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The turkey in traditional Bulgarian cuisine

Photo: Krassimira Vassileva

Unlike Christmas Eve, when meat is not eaten, the meal on Christmas Day is opulent with lots of meat dishes. And though turkey recipes are for family get-togethers (because turkeys are big birds and can feed a lot of people), in Bulgarian cuisine they are not necessarily associated with Christmas, says Ilian Dimitrov, author of a de-luxe edition of over 1,500 traditional Bulgarian recipes, and co-author of a gastronomical guide to a multitude of Bulgarian cuisine blogs.

Ilian Dimitrov

 In an interview with Radio Bulgaria, Ilian Dimitrov said that when it comes to traditional winter turkey recipes, the first thing that springs to mind is roast turkey with sauerkraut. Here are some of the finer points of cooking turkey in traditional Bulgarian cuisine.

Unlike the American turkey recipes, where the turkey is stuffed and roasted whole, in Bulgaria it is cooked in pieces, having been boiled or stewed in wine beforehand to make the meat more tender. Often, pork fat or lard is used to make the meat richer.

Photo: Darina Nikolova

If the bird is cooked whole, it is usually stuffed with a filling – usually of rice, plus raisins or prunes and sour apples. When it comes to turkey winter recipes, the ingredients of the filling can be of roots and tuber vegetables like carrots, celery, parsley and parsnip roots, and, of course, lots of leek. Not to forget the giblets which are usually boiled or browned and added to the filling. In the countries of Western Europe and the US, lots of spices are used, but in this country the recipes usually only have things like salt, pepper and paprika, parsley and sometimes bay leaf.

Here is the Christmas recipe Ilian Dimitrov chose especially for Radio Bulgaria:

Roast turkey with sauerkraut  

Photo: Krassimira Vassileva

Ingredients for 16 servings: 1 turkey weighing about 4 kgs., 1 average-sized head of sour cabbage, 1 onion, one and a half coffeecupful of vegetable oil or melted lard, 1 teacupful of white wine, 10-12 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, salt.

Rinse the turkey and boil in a big pot of hot water over medium heat, 30 minutes after the water has started to boil, add salt. Meanwhile, slice the head of cabbage into thin strips and stew it with the oil, add the chopped onion, and water and cabbage juice in equal parts – the liquid should cover half of the cabbage. Put the boiled turkey (whole or cut up into individual helpings) and the stewed cabbage in a cooking pan, add the wine, the black pepper and the bay leaf. Bake at a low temperature, occasionally adding some hot water, turning the turkey and stirring the cabbage.

And don’t forget – roast turkey is best paired with a glass of aromatic Bulgarian wine.

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