A surprisingly easy gourmet meal: Grilled Lamb Chops with Herbs and Yogurt Mint Sauce

Growing up in Bulgaria we always had lamb for Easter. It is an old religious symbol that has been adopted by many branches of the Christian faith, and especially the Eastern Orthodox. Lamb is believed to represent Jesus and relates his death to that of the lamb, sacrificed on the first Passover.

However, since I grew up in times when religious beliefs were strongly discouraged in communist Bulgaria, my grandma and then my mother rarely talked about religion when preparing the Easter lunch. So for me, the festive Easter meal with family and friends has become associated a lot more with celebrating the beginning of spring than the resurrection of Christ.

Today, I like to carry on some of that tradition in my house and prepare a big lunch with lamb and fresh spring fare in honor of my grandma who never gave up her faith.

If you haven’t decided what to make this Sunday there is still time to plan a delicious spring lunch that will take almost no time.  Here is just a suggestion. This is easy to make on any given week night as well.

For the Lamb Chops

Serves 4

  • 8 lamb chops
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons  fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Mix garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper in food processor, add oil, pulse until pasty. Cover the lamb chops with paste on both sides. Let chops sit for at least one hour to absorb all flavors. Turn grill on high. Grill chops for 1 and 1/2-2 minutes on each side on high to sear them, then turn grill down to medium-low and grill another 3-4 minutes  flipping the chops once.

For Yogurt-Mint Sauce

Prepare sauce while the chops are sitting in the herb paste. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

  • 1 cup plain, Greek-style yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste

Mix yogurt, garlic and lemon juice in blender.  Add mint and continue mixing. Add cumin pepper and salt and pulse one more time.

I served this meal with a fresh spring salad with radishes for which I’ll give the recipe in a separate post.

Click for printable version.

Are you making anything special this Sunday? I’d love to know.

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How to spend $200 at Williams Sonoma and a big thank you!

I am so excited to announce that my sweet potato fillo rolls won the runner up prize in the sugar-free category of the Sweet n’Healthy recipe contest. Yey! This was the very first time I submitted recipes to a contest. I’d say it is a good start.  

Thank you, North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, for noticing and awarding my recipe. Thank you, my dear friend Galya, for the great recipe idea. You are as much a winner as I am! Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me and coming back for yet another sweet potato recipe.  And most importantly, thank you Aaron, for suffering through a whole month of eating nothing but sweet potatoes. I can’t promise that I am not going to do it again though.

Also, congratulations to the other 5 winners.  I am proud to be in such a talented company. I can’t wait to try your recipes as well. Sweet potato linguine, what a great idea. Mexican flavored sweet potato salad, any day. Cheese straws, the grown-ups in our house would love them too. Spicy scones, I am making those this weekend. Kid-friendly tacos, will keep those in mind when little ones are visiting.

And now dear friends, I need your help.  My prize is a $200 gift certificate from Williams Sonoma. There are so many great buys there that my head is spinning. So please give me suggestions on how to best spend these $200. What would you buy?

And please come back for new spring recipes. I promise there will be no sweet potatoes for a while.

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Sugar-Free Sweet Potato Fillo Rolls

Are you in the mood for something savory or sweet? It doesn’t matter. If you have sweet potatoes at hand, you can create almost any type of dish you crave; from salads and stews to cakes or sorbet. That’s what I learned during my adventures trying to create a unique sweet potato recipe. No wonder everyone who tries them immediately falls in love with sweet potatoes.

Here is my latest take. The challenge is “sugar-free”. I didn’t think I can come up with a sugar –free recipe, but old Bulgarian traditions came to the rescue again.

As I was telling a friend the other day about my latest cooking experiments, she mentioned that she has found a great use for sweet potatoes: fillo pastry rolls stuffed with sweet potato and walnuts. Something we would make with pumpkin in Bulgaria, but made with sweet potatoes and raisins it eliminates the need for added sugar. Tasty and healthy. Love it!

