Porcini mushroom polenta and pumpkin tikvenik: discover new Bulgarian cuisine in 3 recipes

The head chef of Sofia's revolutionary dine-in-the-dark restaurant, Tenebris, has created three delicious recipes for you to try and home.

16 March 2020
Text and images: Courtesy of Tenebris Restaurant

In the heart of the Balkan peninsula, Bulgarian gastronomy is a delicious melting pot of the region’s culinary traditions. Blessed with a variety of climates, from snow-capped mountains to the Black Sea coast, Bulgarian cuisine is the product of the country’s impressive availability of farm-to-table vegetables, fruits, wild herbs, and spices. Add Bulgaria’s cultural legacy as a strategic trading route, and the result is an eclectic combination of Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Central European dishes with a uniquely Bulgarian twist.

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Revolutionising a centuries-long culinary tradition is no easy feat — but Tenebris, opened at the end of 2018, has already topped Sofia’s restaurant rankings. As well as being the first restaurant in the Balkans to offer a dine-in-the-dark experience, the menu also offers a groundbreaking celebration of Bulgarian cuisine.

The concept behind Tenebris is to immerse yourself in a world where, deprived of vision, all your other senses take over. Without self-conscious outfit checks, Instagram photoshoots, distracting glances at neighbouring tables, and flashy notifications popping up on phone screens, taste and smell are enhanced, making way for relaxed, deeper conversations. Now, combine this experience with a 5-course menu and a selection of wine, and the result is an unforgettable journey across the flavours of Bulgarian cuisine.

But if you can’t travel to the Bulgarian capital to embark on your own culinary adventure, we’ve still got you covered. Here are three modern Bulgarian recipes by chef Todor Ivanov that you can try straight from the comfort of your kitchen.


Kachamak: polenta with lukanka chips and porcini mushrooms

(Serves 6)

Ingredients:

For the polenta:

— 100g polenta

— 300ml water

— 4 tbsp sunflower oil

— 1 tsp dried oregano

— 1 tsp salt

— ½ tsp black pepper

For the lukanka chips:

— 50g lukanka, Bulgarian pork or veal salami

— 2 tbsp sunflower oil

For the porcini mushrooms:

— 6-7 porcini mushrooms

— 1 tbsp sunflower oil

— ½ tsp garlic powder

— 1 tsp fresh rosemary

— 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

— 20g butter

— To taste: salt and fresh parsley

Method:

Bring the water to boil in a deep pan and add the oil, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Next, add the polenta slowly while stirring vigorously. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the polenta starts to absorb the water, the mixture solidifies, and separates from the sides of the pan. Remove from the stove and pour the polenta in a flat, rectangular container. Smooth the surface with a spatula, and let it cool down until the polenta hardens. Once the polenta is stiff, cut it into squares. Heat the oil in a pan, and fry the squares lightly on both sides until crispy. Set aside on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

Next, cut the porcini mushrooms into thick slices and fry them lightly. When these are cooked, add the finely chopped rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper, and the balsamic vinegar. Stir thoroughly and add the butter and chopped parsley. To make the chips, cut the lukanka into thin slices. Shallow fry in hot oil until crispy, and drain on a paper towel. For each dish, lay the mushrooms over the polenta, crumble the chips on top, and garnish with fresh parsley to taste.



Pork roulade stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and almonds on a bed of artichoke, tomato and white truffle sauce

(Serves 3)

Ingredients:

For the roulade:

— 500g-600g pork fillet

— 50g roasted almonds

— 100g sundried tomatoes

— 1 tbsp sunflower oil

— To taste: salt and pepper



For the tomato dip:

— 1 large tomato

— 3 red peppers

— 1 tbsp sunflower oil

— 1 garlic clove

— 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

— To taste: salt and pepper

For the sauce:

— 2-4 Jerusalem artichokes

— 1 tbsp white flour

— 100 ml water

— 1 tbsp white truffle paste

— 1 tbsp sunflower oil

— To taste: salt

Method:

Fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot with as much water as you can without it overflowing (including when you add the food). Attach a thermometer to the side of the pot using tape, so that it is submerged in the water but it does not touch the bottom of the pot. Prepare the pork: trim the excess fat, and cut a slit along the length of the fillet to open it up. Lay a thin layer of plastic wrap over the meat, and pound it until it is thin enough to be rolled easily into a spiral. Season generously with salt, black pepper, and oil on both sides.

Preheat the water to 56 degrees. While it warms up, blend the almonds and the sun-dried tomatoes until they form a homogenous paste. Spread the paste over the meat, distributing evenly. Roll up the pork fillet, and tie with a thread to form a uniform roulade and ensure that the meat will cook evenly. Transfer the meat into a bag which you can vacuum seal. To take all the air out of the bag, submerge it into water with the open end up as deep as possible without getting water into the opening. The water will push the air outside the bag, allowing you to seal it. Then, cook the meat at 56°C for 1.5 hours. Once the fillet is cooked, take it out of the bag, and preserve the excess meat stock. Place the roulade into a pan with hot oil, and gently sear it on all sides. Let the roulade cool down before cutting it into slices.

To make the sauce, gently pour the flour into a dry pan and cook until light brown. Add the meat stock from the vacuum bag and stir in vigorously. You can adjust the consistency of the sauce by adding a little water. Add 1 tbsp white truffle paste, and additional salt to taste. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Carefully wash the Jerusalem artichoke, cut it into thick slices, and season with oil and salt to taste. Place in a rectangular tray and roast at 180 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. To prepare the homemade tomato dip, place the two tomatoes and four red peppers whole on a separate tray, and roast for 20-30 minutes until they are soft. Take out of the oven, peel the tomatoes and the peppers, and chop them roughly. Fry in sunflower oil with chopped garlic and salt to taste, and cook until the water from the tomatoes evaporates. For each dish, place four slices of pork roulade, and gently pour the tomato dip on one side. and the white truffle paste on the other. Then, garnish with freshly chopped parsley to taste.



Tikvenik: filo pastry with pumpkin filling

(Serves 3)

Ingredients:

— 50g filo pastry

— 500g fresh pumpkin

— 200g brown sugar

— 3 tsp ground cinnamon

— 1 tsp vanilla extract

— 100g roasted walnuts

— 110g butter

— 100g raisins

— 2½ tbsp dark rum

Method:

To start, preheat the oven to 180 degrees and soak the raisins in rum. Then peel, cut, and shred the pumpkin. Season the pumpkin with the sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, soaked raisins, and half of the finely chopped walnuts. Blend the ingredients thoroughly and, using a rolling pin, flatten the mixture into a thin layer.

Place one sheet of filo pastry in a baking tray, brush it evenly with melted butter, and sprinkle with finely chopped walnuts. Cover with a second filo sheet, brush it with more butter, and place a generous amount of the filling along the side of the filo that’s facing you. Roll tightly, folding the sides of the filo to ensure the filling stays inside the roll.

Before putting the roll in the oven, brush it with butter, and evenly sprinkle with sugar and walnuts. Bake for 15 minutes at 180 degrees. Allow it to cool down before chopping it into pieces. Before serving, garnish with chopped or whole walnuts to taste.