The first time we ate mekitsi, we were in the Rodopi mountains, staying in a small family hotel. Every morning the cook would bring out a plate piled with three or four large mekitsi at a time. There would be a brief but dignified scrum among the few guests to grab a mekitsa off the pile before they disappeared, then we’d wait patiently for her to reappear with another freshly fried batch.
I could – and often did – eat three large mekitsi in one sitting. What? We were on a walking holiday. I had to keep my strength up.
But let me back up. What are mekitsi? They’re basically Bulgarian breakfast doughnuts. They’re flat as opposed to round and they have a slight tang, but otherwise they’re everything you’d expect from a good doughnut. Sweet, crispy, slightly chewy, soft (the name comes from ‘mek’, the Bulgarian word for ‘soft’), pillowy, bubbly… Need I go on? Come on, we both know I had you at ‘breakfast doughnuts’.
If you’re wondering about the tang, mekitsa dough is traditionally made with yoghurt. We don’t eat dairy anymore, so we substituted the yoghurt for soya milk mixed with lemon juice – you can use any milk, dairy or otherwise – and it worked a treat. (Don’t come at me about how your Bulgarian grandmother is turning in her grave at this inauthentic outrage. If you want the traditional method, I’ve linked to the original recipe that we adapted below.)
We eat our mekitsi spread with strawberry jam. Bulgarians might add a slice or two of cirene cheese (which is a bit like feta). But, again, our days of mainlining cheese are over. So jam it is.
Onto the recipe.
Mekitsi (Bulgarian fried dough) recipe
We started with this recipe originally (which is for smaller mekitsi stuffed with cheese), and have adapted it over the years to suit our tastes. As we eat our mekitsi for breakfast, we usually make the dough the night before. You can absolutely make the dough in the morning, but be aware it needs to rise for an hour. And there’s kneading involved…
Makes 8 large mekitsi but the recipe is easily halved.
1 (7g) packet dried yeast
2 tbsp warm water (as in a proper 2 tbsp measurement, so 30 ml or ⅛ cup)
1 cup milk (we use soya)
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups white flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil (we use sunflower, but use whatever you like)
1 tbsp apple vinegar (or any white vinegar will do)
Plus oil for shallow frying (again, we use sunflower)
1. In a small bowl, mix the warm water with the yeast, then leave to activate for 10 minutes.
2. Stir the lemon juice into the milk and leave to sour for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt. Make a well in the centre.
4. When the milk and yeast mixtures are ready, pour them into the flour, along with the oil and vinegar. Mix until you get a rough dough. (If the mixture is too dry, add a tiny splash of water. If it’s too wet, add a sprinkle of flour. The dough should come together enough to be able to wipe the bowl clean with it.)
5. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes.
6. At this point, we put the dough in a ziplock bag and leave it out on the kitchen worktop overnight, so it’s ready to go first thing. Saying that, our house isn’t exactly warm overnight at this time of year. If your house is warm, or it’s summer, put the bag of dough in the fridge overnight and let it warm up to room temperature in the morning before frying. If you’re making the dough in the morning, just leave it to rise in the bowl, covered with a tea towel, for one hour.
7. When you’re ready to make the mekitsi, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide into eight equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Gently roll out each ball into a rough oval shape about 15 cm long (basically so it looks like a big pitta). Then press a few light dimples into the dough (we do this to encourage the dough to puff up in uneven ways during frying, but it’s probably not necessary). You don’t need to shape all eight pieces at once – we shape two pieces to start with, then shape the next two while the first ones are frying, and so on.
8. Meanwhile, heat your oil. Pour enough oil into a frying pan to coat the bottom (you want a millimetre or two of oil to fry in) and heat to a medium-high heat. Fry the mekitsi in batches (we can fit two mekitsi in our pan at a time) for around one minute or so on each side, or until nicely browned. You *may* need to add more oil after the first couple of batches.
9. Once fried, pop the mekitsi onto a plate lined with kitchen paper while you fry the rest of the dough.
10. Serve piled up, alongside a jar of your favourite jam and, if you’re feeling cheeky, a few slices of cirene or feta cheese.
Tell me, what are your thoughts on fried dough? As you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you’re in favour of it. In which case, I highly recommend you make these and let me know how it goes.
Wait! When did that no-dairy thing happen? And *why*???
It’s part of an overall effort to cut animal products from our diet. We gave up meat and dairy back in February, but we still ate occasional eggs from our friends’ chickens. Then we gave up eggs in the summer. Honestly, I thought we’d miss the dairy most of all (we weren’t big meat eaters, but we did hit the dairy daily) but it’s been easier than we expected.