Sugar-Free Sweet Potato Fillo Rolls

(makes 20 rolls)

  • 2 medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 4-5 tablespoons rum
  • 1 sleeve fillo pastry sheets (I used Athens fillo which comes with two sleeves in a packet)  
  •  1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • ½ stick butter, melted

Thaw fillo according to package instructions (typically it takes two hours out of the freezer, or overnight in the fridge)

Set oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl soak raisins with rum. Use just enough rum to cover the raisins.

Peel sweet potatoes. Boil them for about 10-15 min until tender but not too soft. Let cool, then grate.

In a mixing bowl, combine grated sweet potatoes, chopped walnuts, rum raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Open fillo and spread flat. Place it vertically on the counter with short side facing towards you. You will use one sheet for each roll. There are 20 sheets in each sleeve.

Lightly brush the top sheet with melted butter. As you look at the sheet placed vertically, divide it in your mind in three vertical stripes. Spread two tablespoons of mixture in the middle stripe (try to keep mix in the bottom part of sheet). Fold the sides in and roll into shape. When you are rolling, the fillo in the part with the mix may break. That is why it is important to have enough length of the sheet free of mix so that it can cover the broken part as you continue rolling.  Repeat with rest of sheets. Arrange on a lightly greased baking sheet. Lightly brush rolls with butter before placing in oven.  Bake for about 30 min or until golden brown.

Posted in Bulgarian Recipes, Quick and Easy, Sweets, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sweet Potato Spanish Tortilla

I have been cooking sweet potatoes a lot this past couple of weeks as I try to develop original recipes for my very first recipe contest.

This one is very similar to the Sweet Potato Cakes I recently posted. I am using the same key ingredients but changed some o f the herbs and spices and with a very different presentation, it felt like a completely different experience overall. Just another example of how versatile sweet potatoes can be.

The Sweet Potato Cakes were inspired by a traditional Bulgarian recipe for potato cakes (or potato kyufte). This one is inspired by a classic from Spain, the Spanish tortilla.

Which regional or world cuisine inspires you most in your culinary endeavors?

Sweet Potato Spanish Tortilla

(Serves 4)

  • 2 Medium Sweet Potatoes, cubed
  • 3 Leeks, dices
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper

 Set oven to 400 degrees.

Gently grease the bottom of a baking sheet. Toss sweet potato cubes with cayenne, paprika and cumin. Spread on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Bake for 15-20 min or until sweet potatoes are tender but not too soft.

In a sauté pan, on medium heat, sauté leeks until tender but not overcooked.

Beat eggs with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper.

In a large mixing bowl, mix leeks, sweet potato cubes, feta and parsley. Add eggs and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small iron skillet, (I used a tiny 6 inch one for individual size tortillas), add olive oil to generously cover the bottom, about ½ inch deep.  Heat oil on high heat. The oil needs to be very hot, but be careful not to burn it as olive oil burns easily. When oil is hot, pour potato egg mixture to fill the skillet.  The heat will help the outside shell get hard, making it easier to turn around.  Once the outside feels a little harder, turn the heat down to medium low. Cook this side until the mixture doesn’t feel runny anymore (5-6 min).  It is important to lower the heat to make sure the inside is cooked without burning the outside.

Turning the tortilla is the trickiest part of this recipe. To make sure it is ready, I run a spatula around the edge of the tortilla to feel the firmness of the mix. Once it feels like one piece, and not a runny mixture, it is ready. You can test it with shaking the pan as well.

Using a small skillet makes it really easy to flip. Cover the skillet with a plate and turn over. Add oil to skillet if needed. Let it heat. Slide the flipped tortilla back into the skillet. Cook the other side for another 4-6 minutes on medium-low heat. I don’t like to overcook it so I check the consistency to make sure it is firm but not too hard.   

Repeat for remaining portions. Make sure to remove any tortilla pieces from skillet between each portion so that they don’t stick and burn.

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Sweet Potato Cakes with Yogurt Ginger Sauce

Since we moved to Nashville, I have enjoyed the creamy sweetness of this root vegetable in a variety of presentations; classic casseroles, the more common fries, or my favorite sweet potato biscuits.  I’ve never cooked sweet potatoes myself, so I got excited when I ran across a contest for best original recipe using sweet potatoes as the key ingredient. 

