British chef puts Albanian pepper relish on the map
It was partly this love of grilling that led John Gionleka to set up Peckham Bazaar, an acclaimed pan-Balkan restaurant in London. John, who hails from Albania, says that the prevalence of chargrill cooking in the Balkans is because until fairly recently, in some countries charcoal was the only form of readily-accessible fuel. “Nonetheless, through repetition and care, it became an art form equal perhaps of tagine or oven cooking,” he says.
Gionleka’s favourite dishes from the region include boureks (filo pies filled with meat, vegetable or cheeses) and Albanian baked lamb.
The key ingredients for cooking Albanian food in a British kitchen, according to Gionleka, are: “Olive oil, oregano, garlic, paprika, fresh fruit and veg, and a frugal hand to mix them together.”
To keen cooks already used to making Greek and Turkish-inspired dishes at home, this shouldn’t be much of a stretch.
Just add a big crowd of friends and family (food has an important social role in the Balkans, says Gionleka), and try not to get too carried away with the mezze.
It’s supposed to “stimulate the appetite not sate it,” says Gionleka. He suggests thinking of it as akin to afternoon tea: “a selection of delicious morsels, mainly savoury, to while away the afternoon whilst drinking moderate amounts of raki or wine.”
Sounds like a tradition worth adopting.
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