Qofte (Albanian Meatballs): A Surprising Blend of Flavors

3 qofte on a wooden cutting board

Qofte are meatballs made with either lamb, chicken, or beef meat. Many people fry their qofte, but I chose to bake mine in the oven. These are simple and quick to prep, and once the meatballs are prepped, they only take about 30 minutes in the oven. Make them with the fergese for a simple and delicious meal!

So I have to be honest. With the small exception of mint chocolate chip ice cream, I’m not really a big fan of consuming mint. In my opinion, mint is better suited to improve your breath than to improve the taste of your meal. HOWEVER, I added a very subtle amount of dried, flaked mint into this recipe, and I was pleasantly surprised! The flavor was juuuustttt enoughto change up the flavor of a normal meatball, but not strong enough to be overpowering.

Mint with WHAT??

Raw beef qofte

I paired the mint with some paprika, and really, I think it’s this flavor combination that sends these meatballs over the edge. I wouldn’t normally think of pairing mint and paprika together, but they really do complement each other well. When I think of paprika, I think of warmth and roundedness, but when I think of mint, words like “piercing” and “cool” jump to mind. Putting both spices in the same dish really balanced out the flavors and left us with a pretty desirable taste.

Frying vs Baking

Last week during Afghanistan, there was a lot of fried food. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried food just as much as the next girl. But in the spirit of health, I decided to change this recipe up a bit from it’s norm. Instead of soaking the meatballs in vegetable oil, I baked them in the oven, and they still turned out really delicious! But hey, if you want to fry these guys up, no judgement from me. In fact, let me know in the comments below how they taste!

Qofte (Albanian Meatballs with Feta Cheese)

Qofte are meatballs from Albania usually made with beef, chicken, or lamb. Usually they are fried, but I chose to bake my batch in the oven. This recipe features a unique blend of mint and paprika. 

Course Main Course
Servings 12 meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef (or lamb, or chicken)
  • 1 3/4 tbsp bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp chopped feta cheese
  • 1/2 white onion grated
  • salt
  • 1/2 tbsp crushed, dried mint leaves
  • 1/2 tbsp ground paprika

If frying

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • oil for deep frying

Yogurt Dipping Sauce (Optional)

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2-3/4 tbsp chopped garlic, depending on preference

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Combine all ingredients together in a bowl.

  3. Form into 12 meatballs in an oval shape. 

  4. Place on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes in the oven. 

  5. Serve with yogurt sauce if desired. 

If frying:

  1. Roll meatballs in flour to coat. Fry in oil heated to 350 degrees. Drain on paper towel. 

Recipe Notes

Recipe Copyright Alexandria Drzazgowski, The Foreign Fork. For personal or educational use only.

Fergese (Tomatoes, Peppers and Feta)

Albanian peppers and onions (fergese)

Fergese is a dish made with tomatoes, onions, roasted red peppers, feta cheese, and yogurt. The vegetables are all stewed together and then combined with a feta-yogurt roux that adds a creaminess to the dish. This side is super simple to make and even my brother, who doesn’t like red peppers, tomatoes OR onions, admitted that it was a great way to eat those vegetables! Give this one a try, you won’t regret it!

roasted red peppersIn the middle of a tough week cooking Albania, I welcomed these yummy, easy vegetables! The fergese is actually the only dish from the week that turned out perfectly on the first try. It was so quick to put together.

Once I roasted the peppers, I just simmered and then baked the vegetables together, and added the dairy mixture. Most of the trouble of the dish was just waiting for it to come out of the oven! 

This dish wasn’t just easy, it was versatile, too. I LOVE adding sauces to pretty much everything… I dip my bread in pasta sauce; Cracking over-medium eggs onto sautéed veggies to gives ‘em a little oomf; and I CANNOT eat a dry sandwich.

Let me tell you, if you like sauces like I do, this fergese is PERFECT for that need. Of course you can enjoy the fergese all on its own, but I found it particularly delicious when spooned over the pispili or even eaten in the same bite as the qofte… Mmm talk about amping up the flavor.

How to Make a Roux

The roux is most likely the toughest part of this dish, but if you can get it right, everything else should be a breeze. A roux is a mixture of a fat and flour normally used as the base of sauces. In this case, our fat of choice is butter, but rouxs can also be created with milk.

To make a good roux, you need to make sure it doesn’t burn. The longer a roux cooks, the more it thickens. This is great for creating a more robust sauce.

However, the longer you let your roux sit on the stove, the more likely it is to burn. Make sure to give it a stir every once in a while to even out the heat distribution.

