SAINT BARBARA’S DAY
4 DECEMBER

BATHED BREAD  |  STUFFED DRIED PEPPERS  |  LENTILS IN THE LYASKOVETZ STYLE  |  MACAROONS

The Bulgarian national cuisine is of vast interest to people who know it well, and certainly to those who have not had the good fortune of  tasting it yet. Its style is down-to-earth and suits well the modern woman, since it does not take too much time and effort. Moreover, Bulgarian cookery is interesting with its specific way of preparing meals. Owing to it Bulgarian national dishes are not only original, but, most importantly, tasty.

The Bulgarian tradition requires to prepare special meals to venerate each holiday with. These dishes should be cooked by the lady of the house herself, not by any other woman; ready-to-cook products should not be used.

On the 4 December people in Bulgaria celebrate the day of Saint Barbara. This saint protects children from different diseases and, first of all, small-pox. This festival has to do not only with children, but with animals too. Unleavened bread is prepared for this day, and honey is spread on the loafs. By an old-time Bulgarian custom, the housewife used to go out in the road and give pieces of this bread to passers-by. Each one who broke a piece of the loaf, uttered a blessing: “May God bless you, your  family, your cattle and all!” In the morning an odd number of children - three, five, seven, etc., - would gather on a lawn, each one bringing some pieces of firewood and several handfuls of kidney beans. They would make fire, put the beans in an earthen pot and boil a broth. When the beans got soft and, before adding salt and onion, a child who was “the baby of the family” - the last kid of his parents, would take out some of the beans with a spoon and put on each child’s knees three grains. All the children, seated in a circle, would eat the beans by taking them with their mouths -  without touching them with their hands. There is a Bulgarian saying: “Saint Barbara kneads, Saint Sava bakes, Saint Nicholas eats.”

Until the Day of Saint Barbara the night is growing. This holiday is during the Advent, that is why only lenten fare is prepared.
 



The bread made for the Saint Barbara’s Day feast should be prepared very carefully, observing all recommendations and instructions of the recipe.
 
 

BATHED BREAD
Ingredients
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoonful of salt
  • 1 spoonful of sugar
  • 3 spoonfuls of vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 1 kg of flour, a yeast cube of match-box size
  • 1/2 l of milk

Instructions:

    If you want to make the same bread as the one made by Bulgarian women in old times, you should spare no effort and zeal.
    Roll up your sleeves and mix the crumbled yeast with a small quantity of milk, sugar and flour to obtain a mess. Then have some patience and let the yeast rise.

    Once our grandmothers used to sift the flour twice - to clear away all evil intentions from the people who were going to eat the bread, but also to let only the purest flour remain. Today this practice may be omitted.

    Set the flour in a large baking tin and make a “well” in the middle - a little hollow where the risen yeast, the beaten eggs, the salt and the vegetable oil, or butter. are put. While adding the milk, make the mess into a dough and keep kneading it, until it gets absolutely smooth. (In old times girls in the Bulgarian villages were judged by the way they kneaded; they were expected to work the dough energetically, with light  and fast fingers.) Then you have to put the dough thus obtained in a cheese-cloth and drop it in a large pot full of tepid water. This procedure gave the name of the bread - bathed bread. When the dough gets ready, i.e. when “the bath is over”, it comes to the water surface - half of it protruding above. Then take it out of the cloth and knead it again with some more flour. Only after doing this, you can mould the loaf and put it in a greased baking tin, spread on it some yolk beaten with a little water and put it in a cold oven.

    Remember: To bake this bread, you should not heat up the oven in advance. Baking temperature should be moderate - 150 degrees centigrade.

    You can serve this bread with honey, savoury or yoghourt for breakfast, if no one passes by and you have nobody  to offer it to.




For dinner you can cook STUFFED DRIED PEPPERS, a vegetable dish and ideal food for people with sensitive stomachs or vegetarians. Dried peppers are very popular in Bulgaria. In autumn meaty red peppers with heavy peels are strung up on a thick thread and hanged under the eaves or in some other dry and airy place. Of course, if you have no dried peppers available, you may use fresh ones. In case fresh peppers are lacking too, take preserved. The dish will taste deliciously, because its preparation is suited to all housewives - town or village-dwellers, as well as to  hurried women, who prefer to buy ready or preserved food. This is one of the advantages of Bulgarian cooking - each dish can be prepared from different, interchangeable, types of products - dried, fresh, preserved.
 
 

STUFFED DRIED PEPPERS
Ingredients
  • 12 dried peppers
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 4 spoonfuls of vegetable oil
  • 1 coffee cupful of rice
  • 1/2 teaspoonful of ground pepper
  • 1 spoonful of minced parsley
  • 1 spoonful of finely chopped leaves of celery
  • salt to one’s liking

Directions:
There are several ways to cook the dried peppers. You can pour boiled water on them or put them in salted boiling water and stew them until they grow soft. It depends on you which way you choose. If they are steeped in cold water, they should stay in it for the night; this mode of processing is suitable for housewives, who are used to thinking of their meals the day before, but also for those who prefer to somehow "stay away" from the cooking process.