Sweet potatoes are extremely versatile and seem to go well with a variety of flavors.  No wonder they have become an important part of so many world cuisines, from their home in South America to Africa and all across Asia.  I was also very pleased to learn that sweet potatoes are not only rich on Vitamin A, but are, overall, one of the most nutritious vegetables.

So, inspired by their beautiful color and delicious texture, I decided to create my own take on this tuberous kind. Although sweet potatoes have never really conquered Europe, I thought that their subtle sweetness would go really well with the very European buttery leeks and savory feta. And the North African-inspired ginger yogurt sauce added a touch of tangy freshness for a complete sensory delight.

I think these cakes turned out quite well. Let me know what you think.  

Sweet Potato Cakes with Yogurt Ginger Sauce

Serves 4 (8-10 cakes)

For Sauce:

  • 1 cup Greek style plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons finely ground hazelnuts, toasted (could use almonds or walnuts instead)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For Cakes:

  •  2 Medium-to- Large Sweet Potatoes
  • 3 Leeks, diced
  • 2/3 cup (about 6 oz.) feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon bread crumbs for mixture and more for coating
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

To make sauce, mix all ingredients and let refrigerate.

Wash and boil potatoes with skins until just slightly tender, but not too soft, about  15 min. Let cool.

Heat ½ tablespoon olive in a medium pan over medium-high. Turn the heat down, add leeks, sauté until just softened. Do not overcook.

Beat eggs with a pinch of black pepper and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

When potatoes are cool, peel and grate them.  In a large bowl, mix grated potatoes with sautéed leeks. Add chopped rosemary and cayenne. Stir in crumbled feta cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in beaten eggs. Add 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs to keep the consistency of the mixture dryer and easier to handle (if necessary add more).  Mix well.

With hands form burger-like cakes from mixture. Coat cakes generously with breadcrumbs.

In a large frying pan, heat remaining olive oil on high heat. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need more or less oil. There needs to be sufficient oil for the cakes to fry in, at least covering one-third of the height of the cake. Once oil is hot add cakes and turn the heat down to medium-low. The initial high heat will seal the outside of the cakes. Turning the heat down will ensure they don’t burn and cook well throughout.  Fry 4-6 minutes on each side, until golden brown.      

Serve cakes with simple green salad and yogurt sauce.

Posted in Appetizers, Main Dishes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Kavarma – Bulgaria’s greatest contribution to world cuisine

Yesterday, March 3rd, was Bulgaria’s National Holiday. In honor of Bulgaria’s independence, I decided to make what I believe is the most Bulgarian dish – Kavarma. Don’t get surprised when you read below and you see nothing unusual or too exotic about it. As I have mentioned before, Bulgarian cuisine is very simple. We use just a few fresh and flavorful ingredients and spices and vegetables are always present.

Even if you are not Bulgarian, have not been to Bulgaria, have never heard of Bulgaria, you HAVE to try this recipe. In my opinion, this is one of Bulgaria’s greatest contributions to world cuisine for a few simple reasons: it is easy, quick, healthy, flavorful and delicious.

Kavarma is prepared like a stew but cooks until most liquid evaporates. It is made throughout the year, but I particularly enjoy it on a colder day. Traditionally Kavarma is made with pork and that is how I made it this time. But if you prefer it is equally tasty made with chicken instead.  

