You know when you’re young and your mom makes a delicious meal and calls you to the dinner table to eat. You moan and groan and curse in whatever few words you know, then sit on your chair with an attitude and swallow whatever food she labored so hard to cook for you, while continuously complaining. Yea…you know exactly what I mean.
You’ll regret that one day and that one day is probably today, as you remember that your mom probably doesn’t cook for you everyday anymore and rarely does anyone call you to the dinner table, instead it’s you who now calls other people (or pets) to come eat.
I’ve been missing those days a lot lately, in part because I’ve fallen in love with cooking now and I can truly appreciate the effort and the talent that goes into making a delicious meal. But also because my mom happens to be a damn good cook, (I know a lot of people say this about their moms and it’s usually a lie, I’ve eaten their mom’s cooking and it’s “eh” at most.) If I could organize a competition ala Chopped, my mom would kick their mom’s asses with a tiny little handmade wooden spoon! The only person I can think of who could beat her would be my eldest aunt, who is just a glorious goddess of all kitchen/cooking /baking/mixing activities. I only get to eat her food every few years, since she lives in Albania, far far away from me and my wanting mouth.
Anyway, I digress! Back to how I’ve been missing my mom’s cooking. Earlier this week she was headed to Albania for a few weeks, which brought on several memory trips for both of us, about 3 kilos of good laughs and as always a handful of teary moments…ah the bittersweet life of an immigrant, always missing someone, always missing something.
Down this memory lane we went and I remembered this dish my mom used to make when I was younger. It was one of those “ Ugh Oh My God what is this disgusting thing you’re trying to feed me? Why do you hate me so much that you have to punish me by feeding me this” type of dishes. I couldn’t even remember the name of it, but I remembered the taste.
It’s called Paçe- The ç (an actual letter in the Albanian alphabet) is pronounced like the ch in chocolate, so the name of this dish is not Pace like the University or like the word pace (the kind you need when you run).
So my mom came over and decided to make it for me and also teach me how to make it. Now, there’s a reason why I used to think this dish was gross, its main component is a lamb’s head. I won’t include a picture of that in here but below is the recipe to make it. If you do give it a try, you won’t regret it. It’s absolutely delicious.
What You Need
1 lamb head (have the butcher cut the head down the middle)
1 pound of chopped lamb meat
1 cup of flower
3 cloves of garlic
Olive Oil (as needed)
What to do
Boil the lamb head and meat in a pot with water and salt. This should take about 1 hour, depending on the size of the head. Once the meat is boiled, take it out and put it in a separate container. Save the water- it’s the most important part.
Cut the lamb meat into bite-sized pieces. Make sure you take out the meat from the head as well, including the brain of the lamb (which I happen to think is pretty delicious but my boyfriend thinks is beyond disgusting. PS: I fed it to him without letting him know what it was and he almost jumped out of his own skin- fun times) You can also chop up the tongue, but I don’t like the texture of it so I try to leave it out. Once you have taken all the meat from the head, you can throw out the bones (from the head) including the eye balls. I’m sure somewhere in the world there is a recipe that requires the use of eye balls but this is not one of them.
Place the shredded meat aside. In a separate pan, sauté 5-6 cloves of garlic in 5 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1 cup of flour, in parts, while mixing the mixture very fast. You want to make sure it doesn’t create any lumps. In the end you should have a mixture that resembles the texture of a polenta. Mix the flour mixture with the water (in which the lamb was boiling). Add the meat, and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. Mix in 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar. The vinegar is the crucial part of this dish as it helps bring out all the flavors. To figure out how much you need you should taste the soup and see what you like. I prefer mine to have more vinegar, while my brother prefers it with very little. Like my mom says, really cooks don’t need measuring spoons (I guess I’m not a real cook yet) they just figure it out “me sy” – which basically means you measure with your eyes.
In the northern parts of Albania, which is where I’m from, people eat Paçe for breakfast. I don’t really agree with that, but it is a great lunch or dinner meal. You can preserve it in the freezer for up to 2 weeks, then reheat and serve once more.
That’s all the Albanian teachings for today.