Full transparency: I’m not a foodie. I’m an adventure traveler. So when our JayWay tour guide said we were going to take a Macedonian cooking class while traversing the country, I was not thrilled. I anticipated boredom. I was wrong. Very wrong.
We started out from our hotel on glorious Lake Ohrid where we’d spent the last couple of days. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is Macedonia’s foremost tourist attraction, and for good reason. Nestled into a wide crevice between the mountains of Albania and Macedonia, the sparkling green and blue lake is one of Europe’s oldest. The lake is encircled by a vibrant cobblestone downtown filled with shops, cafes, bars and live music in the square.
The walls of the historic Samuel’s Fortress stand sentry, and the stunning Church of St. John at Kaneo is just a short walk away. While this Balkan lake is popular for weekends with Macedonians and other Europeans, it remains virtually undiscovered by Americans. It was hands-down my favorite spot in Macedonia and worthy of consideration alongside Macedonia’s other highlights.#Macedonia is stunning; and these #travelphotos prove it! Click To Tweet
Risto’s Guest House
A short drive through the mountainous countryside culminated at Risto’s Guest House where we were greeted by the formidable Anita. Although the establishment is named after her polite, soft-spoken husband, it was immediately clear that the barely five-foot female dynamo was in charge.
“I should change the name to Anita’s Guest House!” she shouted, a twinkle in her eye. “I do all the work, he gets all the glory!”
Risto and Anita could not have chosen a more perfect spot for their homey restaurant and hands-on classes. The open-air terrace was filled with colorful plaid covered tables overlooking a breathtaking vista of the valley and lake below.
“In the autumn we collect our grapes in the village with donkeys and make a long donkey train,” Anita told us, clearly proud of this small village with a large personality.
Origins of Macedonian Cooking
Macedonian cooking is a fusion of cuisines, mostly from the Middle East and Mediterranean countries, especially from the Greek and Turkish Ottoman traditions. The moderate Balkan climate is conducive for growing a diversity of fruits and vegetables. Because it is a landlocked country, the gastronomy here focuses on grilled meats such as lamb and beef rather than seafood.
Cooking Class, Macedonian Style
Anita indicated we were going to split into two groups. One group would stay in the outdoor area and make kifli – a flaky croissant-like pastry made from yeast. The rolls are either filled with chocolate and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar or with ham and tomato sauce and tossed in sesame seeds. I volunteered to be in the other group, which would go into the tiny retro kitchen to prepare komat – Macedonia’s “nationalistic” savory pie filled with cheese, egg and peppers.
As we donned our aprons and separated to our stations, there was one conspicuous observation: no measuring cups or spoons could be seen anywhere on the premises. “In this place, we do not measure,” insisted Anita. “If you measure, it will not taste good.”
She uttered the “never measure, use your instincts, don’t be afraid” mantra several times throughout the class. She was adamant.
Two different kifli were on the menu, one would be sweet chocolate and the other more savory with ham. With bare hands, the flour was mixed with tepid water. “We don’t measure the temperature; just as long as it’s warm,” explains Anita. The dough was formed into balls and then rolled out into long strips. The fillings were placed in the middle and they were rolled up and fluted to let the hot air out while baking.
“The most important thing about the komat is the layers,” Anita told us time and again. Unless you are going to eat it immediately, it’s the layers that keep the pie soft for the next day. After mixing the ingredients for the dough with my hands, I rolled it out as big as possible, ready for the next step. “Use the margarine instead of butter,” Anita instructed. Apparently butter would make the dough very dry.
“We call komat nationalistic because we cut the dough like our flag is like a sun with eight rays,” said Anita.
After spreading margarine around the rolled out dough, I cut long triangles (rays) around the outer edge — like a sun — with the last one larger. I took each of the rays and folded it in towards the center. Then I repeated the whole process again – knead, roll, cut, fold in; the layers are important because they put air inside the dough.
Once the dough was inside the pie pan, we added cow and sheep cheese, chopped sweet peppers, eggs and garlic, which had been mixed together in a bowl. Extra strips of dough were twisted and placed around the outside to give it pizzazz, with an egg wash on the top.Visiting #Macedonia? Here's the one #food experience you MUST have! #travel Click To Tweet
Pièce de Résistance
After baking, we got to the best part – eating our creations. Anita was definitely onto something with her unorthodox but authentic Macedonian training. The baked treasures melted in your mouth.
We washed down our feast with a little rakija, the traditional Macedonian spirit made from plums, and were on our way with a big bag of leftover kifli. I don’t any of us would ever forget our quirky cooking class and the feisty host who made it one of my favorite days in Macedonia.
Have you ever tried a Macedonian cooking class? Please share your experiences in the comments below!
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of JayWay Travel during her stay in Macedonia, but as always, the opinions, reviews and experiences are her own.
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