I love Albanian food. I do. I love all the fresh vegetables and fruits, the meat and potatoes. I love the stuffed peppers and the peppers in cream sauce, byrek (bur-rek) and tave. But one of my favorites is pite (pea-tay). Pite is a flaky pastry roll stuffed with cheese or meat or spinach. At least that’s the way I’ve eaten it.
|My friend and mentor, Zara|
Through a crazy set of circumstances in the winter, I wound up spending one evening with my pastor’s family. He and his wife and children were going to Imir’s parent’s house for dinner and they invited me to tag along.
Imir’s mother, Zara is a gracious hostess and genuinely likeable woman. His father has lived an interesting life. That night, along with other traditional foods, Zara served us warm…fresh from the oven…golden brown…flaky cheese pite. I was hooked. She said it was easy to make and told me, with Imir acting as our translator, that she would teach me sometime.
My sometime came this past Sunday. I went home from church with Imir and Janette and their children. A bit later, Zara arrived laden with her bowls, ingredients, and pans for my cooking lesson. She set everything up in the kitchen.
|Brushing the Fila with water|
The cheese is called “gjis.” Janette said the closest thing we have to it in America is cottage cheese. Zara popped the lid off the plastic bowl to show me the cheese mixture: gjis, egg, milk, and salt. The only actual measurement I caught was one egg and about five spoons of milk. That’s okay. I like to cook by feel and taste anyway.
Zara offered a shortcut for the pastry because it takes hours to make the flaky dough. She bought fila dough already prepared at the store. I’m in on that. Totally doable.
|rolling the pite|
Each pite roll requires two squares of the fila dough. We first put one square down, brushed it with mineral water, then brushed it with oil. We then put the second square down on top of the first and did the same. After that we dolloped some of the cheese mixture over the fila, rolled the dough carefully and placed it in the oiled pan. Once we had filled the pan with our cheese filled rolls, we brushed more mineral water on top of the entire pan of pite and brushed them again with oil.
We put the pan in a hot oven for about twenty minutes. Once the crust started to brown we turned the oven off and let the pite continue to cook in the hot oven for three to five minutes more.
|Into the pan|
While the pite was baking the real fun started. Zara and I talked (through Janette, mostly). We talked about our husbands and our children. We talked about our grandchildren. I showed her pictures of mine. Hers were playing in the other room. Janette had to leave us for something but we barely noticed. We managed to share bits and pieces of our lives though Zara speaks no English and I speak very little Albanian.
And we connected. There is a special bond women have. Especially when they are of the same generation. We understand each other and though our lives have been very different in many ways, they are the same in so many others. If I were to live in Kosova much longer, I can see how Zara and I could be friends.
|Warm fresh pite|
We checked the oven. We both declared the pite “perfect.” Zara had also made stuffed peppers. We sat down as a family and ate. Zara’s peppers and my first attempt at pite.
And it was good.
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