Based on the iconic Albanian dish of baked lamb with rice, I came up with a meatless version for my book Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts. The recipe didn’t make the final cut, and my friend Cheryl Sherman Rulecooked, fine-tuned and photographed it for Team Yogurt.
Photo by Cheryl Sherman Rule
Having eaten the delicious, creamy Albanian Elbasan or Tave Kosi my neighbor Ela prepared for us, I was determined to come up with a vegetarian version. Ela cooked lamb shanks on the stove with a little water and a quartered onion, then boned the meat and cut it into bite size pieces, discarding all fat. She left the broth to cool completely and skimmed it, getting about 1 cup broth which she mixed with her homemade yogurt that has the consistency of thick cream. She sautéed onions and cooked the flour in a mixture of olive oil and butter before adding the yogurt and eggs. She sprinkled the rice directly to the pan, with the meat, then poured in the broth-yogurt liquid. She was very careful not to over-bake and dry the food, letting the pan set at room temperature; this made her Tave Kosi so special. Mushrooms, both dried and fresh, together with peppers create a very different, but also flavorful base for the creamy yogurt-baked rice.
Instead of peppers, you could make it with diced zucchini, eggplants or any other seasonal vegetables.
1/2 cup olive oil, more for drizzling
1/2 cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
3 packed cups oyster mushrooms, shiitake, chanterelle or any flavorful mushrooms, cleaned, and diced or thinly sliced
3 green or red bell peppers halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips
2/3 cups medium grain rice like Arborio, or any risotto rice
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 20 minutes, then finely chopped (with scissors)
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper, or a good pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, or plenty of freshly ground black pepper
5 cups natural full-fat yogurt (not thick)–preferably sheep’s or goat’s milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable broth (see page 000), or water
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino, or aged Cheddar cheese
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan, add the onions, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and sauté tossing often for 2 minutes, or until the onions start to soften. Add the mushrooms and peppers and sauté for another 8 minutes or more, until mushrooms and peppers soften, tossing often. Add the rice and stir a few times to coat the grains with oil, remove from the heat, stir in the sauteed and dried mushrooms—reserving the broth–and the peppers, add pepper to taste and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300˚F.
In a large bowl whisk vigorously the yogurt and the eggs to mix.
In a large saucepan heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil with the flour and cook whisking, until very frothy. Remove from the heat and add the broth and the dried mushrooms’ liquid, whisking vigorously. Then gradually pour in the yogurt mixture, add another teaspoon salt, or to taste, whisking to incorporate completely.
Oil a 13X9 inch (or equivalent round or oval) baking dish and add the rice, mushrooms etc. then pour in the yogurt mixture and carefully stir to mix.
Transfer to the middle of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until it starts to thicken.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the cheese, return to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes, until the mixture is set but still wobbly. If the top has not browned, heat the broiler and place the pan right under it for 1-2 minutes.
Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool and set for at least 20 minutes, before serving warm or at room temperature.