Italy Day 4 – Margherita Pizza

To close out our time in Italy I chose a classic known to most- the margherita pizza. This simple yet delicious masterpiece came to be on June 11th 1889 to honor the Queen consort of Italy-  Margherita of Savoy.  Raffaele Esposito created the pizza to represent the colors of the Italian flag by using basil for green, mozzarella for white, and tomato for red. Originally the pizza dough used was more of a flat bread compared to the sweeter, fuller crusts we are accustomed to most of the time.

Pizza dates back 7,000 years ago throughout Europe with various toppings placed on top of flatbreads and round breads. The pizza we know today dates back to the late 19th century when tomato and bread were being paired together.

We appreciated the simplicity that we only needed a few ingredients to have an amazing meal. Of course I used local basil Portland Pie Pizza Dough which just added to how yummy it was! As pretty as fresh basil looks on the pizza as you’re making it once it comes out of the oven it doesn’t have the same appeal. I would suggest added basil afterwards unless it is dried. We rated this dish 9.5/10 because it was just so good! How could you go wrong with pizza?

(67) Comoros – Mbawa Ya Tomati

Today I make up for my spacy posts and do have a double post day. We head back to Africa to an island country I had never heard of..

The old harbour of Moroni, Grand Comore, Comoros. Source: Lifestyle – Michael Runkel /Robert Harding World Imagery / Corbis

Comoros is a volcanic archipelago made up of three major islands and several smaller situated in the Indian Ocean superior to Madagascar. Like Madagascar, it is a large producer of vanilla production (coming in second) and also exports the most ylang-ylang in the world (which is often used in perfume essence). French, Arabic, and Comorian are the three primary languages spoken here. Mount Karthala is an active volcano on the largest island of Comoros, Grande Comore island. If you are interested in visiting Comoros you may want to try scuba diving and snorkeling since it has some of the biggest coral atolls and diverse marine wildlife.

The cuisine of this smaller African country consists of several local ingredients including coconut, mango, pineapple, cassava and plantains. Fresh seafood is more commonly used as the protein of their meals, however chicken and goat is used as well. Rice, beans, and other grains also accompany their meals. For Comoros I made a dish that is better known as a popular street food mbawa ya tomati or chicken wings with tomatos. If you wish to try this dish you can find the recipe here.

This was yet another recipe I found easy to follow and did not require fancy ingredients. I found it difficult to find a cooking pan/pot that would fit all of the chicken, the cast iron wok is what I ended up using. To break up the meat focused meal I added a side salad.

Comoros brought us another flavorful sauce which was well absorbed by the rice and coated the crisp chicken wings. The sauce (from the liquid smoke since we didn’t have smoked paprika) was very BBQ-esque. It was simple yet delicious, something we can’t get enough of- we rated it 8/10.

(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.

(64) Turkmenistan – Dograma

The Capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat. Source: The Guardian (Photograph: Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

Greetings from Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country that can be found beside Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Caspian Sea. 70% of the country is made up of the Karakum desert- interestingly this same region was once underwater 30 million years ago! Partially due to the requirement of a specially obtained travel visa and inability to freely explore the country, Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world. Turkmenistan has one of the largest gas reserves in the world and you can find the attraction “The Door of Hell” (Darvaza Gas Crater) in the Darvaza region of this country. It is referred to hell because this methane gas field was set on fire in 1971 and has been burning ever since. Its capital, Ashgabat has broken several Guinness world records because of the large amount of marble buildings it contains… 543 to be exact!

The cuisine of Turkmenistan is similar to the surrounding countries, plov being the most common dish (which was made when we traveled to Uzbekistan). Melons are very popular in Turkmenistan, so popular that there is a holiday dedicated to them! Today I made a dish that is more traditional dish that is made during Gurbanlyk, which is a three day religious holiday that is celebrated by the Islamic community. Dograma is a dish consisting of torn flatbread, mutton/beef (I used beef), onions, tomatos, and a broth. A more simplistic meal.. or so I thought! The recipe is found here.

This dish gave me troubles and a lot of frustration. What I expected to be an hour-hour and a half of cooking quickly turned to 2.5 hours due to bread issues. I think part of the issue came form the conversion from grams to cups for the flour which led me to adding an additional 2 cups of flour for bread that didn’t bake as it should have. My parchment paper maxed out at 425 F and the correct conversion was 480 F which made for a longer baking time. Poor Ian came home to a grumpy Paige..

However after all the struggles it was surprisingly good. The bread absorbed the flavors of the broth and had decent flavor. If you let it sit too long it did get too mushy and unappetizing. I feel like the onions would have been better sautéed and would have added another layer of flavor. Although it was better than expected it still got an average rating of 6/10.

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!