Here is the full story and the recipes.
Bulgarian Bean Soup & Spanakopita
As taught to Lindsay Sterling in Portland, Maine, by Svetla Popova, from Kustenvil, Bulgaria, October 2009
Svetla says, “Why do you have to put chicken stock in everything?” Good point.
1 1/2 cup dry beans (any kind you like, she used kidney)
1 stalk celery, medium dice
1 medium onion, medium diced
2 carrots, cut into ½-thick rounds
½ green pepper, large dice
1 ½ Tbsp paprika
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp chopped fresh spearmint
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 2 tsp salt
Generously cover beans with boiling water and let soak over night or at least a few hours before cooking. Strain beans, and put into pressure cooker or large pot* on high with 5 cups water, onion, carrot, green pepper, celery, and paprika. Once safety valve hisses, cook for 20 minutes. Then put whole pot in clean sink, run cool water over pot until it stops hissing, and open it up to add tomato and salt to taste. Simmer to incorporate, 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add fresh mint and garlic before serving.
*If you don’t have a pressure cooker, increase water to 6 c, cook beans for 1 hour total instead of twenty minutes; add veggies to beans and water after 30 minutes.
Svetla says the filo available in the U.S. tastes like nothing. She prefers layering flour tortillas instead, which also happens to eliminate a lot of butter and fuss.
30 oz. blanched greens (she used frozen spinach and collards)
1 small onion, diced
12 9-inch flour tortillas (usually two packages)
16 oz feta, crumbled with a potato masher or fork
16 oz plain yogurt
½ tsp baking soda
18 oz. water (a little more than yogurt)
1. In large pot thaw frozen blanched greens with diced onion. When soft, make an even layer in the bottom of the pot, and divide into 12 equal portions.Grease 3 9-inch cake pans with vegetable oil.
2. Put a cake pan on top of the tortilla on a cutting board, and trim around with a knife. Put the tortilla in the bottom of a cake pan. Spread one portion of the greens on it and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of crumbled feta. Make three layers total: tortilla-spinach-feta, tortilla-spinach-feta, tortilla-spinach-feta. Top with a forth tortilla and use your fingers to cover it with vegetable oil.
3. Preheat oven to 475. Make the other two pans of spanakopita. Cut each pan into 8 wedges. Mix yogurt, water, and baking soda and pour over all the three pans. Let yogurt into each wedge seam with a knife. Bake for thirty minutes, turning temp down at the end and/or covering tops with tinfoil. You want the top toasted and the liquid absorbed.Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2009
A Bulgarian Healer Works the Pressure Cooker
Bean soup and spanakopita to the rescue.
By Lindsay Sterling
Last Friday evening, it was like a geyser of anger exploded through the floorboards of my house. An onlooker from the street might have seen jets of pressurized steam, shooting out the window seams, my house like a under-funded rocket, the gutters ripping off as it thundered and clattered, the poor astronaut’s family inside, about to lift off on an unplanned mission into the Maine stratosphere. After the rupturing finally subsided, I sat down on my bed, thinking, I need a cooking session. I’ve come to rely on cooking sessions with immigrants not just for cooking inspiration, but life perspective. Clearly, I needed some. Thank God, a friend from book group had introduced me to her colleague, a Bulgarian-American therapist by the name of Svetla Popova, and we had plans to cook together the next morning.
I took exit 5B, made a couple turns, and there was her house: white, simple, and unadorned, except for fallen, still colorful fall leaves. She welcomed me in to her kitchen and started showing me how she makes her favorite Bulgarian bean soup and an easy version of spanakopita, made with layered flour tortillas instead of filo dough. She put previously soaked kidney beans in a pot, then water, then circles of carrot, diced onion and celery, green pepper, and a heaping tablespoon of paprika. The pot looked like it had some sort of special lid and handle, so I asked her about it. It was a pressure cooker, something I’d never used before.
She explained how it worked. With the lid clamped down, the pressure inside increases and so the boiling temperature of water increases. The beans cook four times faster than it would take in a regular pot. With a little prep, the soup only took 20 minutes to cook. In the middle of the lid there’s a hole the size of a toothpick, and on top of that, a heavy piece of metal that hisses and rattles, managing the pressure appropriately. “It talks” she says. “It’s like counseling. You talk, you release the pressure. If you don’t, it’s all closed up and it will become a bomb, the anger that has not been released, and everybody suffers.”
Had she walked by my house last night? Over lunch, a delicious combination of warm, balanced soup with flecks of fresh spearmint from the backyard and garlic thrown in at the last minute, paired with toasty, layered feta and greens, we talked through some stuff. By the afternoon, filled with new perspective and the healing powers of a good homemade meal, I felt like a new person. For anyone who’d like peace restored to their house, I highly recommend Svetla’s counseling, making her soup, or both.They worked for me.
23 Ocean Avenue
Portland, ME 04103
Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2009