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Christmas dishes and recipes

Photo: BGNES

The Christmas holiday in Bulgaria starts off from 20 December and extends up to the 26th of the month. Celebrating Christ's birth, it is also dedicated to the sanctity of Bulgarian family life and homes.
We mark Christmas on December 25 after a 40-day Advent fast of no animal products, cheese, butter, eggs and milk. Christmas Eve is the last day of the fast and therefore it is celebrated with a vegan meal that usually consists of an odd number of dishes, most often seven or nine. The most important dish is the Christmas bread. Bulgarians would usually prepare a round loaf in which they would put a silver coin. It is commonly believed that the person who finds the coin will be rewarded with good fortune in the coming year. The Christmas meal also includes beans, stuffed peppers, rice wrapped in vine or cabbage leaves, boiled corn, leek pastry, honey and walnuts, boiled wheat with sugar, baked pumpkin, etc. The typical Christmas drinks are stewed dried fruit, called oshav in Bulgaria, red wine and rakia, a strong alcoholic drink produced from fermented and distilled fruit.

Before starting the dinner, the oldest men in the family would commonly burn incense over the Christmas table and in all the rooms of the home. This is because incense is believed to chase evil spirits away. Then he would say a prayer for good health and fertility and break the bread into pieces. The first piece would be put under the icon of St. Mary, if there's one in the home, and the rest would be distributed among the family members. It is believed that each person should try all the dishes if he or she is to be healthy during the next year. 

© Photo: BGNES

Our first suggestion for a Christmas Eve dish is the so-called koledna pita, or freshly-baked round loaf. Don't forget to put a coin inside to invoke good fortune in the coming year! Here are the ingredients:

 1 kg of flour
 a cube of yeast, match-box sized
 1/2 teaspoonful of sugar
 1 teaspoon of salt
 1 spoonful of sunflower oil

Sift the flour twice and make a small “well” in it. Put there the yeast, dissolved in a small quantity of water and the sugar. Add the salt and make dough. You can form small rolls or put the dough directly in a thinly buttered tin. Bake it till it turns lightly red, then spread sugared water on it and bake for another ten minutes.
The place of this traditional bread is right in the centre of the Christmas table. It is around it that all the other dishes are placed. Once all the family members have gathered at the table, we usually light a candle and fix it to the centre of the loaf. Then the oldest man in the family would say prayers for good health, fortune and happiness.

© Photo: archive

Our next recipe is for stuffed cabbage leaves. This is what you need to make them:

10-15 pickled cabbage leaves
 4 onions
 salt
 1 coffee cupful of rice
 2 red tomatoes - fresh or preserved
 1 teaspoonful of ground savoury
 1 teaspoonful of ground pepper
 1 spoonful of parsley
 2 dried red peppers
 2 fresh red peppers
 1 carrot
 1 1/2 coffee cups of sunflower oil

Chop up the onions, fresh peppers and carrot. Salt to suit your taste and brown the mixture in the sunflower oil. When the onion grows soft add the rice. Peel and grate the tomatoes and then add them to the rice together with the pepper, savoury and minced parsley. Mix these products thoroughly. Fill the cabbage leaves with the mixture and wrap them tightly. Cover the bottom of a cooking pot with sauerkraut and arrange the stuffed leaves. Insert the dried red peppers, which have to be steeped in advance for 6 hours in cold water. Pour water and sauerkraut juice in equal proportions or warm water alone. The liquid has to cover the stuffed leaves. Stew on a low fire until the stuffed leaves soften.
Usually the rice filling is made with minced meat, but On Christmas eve most families try to stay away from meat and prepare vegetarian leaves alone. 

© Photo: archive

An indispensable dish on our Christmas table is the boiled wheat. To cook it, you need the following:
 2 teacupfuls of pounded wheat
 3 coffee-cupfuls of sugar
 2 coffee-cupfuls of ground walnut kernels

Remove any impurities from the wheat and wash it. Pour cold water to cover it and boil till it grows soft. Then cover the pot with a towel and let it swell. Drain the rest of the water. Mix the wheat with the sugar and the walnuts. It is better to use soft sugar. It will melt easier and faster. Enjoy a very healthy dish!

© Photo: archive

Finally, we're going to offer you a very easy-to-make pumpkin dissert. The pumpkin is a favourite vegetable during the Christmas holidays and it appears in various foods. To make the dissert you need just a few things
 a 2-kg. pumpkin
 1 1/2 teacupfuls of powdered sugar
 a handful of walnuts

Cut the pumpkin in two halves. Remove the seeds and the fibrous tissue and put it in a baking tin. Bake in the oven at moderate temperature and don't open the oven before the pumpkin gets ready. If served warm, sprinkle the pumpkin with granulated sugar; if cool, use soft sugar alone. Sprinkle the walnuts on top.

In Bulgaria the Christmas Eve dinner table is not be cleared until the next morning to provide sustenance for the ghosts of ancestors who may come back to visit before Christmas morning. So, should you experiment with adding Bulgarian Christmas dishes to your tables, make sure you leave them untouched until the next morning.
This has been all in our special Christmas feature on Bulgarian dishes and recipes. We hope we’ve brought some inspiration to your Christmas diet! Merry Christmas and enjoy your food! 

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