(73) Hungary – Hungarian Bean Goulash

Szechenyi Spa Baths Outdoor Pool, Budapest, Hungary. Source: Baths Budapest

Back to Europe we go! Today we are in Hungary, a central, landlocked country found next to Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, and Ukraine. Hungary is one of the older countries of Europe and came to be after the fall of Roman Empire in 897. Thermal Springs are are a big deal here and are known for their healing and cleansing properties. There are here over 1,300 in the entire country, some being an outdoor attraction and others in luxurious bath houses. Many well known composers call Hungary their home including  Franz Liszt, György Ligeti, and  Béla Bartók. I don’t know about you but I think I’m Hungary for more 😉

Hungarian or Magyarian cuisine often includes paprika, onion, black pepper, and other spices to make their dishes flavorful. The focus of each meal is well seasoned meat and vegetables and the use of fresh dairy and baked goods. Their national dish goulash is a one pot dish that was traditionally cooked over an open flame consisting over various vegetables, beef or beans seasoned with the above spices. Goulash gets its name from the Hungarian word gulyás for cow herder since they were the inventor of this meal. The goulash I am making today is vegetarian and using beans to substitute the meat (which was traditionally done when beef was scarce. You can find the recipe here.

I made a few alternations to the recipe to make my life easier and to match the authenticity. I used liquid smoke once again to capture the smokiness it would have had if cooked traditionally and instead of grinding my caraway seeds I let them steep in a tea bag will the stew was cooking (pictured bellow)! Pro tip, make your on veggie broth (pictured above) by using veggie scraps will you are prepping! Make sure to compost them when you’re done 😁

We thought the stew was spicy, smoky and had a nice tomato-based broth. You could almost say it had a barbecue like flavor! It had a hearty mixture of vegetables which made me think of how this would be a great fall or winter meal. We thought it was worthy of a 7/10 rating.

Next we make something truly unique in Bhutan, see you then!

(66) Northern Macedonia – Tavče Gravče

Hello again, welcome back to The Messy Aprons! Today Ian and I traveled to the lesser known European country of Northern Macedonia (once known as Macedonia). You can find this beautiful Balkan country bordering Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

Church of Saint John the Theologian. Source: TheCurrent

Mother Teresa was a Macedonian and was born in the country’s capital Skopje in 1910. Northern Macedonia is home to another well-known person as well- Alexander the Great. He was once the king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, which at the time was the most dominating state in the world. Additionally it is home to one of the world’s oldest lakes clocking in at 4 million years old and has a staggering depth of 288 meters -that’s 864ft!

Macedonian cuisine is like its neighboring countries which reflect Balkan and Middle Eastern influence. Due to its mild, warm climate they are able to grow much of their own produce which shown in today’s dish, Tavče Gravče. This is Northern Macedonia’s national dish which consists of beans, pork (most of the time), peppers and onions, tomatoes, and spices/herbs. The name literally translates to “beans cooked in a pan” and has a lengthy prep time to prepare the beans for cooking, however I opted for canned beans to make things easier. The recipe I used had chorizo instead which we felt brought a nice mild kick to the dish, no complaints here!

Because I had opted for the canned beans the cook/prep time was a fraction of what it typically is. Although I followed the steps a little differently I was happy with its flavors and appreciated that I could easily make this during my hectic work week. To really do things in a work-week friendly manner I brought out my Instant Pot and allowed the dish to pressure cook which worked out well.

We loved this super savory bean and sausage dish. There was a subtle hint of herbs along with the mild kick of the sausage. The roux ended up mixing well with the tomato juices which ended up making a nice, thick sauce. As I stated earlier the spicy sausage definitely made a difference and would be preferable over the pork (no offense to the traditional way). We say this dish is a keeper and rated it 9/10.

A Greek Breakfast- Feta and Sundried Tomato Egg Skillet with Honey and Walnut topped Greek Yogurt

To top off our week in Greece I made a Greek breakfast spread. Ian often had Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey on his vacation along with other traditional foods such as fruits, pastries, and eggs. To pair with the yogurt and accruements I made a Greek inspired scramble with sundried tomatoes, feta, and some herbs.

