On Mekitsi, and the Road to Hell

Dear Reader,

In line with my previous post on simple food cooked to perfection, I now intend to share my recipe for mekitsi, or Bulgarian fried dough balls, which are super fast and easy to prepare and are beloved by all. Downside is they’re fried in vegetable oil which might perhaps tip your omega fatty acid balance toward the more unfavourable omega-6 type, but you’ll enjoy in moderation. No eating in secret, remember, only at the table, at the regular mealtimes, and preferably in company. That’s how one fights the Devil. 

I first mentioned mekitsi in this post, and have intended to share my family recipe since. Mekitsi are common in Russia too, where they’re called oladyi. However, in Russia, they might be prepared with yeast dough which has to rise multiple times and takes really long. I haven’t eaten yeast dough oladyi but frankly, I don’t see the point in turning something intended to be a fast, warm, and filling breakfast, into a multi-hour enterprise. 

My recipe yields eight mekitsi, which is enough for the breakfast of my four-member family. I usually don’t eat them or have one, and the rest are shared among children and spouse. The recipe is built on proportions, not exact weights, so you can easily double it if you want to.

To prepare, you need 1/2 cup of yogurt and 1 cup of all-purpose flour. So ratio is 1 to 2, and you’ll need 1 cup of yogurt and 2 cups of flour for two batches. 

Put the yogurt in a bowl, add sifted flour, and top of it add salt to taste, about half a teaspoon, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. These are all the ingredients.

Mix quickly with a wooden spoon and you’ll notice how the dough starts sticking together really fast. Take it out of the bowl on the counter, and knead energetically for about five minutes. You might need some extra flour in the process but it is important for the dough to remain as soft as possible, so while kneading oil your hands a little too. At the end of the kneading, hurl the dough ball multiple times against the counter and knead a little bit after that. Hurling softens the dough texture, and is an excellent thing to do to meatballs too. Hurling and extra kneading takes about five extra minutes, so total kneading is 10 minutes. 

Then put dough into the bowl, cover with foil and lest rest for about 10 minutes or more. You might lay the table in the meantime, or wake up the children, or do something else that needs attending to. I recommend laying the table before you start frying the mekitsi, as they fry really fast and need to be served hot, so you won’t have the time to take care of the table once they’re ready. 

Before you start frying, pour some water into a pot and place the plate you’ll be serving your mekitsi in on top. Find a suitable cover. This makeshift contraption, suggested by Russian culinary blogger Vlad Piskunov, works excellently for keeping your mekitsi warm and fragrant. 

After you set your heating contraption, heat the pan thoroughly before adding the oil. Here we fry in sunflower oil which is perhaps not the healthiest of options but is what we’re used to. You might try frying in ghee or coconut oil but this would alter the taste of the mekitsi and I can’t vouch for the result.

In line with this, let me just open a bracket and say that I am not a fan of altering recipes to make them “healthy”, or “healthier.” I am annoyed by vegetarian burgers, or pizzas with cauliflower crusts, or vegan charcuterie, or cauliflower “rice” for that matter. If a recipe is the way it is and it works, I say don’t change it, but rather enjoy it in moderation, as festive food, and have your health food on weekdays. 

Back to our dough, whenever you’re ready for frying, cut the dough ball in two, and then each half in two, and then each piece in two. This gives you eight dough pieces. Oil your hands and shape each into a ball. Pour oil in the pan, about 0.5 cm thick. Prepare fork or something to turn your mekitsi with in advance. Once you start frying, you need to work really fast and not leave the stove even for a second. 

Reduce fire just a little bit. My cooking plate, stovetop, or however this is called, has nine marks for heat, nine being the highest. So I pre-heat the skillet at 9, pour the oil at 8, start frying at 8, and at a certain point reduce to 7 because the oil gets really hot and burns the mekitsi before they’re done on the inside.

Keeping your hands oily, take each dough ball and shape it into a patty, or a flat circle. Take care not to tear it. Centre might, and should be thinner than the outer edges of each patty.

That’s how frying mekitsi looks like. When you place them raw in the pan, they shouldn’t touch, as they would stick together if they do. The largetr pan you use, the better, as frying will be done faster which saves time, produces less smell, and is better for the quality of the frying oil too. 

Your mekitsi are ready! By this time all eaters should be seated at the table in eager attendance. I detest few things more than cooking and then having to holler for everyone to come and be seated once I’m done. 

Mekitsi are excellent by themselves, or paired with white Bulgarian cheese, or with honey, or with jam. Cheese needs to be sour and pungent, otherwise the balance between sweet and sour will be impaired and the taste will be dull. So if white pungent Balkan cheese is not available where you live, I suggest skipping cheese altogether. Honey and jam might be spread on top of the mekitsi, or might be added to your plate for you to dunk your mekitsa into. (Mekitsi is feminine plural, a mekitsa is feminine singular. For a hilarous post on dunking as an epicurean practice among the French, see here.)  Last week we had our mekitsi with honey and strawberry jam made by my mother-in-law, and this Sunday we had them with quince jelly that I made the day before. My mum loves serving mekitsi and pancakes with chocolate spread which I consider a travesty. 

Finally an admonition against eating in secret. This is one of my most frequent sins, alongside grazing while cooking. So I was amused to read in Anna Karenina of her son Sergey being reprimanded for having taken a peach from a basket in the pantry without permission and outside the established mealtimes. O tempora, o mores! 

Food available at all times paves the road to hell alongside other good intentions,