Bulgarian Kavarma

Serves 4

  • 4 Thick Boneless Pork Chops – cut in cubes
  • 1 Small Onion – diced
  • 4 Leeks – diced
  • 8 oz (1 packet) Mushrooms – cut
  • 2 Carrots – diced
  • 1 Green pepper chopped (I prefer Cubanelle as they are thinner and crisper )
  • 1 Small Can (oz.) Tomato Puree
  • ½ Cup White Wine (I avoid using cooking wine. I prefer real wine instead.)
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • ½ Teaspoon Cumin
  • ½ Teaspoon Oregano
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper
  • Parsley to sprinkle on top once meal is ready
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large skillet, brown pork cubes on medium-high heat.  In a medium size cast iron pot (any pot will do it) saute the small onion and carrots. Add meat and bay leaf to the pot, stir. Then add mushrooms, leeks and pepper. Pour wine. Let simmer for about 10-15 min. Add cumin and oregano. When liquid is almost gone add tomato puree, sugar and crushed red pepper. Let simmer again, until liquid has evaporated.

The dish can be served straight or on white rice. I also like it with couscous, as it takes only 5 min to cook.

Kavarma is one of my work week favorites. What are some of your favorite work week meals?

Posted in Bulgarian Recipes, Main Dishes, Quick and Easy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Goat Cheese and Strawberry Grilled Cheese – a flavorful and easy midday meal

Growing up in Bulgaria, grilled cheese was not one of my childhood staples. Even when I moved to America I never quite learned to enjoy it. Probably because it is one of those comfort foods that one grows up with and gets to love the way their mom made it.

But when I saw this recipe in this month’s Southern Living magazine, I found it too tempting to ignore. Goat cheese is one of my favorites especially when paired with something sweet. And the thought of the strawberries and arugula was just too fresh to pass.

I was also curious to try red pepper jelly for the first time. It is one of those Southern classics which I’ve been so curious to learn about since I moved to Nashville. I loved the sweet heat of the jelly and found it to be a perfect pair for the smooth and tangy goat cheese. A modern take on the Southern tradition of crackers with cream cheese and red pepper jelly.

So, last Sunday for lunch, I made this recipe and have to report it was DELICIOUS. Everything I love in one fresh, flavorful, and creamy package. I see now why it is so easy to fall in love with grilled cheese. I truly enjoyed the taste but realized that there was something missing. Both Aaron and I are carnivores and I had to figure out a way to get us a piece of meat for a complete meal. Nothing could be a better fit than a piece of bacon, another American classic. I used turkey bacon for a healthier touch.

Here is my version of the recipe.

Goat Cheese and Strawberry Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

  • 1 (4 oz) goat cheese log, softened
  • 8 slices multigrain bread
  • Red pepper jelly, just enough to spread on 4 pieces of bread
  • 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup fresh arugula (or any other salad green)
  • 4-6 pieces of bacon, cooked

Spread goat cheese on one side of 4 bread slices. Spread thin layer of pepper jelly on one side of remaining bread slices; layer with strawberries, arugula and bacon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Top with remaining bread, goat cheese sides down. Cook sandwiches in a large, lightly greased nonstick skillet over medium heat 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Although I love basil, I omitted the basil from the original recipe as I felt it added just one too many flavors to this perfect piece.

Are you a grilled cheese conservative or do you like to experiment with this American favorite?

Grilled Cheese on FoodistaGrilled Cheese

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Mish-Mash – a fresh and healthy vegetarian breakfast

The dictionary definition for mishmash is “a collection or mixture of unrelated things; a hodgepodge”. And this is exactly what this is. A mixture of vegetables, eggs, cheese and spices, seemingly unrelated but that go so well together. 

In Bulgaria, mish-mash is a traditional meal which we typically make for lunch or dinner. It is most common during the summer when there is an abundance of vegetables. To make sure they don’t get spoiled we would quickly mix them with eggs and feta and prepare this easy and nutritious meal.

I don’t know what took me so long to make a mish-mash in my own home in America. As eggs are a key ingredient, I adapted to local taste, and offered it for breakfast, not dinner.  Since I first made it, Aaron would ask for mish-mash pretty much every weekend morning.  He loves it because it is fresh and tasty but also super healthy – just the perfect balance of proteins, fibers and vitamins. A true breakfast for champions.

 What is your favorite homemade breakfast?