It was simple, quick, and delicious although the addition of spinach would have brought the eggs to another level. I liked that this breakfast was not only easy, but had several foods that are often staples of the kitchen (at least my kitchen). The point being you don’t have to buy expensive or fancy ingredients to make a meal that perfectly represents a country. I have been spending more money on groceries lately with uncommon ingredients so I decided to take a step back and keep it simple for this bonus recipe.

With my Greek egg creation being so simple I don’t feel it needs a written recipe- add the desired eggs (fried or scrambled), fresh or sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, herbs (oregano and parsley is what I used), salt, pepper, and paprika. If you discover a Greek-inspired egg scramble combination that worked well for you let us know in the comments below!

Next we head to a US territory for a twist on an American classic!

Greece Day 4 – Ian’s Gyro (Tzatziki recipe included)

For our final meal of the week we had a classic street foot of Greece- the Gyro. Pronounced like “yee-roh” (Greek for spin) this savory wrap is traditionally filled with a grilled meat (lamb or beef), tzatziki sauce, sliced tomato, and red onion wrapped inside pita bread. The sandwich did not become mass produced like it is now until the 1970s as American tourism quickly made it a fast food. It is now popular in the US especially in New York City.

It does originate from Greece, however it is believed to be very similar to the Turkish döner kebabs. The term gyro refers to the method the meat is traditionally cooked, rotating vertically on a spit. The Turkish kebabs are cooked in a similar fashion and alike ingredients. We were unable to achieve that, however we broke out our little Colman grill and got the job done. We used sirloin tips for our meat of choice, yum!

As for the tzatziki sauce it is a refreshing combination of Greek yogurt (make sure its plain!), shredded cucumber, lemon juice, and herbs. This sauce can be found in cuisine along the Balkans and the Middle East along with Greece with slightly different preparations. We were glad to use our nifty shredding attachment to make this step even more of a breeze!

This meal wasn’t new to us, but that wasn’t going to stop us from making it one of our four. We loved the tender meat with the cooling tzatziki and fresh vegetables. Our only downfall (slight) was the naan bread since I could not find pita bread anywhere! The naan made it VERY filling, but nonetheless it is one of our favorite dinners to make. With that said we rated it 9.5/10 (10/10 with pita). We hope you enjoy Ian’s recipes just as much as we do!

Greece Day 3 – Garides tou Fournou

For our third day in Greece Ian made another recipe from Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors. He has great understanding of Greek food from his experience as a line cook in a Greek-Italian restaurant and is part Greek himself. For those reasons that is why we decided to spend a week here – what a rough decision!

Ian and his family enjoying the ocean views

With Greece’s vast coastline and numerous islands it makes sense why seafood is a staple of their cuisine. Garides tou fournou roughly translates to baked shrimp and honors the delicious crustacean. Other common seafood that is used widely in Greek cuisine include sardines, squid, anchovies, smelt, mackerel, and bogue. It is not uncommon to find other varieties of seafood on the plate since this country is all about fresh ingredients. In this dish you will find shrimp that are topped with a flavorful shell-infused stock/tomato sauce and a healthy amount of feta. Yum yum!

The additional of dill to the sauce took me by surprise at first, but remembering our track record of dill and seafood pairing I knew it was going to be good. Thinking back to Libya as well we discovered the beautiful combination of dill, cinnamon, and tomatoes. You never know what unique pairings you are going to find by traveling by taste bud!

All aspects of the preparation and cooking was straightforward and easy to follow. The ingredients can easily be found in most grocery stores and it did not take long to finish. Making your own seafood stock is simple and a great way to save a little moolah. I don’t know why I had never thought to do that before..

We really enjoyed this meal and thought the addition of orzo was a must. Cooking the shrimp at a higher temperature allowed for a wonderful crust to form and give the dish a nice contrasting texture. Feta being incorporated in the sauce and garnished on top gave the sweet sauce a punch of saltiness (don’t go overboard adding salt to the dish!).

