Hostel 2 and eating amazing food. We covered the delicious dessert options of Zona Rosa in our previous post. This post will cover awesome main meal options we discovered: two restaurants offering traditional foods, and one spotlight on a great health/vegetarian restauarant. Regardless of what you choose, get ready to eat to your heart’s content.

The Comida Tipica

There are two must try’s here: the Mondongo and the buñelos.

Since the locals almost always know best, we asked around for the ONE thing we should try in Zona Rosa before leaving. And every time, from the kids in high school to the abuelitas out for an afternoon stroll, we got one answer: get the Mondongo at Mondongo’s.

Mondongo’s is an institution in Medellín, serving up hearty soups and grilled meats to the hungry Colombian locals. On the afternoon we wandered in, we found a quiet patio with attentive waiters. They even insisted on helping us put our bags on to the chairs instead of on the floor:

Our bags, our ever constant traveling companions.

When it came to ordering, we were a bit nervous because Mondongo’s was really expensive by Colombian standards (a Mondongo costs around $10 USD, or 30,000 COP). Wondering if we could share, we asked the waiter about the size of the Mondongo and he pointed over to a nearby table with a bucket-sized bowl of soup, a plate of rice, slices of avocado, bananas, and arepas. We had to double check that was indeed one order. We asked to share, and even then we couldn’t finish the whole thing. The great part was that while we were struggling to finish our food, a pair of abuelitas came in, each ordered a Mondongo, and demolished them. They were tiny, so I have no idea where that food went. Perhaps their stomachs were part of some kind of space-time distortion.

The HALF Mondongo. When we asked to share one, they kindly pre-split the soup for us, so this is half the amount you’d normally get.

As for how the Mondongo tasted, here’s the best description I can muster: a rich, meaty tomato broth, loaded with FOUR kinds of meat (beef, pork, chicken, and tripe), potatoes, and onions. You’re supposed to dump the rice, avocado slices, and banana slices directly into the mix, but we ate them in separate spoonfuls for a delightful contrast in flavors and textures.

The whole Mondongo meal. Why yes, that avocado is nearly the size of a banana. That’s the normal size of avocadoes in Colombia.

Recommendation: Bring a friend. You’re going to need their help against the massive Mondongo.

The second must try are the buñelos from Buñelos supreme, a tasty deep-fried breakfast treat made of  flour, tapioca flour, and cheese. At 500 COP (17 US cents) a pop, it’s easy to down 5 or 6 of these for breakfast alongside an egg-filled arepa.

Fresh hot buñelos nestled together in a bowl.

And since people regularly come in and order 30 at a time, you can watch them being made all morning:

The buñelo-maker, hard at work. Each buñelo is expertly hand-formed and fried by him.

Note that buñelos are sold at practically every bakery in Medellin, but Buñelos Supreme is where we found the best.

The fried egg arepa: an egg somehow cracked into an arepa and then all fried together. Two of these make a heavy, filling breakfast.

Recommendation: If you’re a lover of deep-fried breakfast treats, pull up a seat here and a few buñelos with a fried egg arepa and drink of your choice—I’d go with a hot Milo.

The Vegetarian

Finding vegetables can be hard while travelling, even when you’re not looking to eat exclusively vegetarian food. Plates at restaurants tend to be meat-centric and occasionally come with a sad lettuce-and-tomato vegetable pile, although more often they’re heaped with fries. After the meat fatigue, we were delighted to come across an entirely vegetarian restaurant in Zona Rosa by the name of Lenteja Express. It serves vegetarian starters, burgers, and wraps made from lentils or chickpeas.

Oh, and a pretty good vegetarian lasagna, but limited to certain days of the week.

We went a few times and had the ceviche (which was a beany, mango-y, salsa-y wonder), burgers (great flavor, but they haven’t quite worked out a way to keep the patty moist), and burrito (seriously huge, share it). The biggest highlight though was the humble side dish of griddle-cooked baby gold potatoes, called papas criollas, which by some witchcraft of spices were elevated to a dish fit for kings. On one occasion we just ordered a whole plate of these potatoes and shared them doused with the equally amazing whole grain mustard that Lenteja Express has on tap.

The burrito, paired with their mysteriously fantastic papas criollas

Recommend: This is a must, if only to try the amazing seasoned potatoes with (what I would guess is) homemade whole grain mustard. If you’re getting a burger, pay extra for guac or douse it in another sauce to combat how dry the veggie patty can get.

If you can’t pop down to Colombia to try these amazing foods, here are a few recipes to tide you over. Since we’re still on the road and don’t have much of the way in kitchen supplies, we haven’t been able to taste-test them ourselves. But given the ingredients, they look like the real deal:

Recipe for buñelos

Recipe for mondongo – Disclaimer: there are TONS of different recipes for mondongo online, and each varies in the meats, vegetables, and spices that go in. I suspect this is one of those each-grandmother-has-her-own-way type dishes. This version was chosen because its ingredient list looks the closest to what we had at Mondongo’s.

Recipe for papas criollas – We asked Lenteja Express’s owner how they made their papas, and got the following instructions: take small gold potatoes and season with rosemary (romero). Place them on a hot griddle (a la plancha) for a few minutes, then put them in a bowl or bag, douse with paprika and salt, and shake/toss to coat. Or you could try the Serious Eats recipe here.