St. Nicholas Center

SAINT NICHOLAS’ DAY /Nikulden/
6 DECEMBER

Festive table on the day of St. Nicholas

RIBNIK IN THE PLOVDIV STYLE  |  RIBNIK IN THE ROUSSE STYLE  |  RICE WITH DRIED FRUIT

The Day of Saint Nicholas (the Miracle Worker ) is a major winter festival celebrated by all Bulgarians on 6 December. The folk-Christian myth relates of the partitioning of the world when the seas, rivers and lakes fell to Saint Nicholas’ lot. He is the master of the entire submarine realm - fish, mermaids and water demons, as well as of the sea winds. (The saint is the popular epitome of Neptune.) According to the myths, St. Nicholas makes winds rage and cease, he can walk on the seas, and whenever there is a ship in trouble, he would save it. This Saint is protector of sailors and fishermen. His festival honours the marine element, seas, rivers and lakes.  The offering is fish, carp as a rule, because it is considered the Saint’s servant. The fishermen would sail out early in the morning to catch fresh fish.

St. Nicholas Day is the name day of Kolyo, Kula, Nikola, Nikolay, Nikolina.

Ribnik - carp wrapped in dough - is reckoned as the traditional dish on this day. The ribnik is roasted in a large oven together with ritual bread - two loaves in each household. Both the ribnik and the bread are blessed in church or at home and pieces of them are offered to the neighbours. The greater portion of the ribnik and the loaves of bread are served and necessarily eaten up at the family supper. The table on St. Nicholas’ Day is not cleared before the day is over and is open to all guests. Saint Nicholas is the patron of not only those who bear his name, he is also a personal or family protector; on his day a special, family lineage festival, called service, prayer or church, is arranged. On this holiday relatives, sponsors and neighbours are invited and a big table is sanctified, the feast ending up in songs and fun. After incensing, the priest... is given the tail of the leavened-dough-wrapped carp. Viewed from above, the ribnik looks like the ritual loaves of bread - it is also decorated with stripes of dough. Once people used to bake it under a lid. Like the bones of the St. George’s Day lamb, the bones of the St. Nicholas’ Day carp were not thrown away, they were burnt, buried in the ground or dropped in the river - thus, it was believed, the harvest and the family well-being would be multiplied. The crown bone of the carp’s head, which is cross-shaped, is called “krakhche”, and the old women used to sow it on children’s caps to protect them from evil forces and evil eyes. The Saint Nicholas’ Day table includes, besides the ribnik and the ritual breads, some other, vegetable dishes: cooked corn, boiled wheat, meatless stuffed cabbage or vine leaves, peppers, haricot.

Suppose you have decided to cook a ribnik on the day of St. Nicholas or on any other day, you should know how to prepare the fish before cooking it. This involves several simple rules that most of the housewives are familiar with, but if you fail to keep them, the dish will assume a bitter taste. Therefore, it is worthwhile to specially mention them.

The fish scales can be removed easily, if the fish is put for several seconds in boiling water. Its fins are cut off with scissors. The cleaned fish is cut through along the length of its abdomen - up to its gills. You have to remove the bowels very carefully, lest the gall and intestines burst. If you have chosen a carp, remove the “pearl button” or the “bitter bone” as it is called in some parts of Bulgaria. This is a little bone on top of the carp’s head, where the latter connects with the body. If you leave it, the meal will have a bitter taste. Do not steep the cleaned fish in water - just wash it under streaming water. Then dry it in a clean cloth and sprinkle it from the outside and the inside with some lemon juice mixed with water. Let it get seasoned for at least an hour, when it will be ready to cook. Another way of seasoning the fish is to let it stay for half an hour in watered down vinegar. The traditional Bulgarian substance, used in such cases, is “trigiya” - the solid residue of wine scrapped from cask walls; it is dried and kept in a cloth pouch. Salt the fish immediately before cooking it. In older times not only fresh but also salted carps were used for St. Nicholas' Day dishes; the salted carp was steeped in water mixed with hayseed. Thus steeped, it loses the salt and has the taste of fresh fish.