In all three cases the swollen outer covering should be peeled off (the stems and seeds are removed first).

Then stew in salted water the finely chopped onions, together with the thinly grated carrots. When the vegetables grow soft and the water evaporates, add some vegetable oil and brown. Add the rice, a teacupful of hot water and boil on a moderate fire until the rice absorbs the water and swells. Take the pot off the fire and add the ground pepper, the chopped up parsley and celery leaves. When this mixture is cooled, stuff the peeled  peppers with it.

Arrange the filled peppers close to one another in a stew pan on the bottom of which put a plate (upside down), in order to keep the rice from coming out of the peppers while boiled. Sometimes Bulgarian housewives have a plate set over the peppers too.

Add boiling water to cover the peppers and stew on a slow fire.
 



 


If for one reason or other you cannot eat peppers, rice or some other of the ingredients required by this recipe, here is another one which is going to lend variety to your everyday diet and let you taste the very flavour of Bulgaria. This is a specific mode of cooking lentils, described in the following recipe for LENTILS IN THE LYASKOVETZ STYLE.
 
 

 LENTILS IN THE LYASKOVETZ STYLE 
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 teacupfuls of lentils
  • 1 big onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 celery bulb
  • 4 potatoes, two red tomatoes - fresh or tinned
  • 1 coffee cupful of vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic

Directions:

    You have to begin preparing this dish the night before. This does not mean you are supposed to cook all night - this is not at all customary for the Bulgarian cooking technique. You have to clean and wash the lentils and soak it in water, leaving it there for the night.

    On the next day begin with draining the lentils, then pour fresh water on it and boil on a moderate fire to softening.
    In a saucepan stew the finely chopped onion with the vegetable oil and a coffee cupful of water. When the onion grows yellowish, add the carrots and celery, cut up in small cubes.

    Add this mixture to the lentils, when almost ready, together with the garlic cloves (unpeeled), the tomatoes - peeled and grated, and the cubed potatoes.

    Boil on, till lentils become absolutely soft - then transfer to an oiled baking dish, salt to your liking and put dish in the oven. Bake in a moderately quick oven to get the potatoes soft too.
     

This dish is very healthful for young children, old people and residents of  countries with a cold climate, because it is very nutritious. Its wholesomeness is due to the heat processing applied - boiling and baking. When products are boiled, the nutritive substances are preserved, and when baked - products are processed in a way that makes them most easy to assimilate. Therefore in Bulgaria, in the small towns and villages in particular, during the winter season people prefer pulse dishes like beans, lentils, peas and, certainly, meat after the Advent.
 



As a sweet course to this meal you can offer MACAROONS. In this time of year the nuts are already gathered and dried, and they can be used for preparing various kinds of sweeties and cakes. We are speaking here of walnuts, not of cocoa-nuts which grow in warmer latitudes. These sweetmeats do not take much time and effort to prepare. The recipe we suggest below comes from the town of Shoumen and the neighbouring villages.
 
 

MACAROONS
Ingredients
  • 250 crumbled walnut kernels
  • the whites of two eggs
  • 200 g of powdered sugar

Directions:

    First beat up the whites well to get a dense “snowy” mass.

    Add the sugar, then the nuts, beating the mixture uninterruptedly with a mixer or by hand.

    When the products are well mixed and beaten, shape with a teaspoon little piles and arrange them on a buttered paper. You can also use household foil spread over the bottom of a shallow baking tin. The sweeties are baked in a slow oven until they turn red.

Warning: In order to keep the sweets in one piece you haveto separate them from the paper or foil while they are still hot. You may sprinkle them with powdered sugar and arrange them in a plate decorated with pine sprigs. The trimming will give joy to your children and they will surely like these tasty sweets.

 


This set of dishes can be cooked not only on Saint Barbara’s Day, but in any time of year. It will be of interest to your relatives or friends who have not tasted national Bulgarian meals yet. They, and you too, will be interested to know that Bulgarian cuisine has been influenced by many foreign traditions: Greek, Turkish, Asian, Russian, Caucasian, Persian. Nevertheless, it succeeded in keeping its originality and uniqueness in the past centuries, accepting only the most intriguing and alluring aspects of foreign cooking customs. This makes it more than just exotic and unique in taste. It is no chance that anyone who has tasted a Bulgarian dish, will never forget it and will keep looking for new ways of satisfying his/her fastidious taste with some other traditional Bulgarian meal. You have just had the chance of getting in touch with the Bulgarian cooking tradition.
Visit us again, and good appetite!


SOURCES OF REFERENCE:
Mantov, Dimiter. Folk Dishes from St. Dimitri’s  to St. George’s Day. Svetulka 44 Publishing House, Sofia, 1997.
Petrov, L. et al. Bulgarian National Cuisine. Sofia, Zemizdat, 1984.

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