To start the roux, melt your butter in the pot and then add your flour and stir to combine. 

ruox made from flour and butter
This is what your roux should look like after the first step

Next, add the yogurt and feta cheese into the roux. Cook it on a low heat so as to melt the cheese without burning your creation!

roux when yogurt and feta was added
How the roux should look once the yogurt and feta are added and melted

Mix that roux into your pepper and onion mixture, lay it in a casserole dish, and pop it in the oven!

So what is Fergese?

peppers and onions stewing on the stove for fergeseFergese is a dish that originated in the capital of Albania, Tirana. Albanians usually eat this as an appetizer, but sometimes they serve it with bread to

transform it intoa main course. Some households also choose to add liver into the dish to make it more filling… my family has been good at being adventurous for me, but I’m not quite sure I could convince them to eat liver yet. We’ll save that adventure for another day.

If you try it as is or choose to give it a little spin (maybe some liver, perhaps??) let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Fergese (Albanian Peppers and Tomatoes)

Fergese is a combination of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, onion, feta cheese, and yogurt. Once cooked and combined, it creates a creamy vegetable side dish to accompany bread or meat! It is quick and fairly simple to prepare.

Course Appetizer, Side Dish
Cuisine albanian
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 bell peppers, roasted diced
  • 1 onion diced
  • About 1.5 tomatoes chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 3/4 cup feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp basil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. If roasting your own red peppers, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lay peppers on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 20 mins on one side, then flip and bake for 20 mins on the opposite side. Keep baking until the peppers appear withered and the skin is a bit blackened. 

  2. Reduce oven temperature to 350

  3. Sautee the onion in a small amount of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Set aside. 

  4. In a large pan, add chopped tomatoes and bell peppers and simmer for about 10 minutes. Most of the liquid should cook out of the mixture.

  5. Mix onions into tomato and pepper mixture, and then set aside to cool.

  6. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter. Mix in the flour to form a roux.

  7. Stirring continuously, add feta. Continue to cook until the feta has melted and the mixture is very thick. Add the yogurt. 

  8. Once the roux is complete, stir it into the vegetable mixture. Season with salt and pepper. 

  9. Transfer the mixture into a 9x9 casserole dish and cook for 30 minutes. 

Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted from myalbanianfood.com

Pispili (Albanian Cornbread with Leeks): Cornbread vs Biscuits

Pispili... Albanian Cornbread with Leeks

Pispili is an Albanian dish that consists of cornbread filled with leeks and, in this case, feta cheese. It is common in the rural areas of Albania and can be served as either a main course or a side dish.

When I think of cornbread, I inevitably think of Cracker Barrel.

Ya’ll know Cracker Barrel, right? Old Western themed, southern style food? Off of pretty much every exit on I-75? Great cornbread? Yeah, you know the one. Whenever my family goes on a road trip, we stop at Cracker Barrel. My favorite is always the “Chicken n’ Dumplins” with a biscuit and honey on the side (P.S. Have you ever put butter and honey on your biscuit? You should do that right away.)

My brother, on the other hand, religiously orders the cornbread. For my entire life growing up, I would try his cornbread every time, but I never loved it enough to order it in place of my biscuit. Cracker barrel probably has the best cornbread I’ve ever had, but I still wasn’t sure if I was a TOTAL cornbread fan.

To be honest, it kind of weirds me out that something made with corn, a savory food (normally), is sweet. That’s why this Albanian cornbread (Pispili) recipe is perfect; it’s savory! And it has feta cheese! Definitely a win in my book. In Albania, is used quite often and leeks are very popular, so this dish is a great way to get a true taste of the country.

Some Experimentation

At first I tried to make my own recipe for this cornbread, but I got some ratios wrong and ended up using too much corn flour. The resulting bread was dry and crumbly, and not really the nice, moist taste I was going for. I’ve never made cornbread before, especially not savory cornbread with leeks, so I knew that I needed to get some help on my baking.

I looked at When Feta Met Olive’s site for some inspiration. As it turns out, the recipe that I had made up was pretty much the same as the one posted on their site, except for the mistaken corn flour proportions. I was pretty proud that, other than my flour mishap, I was able to make up a recipe that could have worked!

So I put together When Feta Met Olive’s recipe, and, low and behold, we had a winner. I did add some green onions because they added a little extra oomf to an already delicious recipe. I am so excited to keep learning about baking techniques and ingredients so that I can make up more of my own recipes as we go!

Pispili (Albanian Cornbread with Leeks and Feta)

Pispili is a flat, unleavened cornbread from Albania that is normally filled with leeks and feta cheese. 

Servings 16 pieces

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup fine corn flour
  • 3 cups leeks chopped
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup chopped scallions

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and grease a 9x13 size pan. 