So, now that you already know the tradition of Saint Nicholas' Day in Bulgaria and the main cooking techniques to prepare the fish, it is time to begin making the traditional ribnik. Here follow two recipes - one from the Plovdiv region, and the other - from the region of Rousse.
   

 

RIBNIK IN THE PLOVDIV STYLE
Ingredients
  • 1 carp fish weighing about 1 kg1
  • 6 onions
  • 1 fresh or preserved pepper
  • 1 red tomato
  • 1 teacupful of walnut kernels crushed small
  • 1 teaspoonful of ground dried savoury
  • 1 teaspoonful of ground pepper
  • 1 coffee-cupful of vegetable oil (sunflower or olive) 

  •  


     
      For the dough2,  in which the carp is wrapped, you need: 

  • 1 kg of flour
  • a cube of yeast, 1/2 match-box large
  • 1 spoonful of vinegar
1 If for some reason you should not eat carp, you may take sheat-fish, blue-fish or some other large fish.
2 Use ready-made dough if you have but little time.

Directions:



 
RIBNIK IN THE ROUSSE STYLE
Ingredients
  • 1 carp fish weighing about 1.5 kg
  • 1 teaspoonful of ground pepper
  • 4 onions
  • 4 spoonfuls of vegetable oil
  • 1 spoonful of finely cut parsley
  • 1 spoonful of finely chopped up celery
  • 1 teaspoonful of ground dried wild thyme
  • 4 red tomatoes
  • 1 teacupful of walnut kernels

  •  

     
     
     
     
     

    If you wish to prepare the dough yourself, you will need 700 g of flour and yeast (of about match-box size).

Directions:

For a sweet course to this meal we offer RICE WITH DRIED FRUIT.  We should mention here that during the cold winter season the Bulgarian people were (and are) accustomed to consume and prepare various kinds of dried fruit. Fruit are gathered in autumn and then preserved in dry and airy places and saved for the winter time when there are no fresh fruit.
 

 
 

RICE WITH DRIED FRUIT
Ingredients
  • 500 g of dried cherries or apples
  • 100 g of dried plums
  • 300 g of rice
  • 200 g of sugar
  • 1 packet of vanilla powder

Directions:

    Wash and soak the fruit in cold water. Let them remain there for several hours until they swell and then take them out.

    Boil the water they have been steeped in. Add the fruit and the cleaned and washed rice.

    When the rice is cooked, add the sugar. Mix, flavour with vanilla powder, and pour in little bowls.

    Serve cool.

This dish is very popular in the Shoumen region; it was prepared for the first time by the women in the village of Dibich. It is suitable for the pre-Christmas season, because no animal products are needed. As you already know, St. Nicholas’ Day is celebrated in Advent  time, which expires on 24 December.
 


 

The dishes to be served on St. Nicholas’ Day are richly flavoured with various spices. It is important to know also in what Bulgarian dishes these spices are used. You may be surprised to find out that their application differs from West-European cooking usage.

PARSLEY: This is probably the most widely used spice in Bulgaria since ancient times. Its leaves are applied fresh or dried to flavour and add vitamins to soups, broth and main courses, as an ingredient of vegetable preserves, to decorate salads, roasted meat or fish in all four seasons.

THYME: It is also called “granny’s soul” or “shepherd’s basil”. Fresh or dried, it is used for seasoning meat and vegetable dishes, soups, bean, pea or bread bean stews, sauces; it is also added to salads and pickles, etc.

ONION: Some dieticians consider it to be a spice, others do not. In both cases it is worth mentioning that onions are grown everywhere in Bulgaria and are widely applied in Bulgarian cookery. It stimulates appetite and plentiful secretion of gastric juice. Applied in the preparation of salads, sauces, stews, vegetable and meat dishes, preserves. Fresh onion is a basic ingredient of olive salads, cheese and other protein food.


SOURCES OF REFERENCE:
Stoichev, A. Bulgarian Mythology. Publishing Group 7M+Logis, 1994.
Popov, R.  Saints in the Bulgarian Folk Calendar. Sofia, 1991.
Mantov, D. Folk Dishes from St. Dimitri’s to St. George’s Day. Sofia, Svetulka-44 Publishing House, 1997.
Petrov, L. et al. Bulgarian National Cuisine. Sofia, Zemizdat, 1984.


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