We loved this elevated shrimp dish and rated it 8.5/10. We give props to the orzo as well since this dish would be incomplete without it. If you don’t like shrimp you might be able to get away with scallops- let us know how that goes of course! If you still feel it needs more try pairing it with a fresh salad and a glass of your favorite white wine. Onto the last meal in Greece!

Greece Day 2 – Soupa Avgolemono

Welcome to another day in Greece, today we will be making a refreshingly light soup that is great on a warm summer day or when you need a pick me up. This dish is dominated by the taste of lemon and dill.

This citrusy soup is a lesser known Greek classic and is believed to have made its way there with the Sephardic Jews. This ethnic group originating from the Iberian Peninsula has a cuisine that consists of stuffed vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts, herbs, lentils and chickpeas (to name a few). It was originally made with pomegranate or orange juice, but with the popularization of lemon juice in the 10th century it is now the preferred fruit juice.

Ian felt this recipe was straight forward, however there was a crucial part that you want to pay attention to. It was important to whisk the hot broth and egg/lemon juice mixture constantly to avoid cooking the egg. It is also the same method when adding it back into the remaining soup.

We thought the soup was unique compared to others we have made and enjoyed how the lemon and dill made it lighter and refreshing. We would have liked more rice than what was asked for since a 1/4 cup was not much.

If you prefer fish over chicken, a similar recipe we have cooked in the past called Lohikeitto might be the soup for you!

We did enjoy the Finnish lemon and dill soup a little more than this one. The rating we gave it was 7/10.

(38) Moldova – Zeamă

Hello again! Today we are in Moldova, a small Eastern European country that is well known for its extensive wine collections (Guiness World record actually). Moldova does not get a lot of foreign foot traffic since it is a more impoverished country, however there is more than what meets the eye! There are beautiful old monasteries that can be found throughout the cities and admirable country sides and forests. Moldovans love wine (and other booze) so much that they dedicate two days to wine in October as a National holiday. Sign me up!

Monasteries of Moldova. Source: Private-guides.com

I was originally going to make the national dish of Moldova which is mămăligă, but I decided the zeamă would suffice. Zeamă is like a chicken noodle soup with a European twist. This dish is very traditional in this country and served year round, even in hot weather. This soup is a sign of welcoming or celebration the morning before a wedding. It even pairs well with wine.. who would have thought! The recipe I referenced can be found here.

I did make some substitutions since lovage and borsch couldn’t be found in my local grocery store. I used celery salt and lemon juice as replacements and enjoyed the flavors they brought to the dish. I also substituted store bought egg noodles for homemade ones to save myself time.

It was pretty easy to make and took advantage of the perfect opportunity to use some of my dehydrated carrots I made up last year, they taste just as fresh! I also added tons of herbs- more than the suggested to bring out more flavors in the simple broth.

I let a cut jalapeno soak in the soup which did give a very mild heat to the soup which was nice. The lemon and dill combo will always rate high in our book, however I wish there was more flavor. I’m wondering if I had the recommended ingredients if it would have more gusto.

Due to this we rated it a little lower at 6/10 average.. sorry Moldova😔

(37) San Marino – Nidi di Rondine “Swallows Nests”

Welcome to the beautiful San Marino, another country I had no idea existed! This beautiful slice of heaven sits in northern-central Italy and has been a microstate since 301 A.D (self proclaimed oldest republic of the world). The main attraction of the country is the three peaks of Mount Titano. On each peak there is a tower: Guaita, Cesta, and Montale. The public is able to visit Guaita and Cesta by climbing the cobblestone steps overlooking the scenic countryside. That being said how come we don’t hear more about this country with it being one of the oldest countries of Europe?

Source: Getbuybus.com

When researching, it was clear I would enjoy the cuisine.. it sits inside the country where my favorite food originates! The dish I chose to represent San Marino is known as swallows nests or nidi di rondine in Italian. It got its name from the presentation of the food which closely resembles bird nests- lasagna noodles filled with cheese, prosciutto, bechamel sauce and basil leaves are rolled up and placed on top of marinara sauce.. is your mouth watering yet?

Oops, too much nutmeg!

Just when I thought it couldn’t get better I discovered fontina cheese was part of the filling (my favorite cheese) and I decided to replace prosciutto with speck -can I get a hell yeah?! Alright I need to chill I’m making myself hungry! The recipe I used can be found here.

