Gezuar vitin e ri 2006!!

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Albanian cuisine is typical of the Balkans, and similar to other Mediterranean cuisines. Albania was under Turkish subjugation for almost 500 years, so their cuisine shows a lot of Turkish influence. Because of proximity, however, some regions also have a lot of Italian- and Greek-like dishes. Lakror is a pie most common in Korca or Korce, a city famous for its serenades, though it is found throughout Albania. Depending on where you look, you’ll find out that lakror is made with many different things. It is closely related to — and sometimes considered interchangeable with — byrek, also commonly known as “spinach pie”. Note the similarity in name and preparation method to the borek from Damascus and bourek from Algeria. Lakror, however, seems to be more versatile; some sources describe it as a pie, others as a pancake. It can incorporate everything from cheese and eggs to meat and vegetables like green beans and leeks, or onions and tomatoes. When served at New Years’ celebrations, a coin is put under the bottom layer of pastry, and whoever gets the slice of pie that has the coin is believed to be blessed with extra luck for the coming year. In the Korca region, it is also traditionally baked with nettles, a custom which is said to be connected to St. John the Baptist who lived off nettles while he wandered the desert. Lakror is such a fixture in Albanian cuisine that in the US, Albanian Orthodox churches serve or sell lakror at parish picnics and fundraisers.

Historical Tidbits about Albania: A bunch of Roman emperors, including Diocletian and Constantine the Great, were from Albania. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born in Macedonia, to Albanian heritage. Her real name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu.

Sources:

A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture by Robert Elsie
Albania and the Albanians, by Van Christo
The Mediterranean Diet by Cloutier and Adamson
Albania, from NewAdvent.org
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, from Catholic Online
The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert

Lakror (St. Basil’s Meat Pie)

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground lamb
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly minced parsley, preferably flat-leaf
1/2 cup cooked rice
6 eggs (this is from the original, though I reduced mine to 3)
8 oz. phyllo dough, pieces trimmed to fit a 9×13 baking pan
1/4 to 1/3 cup melted butter

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the gorund meats, garlic, salt, oregano and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring to break up the pieces, until meat has completely changed color. Drain off fat and adjust seasonings. Cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add parsley, rice and eggs and stir well. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush a 9×13 pan with melted butter. Lay one piece of phyllo dough on the bottom, and brush with melted butter. Repeat until you have used up half of the phyllo pastry (about 10 pieces). Spread the meat mixture evenly over the phyllo dough. Top with the remaining phyllo dough pieces, brushing each layer with melted butter, until all the dough is used up. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden. Serves 8 with salad and/or soup, or up to 16, when served with other dishes.

This recipe comes from Cooking with the Saints by Ernst Schuegraf, with instructions modified by yours truly.

Addendum: Angelo comments below on the similarities of lakror to banitsa, a Bulgarian dish. In A Short History of Modern Greece, they talk about the Greeks pursuing the Turks into Banitsa, and I’m thinking this dish was named after the place. Also found this on infohub:

The most common Bulgarian snack food is banitsa (often referred to by its diminutive form, banichka , or known in some areas as byurek ), a flaky pastry filled with cheese or, on occasion, meat. At its best, the banitsa is a delicious light bite, although it’s invariably quite stodgy by the time it reaches the streets. Mlechna banitsa (literally “milk banitsa “) is a richer, sweeter version made using eggs and dusted with icing sugar, while the Rhodopska banitsa , found only in the Rhodopes, is more like a soufflé filled with cheese.


I’m updating this post to include a link to more discussion at Chowhound. This is the stuff that fascinates me!