Friends in Skopje, Macedonia, and in nearby Dracevo, are like family to my wife and I; we’ve been here quite a few times over the years. So many people invite us to their homes for dinner that it becomes a rare occasion to eat in restaurants. We did dine at some, which I’ll get to tomorrow, but our favorite foods always seem to come from the kitchens of those we know.
In the first few days we sampled Mimi’s turli-tava, a stew stocked with beef, pork, lamb, okra and a slew of other vegetables. This photo doesn’t do it justice.
Elena’s fried trout was super fresh, one of the few (and certainly the finest) of seafood dishes we sampled. My wife and I practically polished off this side of roasted peppers single-handedly (or would it be double-handedly?)
Peppers are used a lot here. This bowl was in Mimi’s kitchen:
Tomatoes, too, go into practically everything. I have often touted Macedonian tomatoes as the world’s best, and always will until some country can grow better ones. The classic Macedonian tomato salad, called shopska, is eaten daily in the home (at least in summer) and is served in every restaurant. It was sunny and hot every day we were here, and my wife and I must have eaten 100 of ‘em during our stay. The cheese here is feta but can also be a white brine cheese called sirene. Nobody makes a better looking or tasting shopska than our friend Sylvia:
Sylvia, in fact, is probably the best cook we know here, the one who most nimbly updates the traditional regional dishes. Husband Sashko, a well known former anchorman on the national evening news, like a good host always offers me raki, which in the Balkans refers not to an anise-flavored spirit by the same name, but a more grappa-like liquor culled from distilled pomace. Macedonians tend to make their own in their homes, and drink it alongside shopska salad to kick-start the meal. Like a good guest, I never refuse.
From that point we segued into chicken-noodle soup, followed by country ham, bacon and cheeses, and plates of fried zucchini, roast potatoes (look how gorgeously light and golden they are), and a roast pork that could put even the best American barbecue maven to shame:
Sashko poured this rich red wine, made from Macedonia’s indigenous Vranec grape.
The petit fours were not homemade -- Lidija, my wife’s closest friend and always our host on these trips, brought these for dessert. We would try Lidija’s famous roast peppers when we arrived at Lake Ohrid, but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some sensational stuff we ate out in Skopje -- including a traditional street food that is among the most unusual sandwiches I’ve ever encountered.
-- Lee Klein