  2. Cut leaves off of leeks, leaving the white stalk behind. Clean between any spaces on the stalk, because dirt hides!

  3. Mix eggs, yogurt, and oil in a bowl. Add cornflour into the egg mixture and whisk together. Let sit for 3 minutes. 

  4. Sift together dry ingredients and then add dry mixture to egg mixture (hand mix). Pour into pre-prepared pan.

  5. Mix together leeks, feta, and scallions in a bowl and then place on top of the cornbread mixture.

  6. Bake or 25-30 minutes and cut into squares. Enjoy! 

Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted from WhenFetaMetOlive.com

Sheqerpare (Albanian Shortbread Cookies): Perfect the Syrup Process

Sheqerpare. Albanian cookies in Syrup

Sheqerpare (Albanian cookies) are shortbread-type cookies soaked in a syrup made from sugar and water. They are typically served alongside rak’i to visiting guests in the household! All of the recipes that I’ve found for these cookies have been pretty vague, so it took me about 3-4 tries to really get them right. Scroll below for the recipe!

The past few weeks of desserts have had this syrup-soaked thing goin on, and I am DIGGING it. The syrup is only two ingredients, so it seems simple enough, but it is the most difficult part of this recipe to master. If you don’t boil it for long enough, your concoction will be too liquidy. But if you cook it for TOO long, as the syrup cools, it will harden into a candy… and then that candy will encase your cookies and keep them chained up in an impenetrable lockbox of steel that leaves your tummy rumbling and sad because it isn’t filled with cookies. To avoid this sad, sad fate, I would probably air on the side of undercooking it. Because, let me tell you, option two is not fun.

Failures 1, 2, 3, and 4

Like I said, I had to try four times in order to perfect these sheqerpare (Albanian cookies). To be honest, we probably could haveavoided most of the issues from the start. HOWEVER, when I tried to make the dough for the first time, I was a woman of little faith. The dough was really dry and crumbly, so instead of kneading it together to get the consistency I wanted, I added milk to the recipe. This succeeded in making my dough very watery, and my cookies ended up a weird, chewy texture. Fail one: Check.

Sheqerpare. Albanian cookies in Syrup

When I tried making the dough again, I was sure it was going to turn out much more cookie-dough-like. But, alas, my first attempt had actually been completely normal. This crumbly texture is how to dough is supposed to look. As you knead it with your hands, it all eventually comes together and forms a doughy texture.

As I mentioned before, the real problems arose when I got to the syrup step. First, I boiled my syrup or too long. It was so hard that I couldn’t even pour it out of the pot and onto the cookies. Fail two: Check.

The second time I made the syrup, it was at least liquidy enough to pour. But then, as it cooled it hardened around the cookies, which is when we ran into the whole “candied cookie” disaster. Fail three: Check.

The third time, I made a conscious effort to not follow the directions. Instead, I boiled the syrup for only a few minutes. FINALLY! The right texture! But I got too excited and accidentally drowned my cookies in the syrup so that they got all soggy and crumbled and fell apart. Fail four: Check. (I’m getting sick of typing that).

The Sweet Taste of Success

At this point, I was fed up. I wanted to throw in the towel. I wanted to admit that the Albanian cookies (sheqerpare) had defeated me. But I was on the brink of success; it was so close I could almost taste it. So I persevered.

On my last try, the cookie dough and the syrup came out the right texture, and I poured juuust the right amount of syrup on the cookies so that they had a coating but weren’t soaked. And FINALLY I could see what all the hype was about with this dessert. I’m not sure if the sheqerpare (Albanian cookies) were so good because my brain built them up after all of that effort, or if they really were just that great. But I can say, friends, that they were worth the trouble. Give em a try! And learn from my mistakes. Hopefully, you’ll only have to make them once.

Sheqepare (Albanian Cookies in Syrup)

Sheqerpare (Albanian cookies) are shortbread cookies that are coated in syrup 

Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 2 egg yolks beaten
  • 2 cups flour sited
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 whole cloves

Instructions

Cookie Dough

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2.  Use a hand mixer to combine 1 cup sugar, butter, yolks, flour, and baking soda. The mixture will be very crumbly and dry at first. Use your hands to mix the dough together until it forms one ball. 

  3. Remove the dough and knead for 3 minutes. 

  4. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 2 inch rounds. 

  5. Place on greased baking sheets ad bake about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Syrup

  1. Bring remaining sugar (1 cup) and water to a boil in a saucepan. Let boil for about 4-5 minutes. Make sure that the syrup is thicker than water but not so thick that you are unable to pour it. Keep in mind that the syrup thickens as it cools. 

  2. Remove syrup from heat and stir in vanilla and cloves. 

  3. Pour the hot syrup over the cookies. Make sure that the syrup is enough to coat the bottom fraction of the cookies, but not so much that it covers the tops and causes them to be soggy. 

  4. Serve at room temperature and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted from The World Cookbook for Students by Jeanne Jacob and Michael Ashkenazi