It was a pretty easy recipe just time consuming to cook the lasagna noodles. We thought a little more marinara sauce wouldn’t have hurt, but that is our only critique. It was a beautiful combination or melting cheese, warm sauces, and meat. They were surprisingly filling, but they did not last long in our fridge! If you’re looking for a way to elevate a pasta dish or just need something delicious to get you out of a boring dinner rut this is the recipe for you!

We rated this dish 9/10- higher with more sauce. Next we travel to Moldova to sip on some savory soup😎

(35) Bosnia and Herzegovina – Kvrgusa

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Its name translates to water, earned for its density of lakes, rivers and waterfalls. It also contains what is considered Europe’s last remaining rain forest know as the Perućica that houses trees over 300 years old.

The Perućica- https://thesrpskatimes.com

The dish I decided to cook is called Kvrgusa. It’s similar to a chicken pot pie, but instead of the crust surrounding the filling, the batter is first laid down and then the filling is added which bakes as more of a single layer. The recipe referenced is here. The process was simple, I started by mixing the few ingredients for the batter until it was a pancake mix consistency.

The recipe called for a small amount of vegeta seasoning. I didn’t have this, but a quick search online gave a common list of ingredients for vegeta such as turmeric, salt and garlic. I used quite a bit more seasoning than what the recipe called for. Chicken was then placed into the batter and then popped into the oven. Off note- the traditional recipes often call for a whole chicken being parted or at least bone-in chicken. We had boneless chicken breasts so this is what I used. You need to be careful not to overcook the chicken when substituting boneless pieces.

After the dish had cooked to a browned crust an additional layer of sour cream and milk is added and the dish is then returned to the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

The verdict: Even with the additional milk and sour cream the dish was dense and lacked the creaminess of the chicken pot pies I’ve grown up with. This may have been due to the pan not being big enough, resulting in a thicker pie. Despite adding more seasoning than what the recipe called for I still found the dish rather bland.

Final score 4.5/10

(34) Czech Republic – Vepřo Knedlo Zelo

Konopiste Castle. Source: RoadAffair.com/Martin Mecnarowski / shutterstock.com

To start off this week we will be cooking a dish from The Czech Republic, a country where beer is cheaper than water! Yes you heard that right, beer is a biiiig deal here. It is consumed more by the Czech people than any other place in the world. Czechia is located in Central Europe bordered by Austria, Poland, Germany, and Slovakia. Its capital, Prague is well known for its history and medieval beauty complete with cobblestone streets and gothic churches. It is home to the most castles in Europe topping 2,000!

To honor this historic country I made their national dish- Vepro Knedlo Zelo. This literally translates to its ingredients- roasted pork, bread dumplings and sauerkraut. In the Czech culture meals are often served in several courses. First you start with a soup, then you get your main course, and afterwards either more commentary sides or a dessert. The recipe I followed had a stewed sauerkraut which made it sweeter and less potent smelling (thank goodness).

It took me several hours to complete this dish, however most of the work was done by my stove and the heat of my apartment. It can be done in a way that allows for you to go from one thing to the next seamlessly, that means something coming from me! The pork was able to roast while the sauerkraut and onions cooked and the dumpling dough was rising. It was an apartment full of wonderful smells!

I used this recipe to make the bread dumplings and ended up buying gluten flour for the first time ever.. my stomach has been getting more tolerant to my gluten-eating ways. Back to the dumplings- the proving is an important part of this process and gave me enough to make three large dumplings (they almost double in size when in the boiling water). I decided to freeze one for later since European dishes can often have these accompany the entrée to soak up all of the wonderful sauce!

I will admit the sauerkraut tasted much better after the cooking process, better than I had expected. I was also pleasantly surprised by the dumplings and how large they had become by the end of all the proving and cooking. The meat was slightly dry, but that was probably due to an error on my part.

The flavors worked well together, and we quickly discovered stacking each element on top of each other was an effective way to eat the dish. I still think cabbage is not my thing, sorry fellow Czechs! We rated this dish 6.25/10.