Serves 4 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 medium tomatoes , peeled and diced
  • 3 red peppers, roasted, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup (8oz) feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red peppers
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent. Add tomatoes and peppers. Cook until vegetables are soft and liquid evaporates. Stir in feta. Add oregano and crushed red peppers. Add eggs and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

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Spicy Chocolate Truffles – an Easy and Personal Valentine’s Day Gift


When I saw a recipe for chocolate truffles in a Ghirardelli ad a few years back, I couldn’t believe how very few steps were involved. I love chocolate, especially dark, so I tried it.

Very easy, indeed. Melt some chocolate chips with butter and cream, refrigerate for 2 hours, shape the truffles, roll them in cocoa and voilá: handmade, soft and creamy, bittersweet delights to die for.

 A couple of months ago I had a craving for chocolate and chili peppers, a combination that I have tried and enjoyed before. I doubted I could find a chocolate bar with chilies in my local grocery so I thought I might be able to make it myself using that basic truffle recipe I had.

Cayenne was going to give the bite, but I felt like I needed a richer flavor. Another truffle recipe suggested orange peels. Cinnamon is also often found in this Mexican style chocolate but I was looking for something less ubiquitous and overpowering.  I have been experimenting with cardamom lately and it felt just right for this.  Well, that should do it.

And it did it, in fact. Rich dark chocolate with a perfect balance of spice, sweet fragrance and citrus tang.  A pure indulgence in a few very simple steps.

Spicy Chocolate Truffles

Makes 30 truffles

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cups Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (60% cocoa or more)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like more bite feel free to increase the amount)
  • ½ tablespoon ground cardamom
  • ½ tablespoon orange peels
  • 1 pinch of salt

In a small saucepan bring the cream to a simmer. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the chocolate chips. Stir until completely melted and smooth. Stir in cayenne, cardamom, orange peels and salt. Remove from the heat and pour into a shallow bowl.

Cool, cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Using a melon baller or small spoon, roll mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in cocoa or nuts. Enjoy!

The truffles are best kept refrigerated in an air tight container.

This is what I am making for Valentine’s Day. What about you?

Posted in Holidays, Sweets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Cookies Maria – the most international cookies ever

A duke met a girl named Maria and forever her name remained engraved on a cookie……

That’s how the story of the most international cookie started. From England and Russia, to the Philippines, India, Mexico and Puerto Rico, today half of the globe considers Maria cookies a household staple. They are manufactured and sold by multiple companies around the world. In Spain and South Africa, they represent more than 40% of all cookies sold.

The cookie was first created in 1874 by the English baker Peek Frean.  He created a thin round biscuit on which he engraved an intricate border, believed to be a traditional Russian pattern, and the name Maria, in honor of the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia. Her festive wedding with Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh caught Europe’s fancy (According to LaTienda.com). The cookie became popular and was soon copied by other bakers and spread throughout Europe.   

But how it toured the whole world and kept its original look and recipe almost intact for over a century is somewhat of a mystery to me. European colonial powers will have something to do with it and so does globalization. But it has to be that light but flavorful recipe that captivated palates across the globe with its simplicity and understated sweetness. At first sight, Maria cookies may look bland, but once you take a bite, the delicate mix of vanilla and caramel have you hooked forever.  

I can’t believe I knew nothing about them before coming to America. Some Spanish friends introduced me to Marias. In my first months here, they were one of those very special finds (in the Latin food section of the grocery store) that helped me feel closer to home as they somewhat resembled the very popular “simple” cookies we have in Bulgaria.

Today, Maria cookies have become a staple in our house as well. For me, just plain, they are a perfect companion for tea or coffee. I often daydream of a rainy day when I would curl up on the couch with a good book, a big cup of tea and a plate of Maria cookies.  

And when I have a craving for something sweeter, Maria sandwiches with Nutella make for the most satisfying and easiest dessert ever.  

Some of my Mexican friends make cakes with layers of Maria cookies or crush them with cinnamon, sugar and butter in a pie crust, but I am still to explore that.

Are Maria cookies a staple in your house? Did you know how far back their story goes and how popular they are around the world? What is your favorite way to enjoy them?

Posted in Cookies, Kitchen Chats, Sweets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments