On paper, Albania has the potential to be home to one of the world’s great cuisines.
It’s at that cultural crossroads sweet spot occupied by precious few other places, a meeting point between Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, the Christian and Muslim worlds, Italy and Greece.
So I was looking forward to trying Tave Kosi, a yogurt-and-lamb casserole that seems to, by consensus, be Albania’s national dish. A simple recipe with only a few ingredients, I was more curious about the texture than the flavor.
I wound up impressed by both.
The fresh nutmeg was the cadence of the dish, setting the beat for everything else. The lamb, which I marinated for a few hours before dinner, was the bass line – a musical tone to carry us forward.But it was the tartness of the baked yogurt that was the real surprise, adding a refreshing, lemony flavor to the dish.
As for the cultural crossroads element? The lamb provided a quintessential Muslim-world flavor, but the yogurt casserole added an element of weight not often found in dishes from Muslim countries.
The backbone for this dish was sourced from Saveur. 🇦🇱
- Equal parts olive oil and lemon juice, enough to cover the lamb in a bowl
- 4-5 sprigs fresh oregano
- 4 cloves peeled garlic
- 3 Tb salt
- 5 Tb butter
- 1/2 Tb olive oil
- 1 lb. lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup long grain white rice
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 Tb oregano
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 1/4 ts freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 eggs
- Marinate the lamb for at least 1 hour, up to 4.
- Heat 3 Tb butter and the oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Season lamb with salt and pepper and toss with 1/4 cup flour.
- Brown the lamb in the butter.
- Add rice, garlic, and 3/4 cup water; boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until rice is tender, about 20 minutes
- Stir in oregano, salt, and pepper and transfer to a baking dish
- Heat oven to 375°. Melt remaining butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Whisk in remaining flour; cook until smooth, 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat; whisk in yogurt, nutmeg, eggs, salt, and pepper until smooth.
- Pour yogurt sauce evenly over lamb mixture. Bake until golden and the lamb is tender, 45–60 minutes.