Albanian Spinach Byrek (Byrek me Spinaq) Recipe

Found throughout the Balkan region, byrek is a baked, filled pastry made of layers of thin flaky dough. Here in Albania, byrek is widespread, taking on many forms depending on the region. But my favorite byrek by far is the homemade byrek that my host mom makes in her kitchen.

When my family came to visit Permet, my host family treated us to a lovely, home-cooked meal in their apartment. One of the dishes they served was byrek with onions and tomatoes, and my sister loved it so much that she and my mom decided to try and  make it in America!

The other day, they sent me a picture of their first attempt. They followed a recipe they found online and bought phyllo dough from the store. Their result was pretty close to Albanian byrek, but it wasn’t an exact match.

Byrek 5
My host mom showing me how to fold over the dough properly

 

After showing my host mom the picture of my family’s byrek, she decided on the spot that I had to learn the proper technique for byrek making. So a few hours later, I was back in the kitchen rolling up my sleeves with a pen and pencil to take notes.

The byrek making process is simultaneously simple and yet technically difficult. Making the dough is the real challenge, while creating delicious fillings is pretty straightforward.

My host mom was an incredibly patient teacher, and all of her instructions were easy to understand. She gave me many opportunities to practice the proper rolling techniques, and now I’m somewhat confident that I could prepare spinach byrek by myself!

So without further ado, check out the instructions for yourself, and let me know in the comments below if you’re going to try byrek at home!  Continue reading “Albanian Spinach Byrek (Byrek me Spinaq) Recipe”

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Camping in Nivica: Part 2

On our second day of camping, we went on a hike to an oak grove in the mountains, walked into the village of Nivica, and had dinner at a charming guest house, and attended a drama performance!

Saturday, September 22, 2018, 9:08pm

It’s been a long, exhausting day! I’m more than ready for bed, and it’s only 9:00pm! I guess sleeping under the stars does not make for a full day’s worth of energy.

I fought off sleep so I could continue looking up at the stars as they shot across the sky.

I made it through the night tossing and turning, wishing I’d brought a winter hat and scarf (because I was comfortable from the neck down but chilly and wet with morning dew from the neck up). I had a bit of trouble relaxing enough to fall asleep, but sooner or later, I drifted off in sheer exhaustion. I woke various times throughout the night because I was getting sore and had to switch positions.

At 3:45am, I found myself awake once again staring up into a sky full of stars. The moon had finally set, leaving galaxies to shine brightly in its absence. I pulled on my glasses and enjoyed the gorgeous evening view. I fought off sleep so I could continue looking up at the stars as they shot across the sky. Continue reading “Camping in Nivica: Part 2”

Camping in Nivica: Part 1

Just in time for the beginning of fall, I was invited on a 3-day-2-night camping trip in the village of Nivica, a charming collection of farms and stone houses in the mountains above Tepelene! On our first night of the trip, we set up our tents under the stars and made s’mores!

Before joining the Peace Corps, I never would have described myself as the “outdoorsy” type. I’m a homebody, and I love nothing more than curling up in my warm house with a good book, hot chocolate, and a happy cat on a rainy day.

But since becoming a volunteer, I’ve fallen in love with spending time outdoors. While I always had an appreciation for nature, I enjoyed it from afar. I liked seeing pictures of wild mountains, but I had no desire to actually climb them. Today, I leap at the chance to go hiking, biking, swimming, and running, so when I was invited on a 3-day camping trip, my immediate response was a wholehearted, “Yes!”

Since becoming a volunteer, I’ve fallen in love with spending time outdoors!

My friend Eric’s community counterpart, Auron, had been working tirelessly to develop tourism infrastructure in a small mountain village called Nivica, which is located near Tepelene. As part of Auron’s efforts, he decided to hold a week of activities for the community, including drama performances, poetry readings, live music, and other acts.

Because Auron’s interested in collaborating with the Peace Corps for the further development of Nivica, he invited Eric and other volunteers in the region to attend the event! The only caveat was that guest house space was limited, so we’d have to camp out. Eric rounded up the southern volunteers in communities near Nivica, and together we set out for a camping adventure in the mountains! Of course I journaled throughout the trip, so keep reading below for my thoughts on the village and the camping experience! Continue reading “Camping in Nivica: Part 1”

Dining at Mrizi i Zanave

On the final day of our Northern Albania trip, Kelsy and I had lunch at Mrizi i Zanave, a farm-to-table gourmet dining experience located in a village outside of Lezhe! The restaurant served 15 amazing dishes – totally worth the $20 price!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018, 10:11pm

What a day it’s been! I’m absolutely exhausted, and I need a break from traveling. Maybe forever.

A trip to Mrizi i Zanave felt like the perfect way to end our trip in a delicious and memorable way.

Eating a meal at Mrizi i Zanave has been a bucket list item of mine ever since I heard that it was the best restaurant in Albania. The timing hadn’t seemed right when I visited Minju in the spring, but with Kelsy here, I felt like it was the perfect way to end our trip in a delicious and memorable way.

Mrizi i Zanave is famous for its farm-to-table cuisine and gourmet reimagining of traditional Albanian dishes. Part of the Slow Food movement, it’s dedicated to preserving local methods of cooking and ancient Albanian flavors. I was beyond excited to give the restaurant a try after hearing rave review after rave review from the volunteers in the north, and after the long ride from Montenegro, I was exhilarated to be in anything other than a hot, smelly bus. Continue reading “Dining at Mrizi i Zanave”

2 Days in Montenegro: Kotor

On our final day in Montenegro, Kelsy and I traveled to the charming town of Kotor, another city by the sea with an extensive Old Town! We hiked up to a fortress with an incredible panoramic view of the bay to end the trip!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018, 1:03pm

It’s a beautiful day in Kotor! Exploring these old towns in Montenegro feels like traveling back to Italy. Kotor has all of the narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, and shuttered windows with half of the tourists (though sadly with many of the same high prices), and I’m totally charmed.

Traveling from Budva

After the late night, we packed up our things around 8:00am and were out the door into the hot, hot sun around 8:30am. Preferring to take our time rather than rush to the bus station, we stopped for coffee on our long walk, ignoring taxi drivers and curious stares along the way. You’d think people would be more immune to tourists I a beach town, but the Balkans continue to surprise me.

The road to Kotor had views of the sea as we climbed into the mountains and views of the suburbs as we turned inland.

Finally arriving at the bus station, we got tickets for the 10:20am bus, which was absolutely packed. It had departed from Bar, and most of the seats were already claimed by the time we made our way into the bus, which meant Kelsy had to sit on the stairs by the driver while I stood almost the entire time. Luckily, it wasn’t a long ride, and I was engrossed in my book.

The road to Kotor was somewhat scenic with views of the sea as we climbed into the mountains and views of the suburbs as we turned inland. We traveled through tunnels and farmland, finally arriving at the edge of Kotor around 11:00am. Unfortunately, we were caught up in traffic, which delayed our arrival by at least twenty minutes. Continue reading “2 Days in Montenegro: Kotor”