Just like in the States, turkey is a popular dish for Christmas in Bulgaria. However in Bulgaria the turkey is roasted on top of a thick layer of sauerkraut, which makes for a wonderful side-dish. In Bulgarian, this dish is called пуйка с кисело зеле.
The turkey is served with a side of the sauerkraut and raw smashed garlic. It makes for an incredibly juicy and delicious combination. It is popular throughout Bulgaria but there are local variations to the recipe — in other places the sauerkraut is mixed with rice, or the turkey itself is stuffed with rice. This recipe is from my parents-in-law in the Plovdiv region.
- A turkey
- Sauerkraut (shredded). There is no need for fancy sauerkraut here — I used a store brand and it came out great. For a meal of 6 people, you’ll need about 3 lbs.
- Salt, oil
Rinse the sauerkraut once or twice, and squeeze somewhat dry. Don’t overdo it — truly dry sauerkraut loses its flavor. Clean and pat dry the turkey, then put oil and salt on the skin and inside. If you are used to using other herbs and spices, that is fine also but keep in mind that the sauerkraut will take on their flavor. You’ll get the most authentic (and delicious) result with just salt. Truss the turkey and place it on top of a layer of sauerkraut. Cover the baking dish with loose foil and bake as you would normally do. Every 30 minutes or so, take off the foil and baste the turkey with the juices and, as needed, some more oil. You’ll find that after an hour or so, there will be a lot of juice coming from the sauerkraut.
When the turkey is done it will most likely be “swimming” in a bath of juice. Take the turkey out of the dish and place it on a rack. Now, scoop the juice from the baking dish — save this for future cooking, it freezes well — but leave the sauerkraut with a little bit of juice. Place the baking dish with the kraut back in the oven, in the middle rack. Now, use the oven’s grill for 20 minutes or so, while stirring the sauerkraut every 5 minutes. This will dry it out and give it a bit of a crunch.
While the turkey is cooling off and the sauerkraut is baking, smash a couple of cloves of garlic in a small dish.
Serve the turkey with a royal portion of the sauerkraut, and mix the kraut with the garlic to taste. Добер апетит!