When I first arrived in Bulgaria, I was a closet vegetarian living with a host family.  I didn’t want my diet to interfere with others’ hospitality, but I was still a little worried about the reports I’d heard that Bulgarians were really into their lamb brains.  So in the interest of diplomacy, I told my host family that I had been vegetarian until recently so if there was any food of theirs that I refused, it wasn’t because it wasn’t well-prepared, it was because I was still getting used to the idea of eating meat.  This worked most of the time – every once in awhile I would come home to a freshly killed lamb hanging from the clothesline and it would be understood that on those days I wouldn’t really hang out in the kitchen.  One day I did venture down, however, to find my host mother and sister boiling offal and cutting up intestines.  I took a deep breath (and whiff – I’ll never forget that smell) and sat down with them to spend a little QT.  The next day was meatball soup for lunch.  I caught sight of a snip of intestine.  Then I saw the half of a boiled brain on the table.  Then I went to the sandwich shop down the street and got myself some grilled cheese.  (For the record, I say if you’re going to eat meat, head-to-tail is the way to go. I can’t, so I don’t.)

 After that I was much more tentative.  I ate as little ground meat as I could without being rude, but my host mother still noticed, and one day, she said something to the effect of, “For heaven’s sake, what do you eat?”

 “Mishmash,” I replied.

 Mishmash is an egg-based dish, but it doesn’t taste eggy.  It’s loaded up with sirene, a Bulgarian white cheese similar to feta, and folks around here will throw in greens in spring, red peppers and tomatoes in summer, and just about whatever vegetables are lying around the house the rest of the time.  My host mother would often make it for me on the nights that dinner involved meatballs, and I am forever grateful.  Since I’m no longer living with a host family, I can have a meatball-free kitchen, and I can make mishmash as often as I want. 

 As many different ways as I’ve had mishmash served to me, it’s never been with pumpkin, and recently, after seeing some leftover cubes of this favorite winter veg in the fridge the day after a dinner party, I decided to throw it in the pan.  Rosemary adds some earthy greenness that goes well with the sweetness of the pumpkin and the salty tang of the cheese.

Pumpkin Rosemary Mishmash
serves 2

2 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups crumbled sirene or feta*
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
1 – 1 1/12 cups lightly mashed cooked pumpkin
pinch chili powder, optional
hunks of bread

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat.  In a bowl combine eggs and cirene and mix well.  Add garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant – but don’t let the garlic brown.  Add egg mixture, pumpkin, and chili powder and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until much of the liquid has cooked out.  This is a bit like telling you how long to cook your scrambled eggs – you’ll know when they’re done to your liking.  Divide onto 2 plates.  To eat, pile big bites onto bread and dig in.  This would be great with some caramelized onions on top, too.

*If you’re using feta, I’d recommend rinsing and draining it first, to make it a little less salty.

make your own sirene (note: I haven’t tested this recipe)
buy your own sirene (anywhere from 2 to 47 pounds of it!)