I found it at the dyqan

Albanian lesson of the day- the word “dyqan” means store in Shqip (what the people here call their language. Don’t even get me started on why the English language translates the word “Shqip” to “Albanian”.) Albania is a land that is rich in produce, so going to the dyqan is always an exciting adventure. You never know what you are going to find, but you also know it’s fresh and grown locally right down the street without artificial fertilizers or pesticides. The only problem being an American here, is that they have fruits and vegetables that I’ve honestly never seen in my life. 

So living in Shkoder for the last 6 months, I’ve gotten to try some pretty strange an interesting foods. For the first time ever, I ate a fresh apricot. That might sound strange, but in the U.S. I’ve only ever seen dried apricots and apricot jam so it was really awesome to bite into a juicy, ripe apricot. I also ate my first fig, damson, and persimmon. And although they have them in the U.S., I’d never had okra until I came to Albania. 

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Yes, it can be a little scary to pick your vegetables up off the ground or sidewalk where they are displayed, but you wash them anyway right? But my favorite part about buying okra here is that the man selling it strings them up on long pieces of grass from his yard. Talk about fresh.

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Oh, and today I tried my first…whatever this strange brown thing is. It’s delicious that’s all I know. Time to find new recipes that’s for sure!

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“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”

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Learning on the fly

High school in Shkoder has been in session for about two weeks now. Unfortunately that does not mean that I’ve been teaching for the last two weeks.

Unlike in an American school system, here we don’t figure out the class schedules before the beginning of the school year. Students don’t show up on the first day, receive a daily schedule for the rest of the year, and begin learning. Instead, we’re kind of learning on the fly. And by that I mean that the students and teachers both show up at 8am with no idea what classes will be held that day nor when. There are too many changes happening for the director to solidify the schedule, so instead they just post it every day for the first, I don’t know, month or two, until things get settled. So for the first 60 days of school its nearly impossible to plan a lesson or expect students to be prepared for class. I try not to judge and get frustrated, but it’s clear that the system is broken.

Needless to say, I’m learning how to put my “let’s change the world” attitude aside for the moment and just try to make it through the day in one piece. Luckily I have the greatest students ever and am working with an amazing staff of teachers, who make every hour of every day worth it.

Oh, and did you know…in Albania the students are assigned to one room and stay there all day. It’s the teachers that have to rotate rooms to teach their classes instead of the other way around.

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”

In the land of white beans

One of the most popular foods in Albania is the white bean, which in Shqip (aka Albanian) we call “fasule.” And Albanians only prepare them in one way, but thank god its delicious. You can order fasule at almost any restaurant, kafe, bar in town and you’ll be served a bowl filled with soft white beans, and orangey broth, floating green spices, and big chunks of tomatoes. You can eat it over a steaming bowl of pilaf or just plan with lots of bread like I do.

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Albanians’ ability to stick to tradition and never try something new is one of those communist leftovers that makes this country so interesting…frustrating but also interesting. So my new mission is to try and introduce new ways to cook white beans! Its a familiar ingredient to them, just a different style of preparation. I know, I know, good luck with that one. But as soon as I can find a different kind of bean in this country my whole world might turn upside-down. Baby steps, right? Here’s some of the things I’ve made so far if you’re looking to spice up your kitchen.

White Bean and Roasted Tomato Salad

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Ingredients:

2-1/2 teaspoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar

1/2 of a large red onion, cut into 3/4″ chunks

Salt and pepper

12 firm-ripe roma tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise

1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 475°.  In a 9″ square baking dish, combine 1/2 teaspoon of the oil, all of the vinegar, and the onion chunks.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a large baking dish, arrange the tomatoes cut side up.  Drizzle the rest of the oil over the tomatoes, then season with salt and pepper.  Roast both the onions and tomatoes.  Remove the onions when the edges are starting to darken, about 45 minutes.  Remove the tomatoes when they’re reduced in size and the edges darken a little, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Pour the beans and their canning liquid in a medium saucepan with the thyme and a pinch of salt over medium heat.  Simmer for 3 minutes, then strain most of the liquid off through a sieve, reserving it in a bowl.  Put the beans in a bowl with the onion chunks.  Chop up all but 8 or 10 of the tomato halves, and add the chopped pieces to the beans and stir.  Stir in the basil if you’re using it.  Pour the bean mixture into your serving dish.  Arrange the whole tomato halves around the edge of the serving dish.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

White Bean Dip

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Ingredients:

1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), drained

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, peeled

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Instructions:

Blend all the ingredients together using a food processer, blender, or any other kind of mixer. Blend until smooth – about 2 minutes. Serve with pita chips of slices of toasted bread.

White Bean Puttanesca

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Ingredients:

6 anchovy filets from a jar

3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch crushed red pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 small tomato, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon drained capers

1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped

One 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained, rinsed, and slightly mashed

2 tablespoons chopped basil, thinly sliced

Baked pita chips, or crusty bread, for serving

Instructions:

Combine anchovies, garlic, red pepper, and olive oil in a medium skillet. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring, for two minutes, breaking up the anchovy paste with the back of a spoon. Stir in tomato, capers, and olives and cook two minutes longer. Add the beans and simmer until heated through, about three minutes longer.

Garnish with basil and an extra drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita chips or crusty bread.

 

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”