Editor’s Note: Originally from Bulgaria, Petko Petkov and his wife, Pavlina Manova Petkova, live in Ellsworth. He first came to the United States in 1997. They both work as research scientists at The Jackson Laboratory. Petko says his spouse is an excellent cook, so he was eager to share his own recipe.
By Petko Petkov
I was born in Triavna, a town in Central Bulgaria, with a population slightly larger than that of Ellsworth. It is located in a river valley in the northern reaches of the Balkan mountains.
Triavna welcomes a lot of tourists year-round who are attracted by its Renaissance architecture. The town boasts fresh mountain air as well as a significant number of houses built in the early 19th century. Its clock tower, built in 1808, is considered to be the most beautiful in Bulgaria.
My mother is an excellent cook who could make a tasty meal out of practically anything. She had in her kitchen a big assortment of spices and used them sparingly but to a great effect.
When I was a child, I would often watch her and sometimes help her in cooking, especially with cakes and other local sweets that are now prominent on Triavna streets. She encouraged me not only to follow recipes but to use my imagination, because the necessary products were not always readily available and had to be replaced without sacrificing much of the taste.
This was very helpful when I went to college. If I wanted to eat something tasty, I had to prepare it myself!
The following recipe is one of the Christmas classics that I learned from my mother.
Drusan (“Shaken”) kebap
2 lbs. pork shoulder
3 big onions
5-6 allspice seeds
1-2 bay leaves
4-5 Tbsps. cooking oil
1 tsp. ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1 cup red wine
Cut the meat in ½-1 inch cubes. Heat the oil in a deep casserole and sautee the meat. Add the salt, black pepper, allspice, and bay leaves. Do not stir. Put a lid over the casserole and shake vigorously to mix the ingredients.
Add a cup of red wine, cover the casserole, and let the meal simmer until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated. Cut the onions in circles and add to the casserole. Shake vigorously again. When the onion is well cooked, the meal is ready.
The kebap is served with a side of fresh tomatoes cut in circles, steamed white rice, and steamed vegetables. At Christmas time, freshly baked round bread is the perfect addition.