When people ask me about what’s typical Albanian food like, I usually answer by explaining Byrek and Tave Kosi (tavë kosi). These 2 dishes are arguably some of the most traditional dishes in my native country. This Lamb Yogurt Casserole recipe is very special to me!! It’s special not only because it’s a dish that reminds me of my childhood, but also because I cooked it with my mom. My mom is visiting from Albania and we are enjoying sharing stories in the kitchen and she’s reminding me of so many things about food and recipes that I seem to have forgotten. Obviously we are doing all this while sipping on Turkish coffee:). Those who know a bit about Albanian culture understand that custom and hope to write a whole post about it one day.Jump to Recipe
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What is Tave Kosi?
This Lamb Yogurt Casserole or Tave Kosi it is said to originate in the city of Elbasan (Albania). That is why sometimes the dish is also called Tave Elbasani. Albania has a rich culinary history. It is a typical Mediterranean country where you can find the typical Greek, Turkish influences intertwined with local traditions.
History of Tave Kosi!
The history of this dish is said to go back to 1452 when Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II was staking a siege of Kruja (city in central Albania) where Albanian leader Skanderbeg was holding out Ottoman advances to the west. It is said that the local cooks were marinating lamb meat in yogurt to serve the sultan during the siege. Then instead of throwing the spiced yogurt away, the cooks were using the leftover grilled lamb and yogurt to create a casserole known nowadays as the famous Albanian Tave Kosi (Tavë Kosi).
It is also said that this dish was served to Ismail Qemali during his visit to Vlora when he was heading to declare Albania’s Independence in 1912. So this lamb yogurt casserole is not only delicious, traditional but also historic for Albanians.
Lamb Yogurt Casserole Recipe
My mom and I prepared the following recipe for about 8 people. I would normally use a smaller baking dish and cut the ingredients in half when cooking dinner just for my family.
It is traditional to add a lot of garlic to this dish. I used 4-5 big garlic cloves but feel free to adjust quantity to your taste. I know that not everyone likes garlic as much as we Mediterraneans do.
There are several notes and variations about the recipe that I want to share:
- Recipe can be done by adding a bit of flour and a bit of rice to thicken the yogurt. Keep in mind that if cooking this recipe in USA, we mostly use greek yogurt which is very thick. So I suggest just using rice and eliminating flour, otherwise the dish will be too thick.
- Original dish calls for oregano, I usually don’t add much of it because I’m so used to the taste of lamb-yogurt-garlic that I feel oregano changes that. However, if you are trying to cook this the traditional way you need to add oregano.
- I use non-fat greek yogurt to make this dish, but feel free to use your favorite type of yogurt and adjust the quantities of everything else accordingly.
- You’ll notice in the recipe that we do boil the lamb first, then bake. It is a personal preference. You can also grill the meat separately and then marinate with yogurt. Then bake the dish as discussed below.
- We used lamb chops but you can use other lamb cuts (boneless too). Also, even though traditionally the dish is made with lamb, you can make it with chicken too.
- While baking, the yogurt will inflate a bit, like souffle. So make sure to use a big enough baking dish where the yogurt mix doesn’t go all the way to the edges before baking. Since it rises during baking, you don’t want it to spill in the oven. So allow for a bit of space in the edges.
Lamb Yogurt Casserole – Albanian Tave Kosi
- 8 lamb chops
- 60 oz non fat greek yogurt
- 6 eggs
- 0.5 cup rice
- 5 medium garlic cloves
- 4 tbsps butter
- pinch oregano
- pinch salt
- Boil lamb chops for about 30 minutes. Add a little bit of salt towards the end. Towards the end of these 30 minutes, turn the oven on at 380 degrees so it can be ready.
- Place the rice in the baking tray. Add the lamb chops and 2 cups of lamb broth to the tray. Add a little bit of butter to each lamb chop individually. Bake for about 15 minutes to give the lamb a crispy layer. Rice will absorb all the lamb broth. Add oregano to lamb chops as desired.
- While the lamb is baking, whisk the egss in a large bowl.
- Smash the garlic cloves and salt in a garlic mortar. Be careful with salt quantity because we already used some when we cooked the lamb.
- Add the garlic/salt to the eggs, continue whisking to ensure the garlic/salt is distributed equally.
- Add yogurt slowly, cup by cup and mix well to create a homogeneous mixture.
- Once the mix is ready, you add it on the baking tray on top of the lamb chops. Add remaining butter to the tray too.
- Bake at 380 degrees for about 45 minutes. Serve warm:)
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My Other Albanian Recipes:
If you would like to check some of my other Albanian recipes, please check out the following:
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