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Our Recipe of the Month is for Tavë Kosi, considered the national dish of Albania. It is a lamb main course that has an unusual but delightful taste. Most of Albanian cuisine is manifestly Mediterranean, but Tavë Kosi is uniquely Albanian.

Albanian Tavë Kosi

Tavë Kosi is a source of national culinary pride in Albania. It's particularly popular during Dita e Verës (Day of Spring) as a celebratory meal marking the end of winter, but you can also find it gracing the tables of traditional Albanian restaurants and enjoyed at various family gatherings throughout the year. While Tavë Kosi is typically made with lamb, recently chicken, Tavë Kosi (Tavë Kosi me mish pule), is gaining popularity.

Tavë Kosi is a custard type of lamb dish that has a distinctive taste from using yogurt instead of milk or cream. It's got tang! It is light and creamy but doesn't puff as much as a soufflé. It is fast and easy to prepare and requires no special techniques or equipment. The use of yogurt attests to the historical connections with the Middle East (the word "yogurt" is believed to come from the Turkish word "yoğurmak," which means "to thicken, coagulate, or curdle.") and the use of lamb (even though today more beef is raised in Albania than sheep), harkens to Albanian's sheepherding tradition which no doubt influenced culinary proclivities. Of course, the preference for lamb is widespread in many Mediterranean and European countries. However, in San Diego, it is not as easy to come by, and choices at grocery stores are often limited to chops or ribs. We purchased our lamb (a shoulder-cut) at Balboa International Market, and they cut it into cubes for us, which is very convenient. They also sell lamb for stews which while a bit more expensive per pound, is easier to cook with. High-eInd butchers like Siesels are sure to have a variety of lamb. The layer of rice on the bottom of the casserole is traditional and adds a certain flair to the dish because it doesn't quite seem like an element that belongs in such a dish. I think the major role is to add an additional and pleasing texture. Recently our book club read a book set in Albania, and our guest speaker told me that she was going to cook Tavë Kosi as it was hands-down her favorite dish from her home country, but thought that perhaps people would have thought it a bit too unusual in taste. I was very happy to hear her say that what I cooked tasted absolutely authentic. Contrary to her expectations, everyone loved the dish. I myself, not being a fan of lamb, I expected I would less than fully enjoy it, but I too was wrong; it was delicious. Here's to broadening one's culinary horizons!

Cook's notes:

I encountered several recipes online (including one from the BBC) that call for mixing the rice into the egg mixture or cooking the rice with the lamb. I believe the more traditional method is to create a layer of cooked rice on the bottom of the casserole dish and then add the lamb and the yogurt/egg mixture on top. However, like most foods, there are undoubtedly local variations.

The directions below are for the most typical way for cooking the lamb, but both times we prepared the dish, we used our Instant Pot which reduces the cooking time considerably, and the lamb was very tender.


  • 3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 20 ounces Greek yogurt
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  1. In a frying pan or shallow wide pot, brown the lamb in butter on medium heat.
  2. Stir in the chopped garlic, salt, pepper and oregano and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.
  3. Pour in the water, bring everything to a boil, turn the heat to low.
  4. Cover the pan or pot and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the lamb is tender.
  5. Remove and set aside the lamb.
  6. Set aside 1/2 cup of broth for later use.
  7. Add the rice to the lamb broth and simmer covered for 15 minutes (the rice will finish cooking in the casserole).
  8. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  9. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and then mix in the flour.
  10. Continue to gently cook the butter and flour mixture for another 3 minutes or until the mixture turns pale yellow.
  11. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of broth into the roux and gently whisk until the white sauce thickens.
  12. In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs, add the yogurt and continue whisking until the eggs are completely incorporated.
  13. Mix the white sauce into the bowl with the eggs and yogurt.
  14. Layer the bottom of a casserole dish with the cooked rice.
  15. Distribute the lamb pieces across the top of the rice.
  16. Slowly pour the egg and yogurt mixture over the lamb and rice.
  17. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the top of the dish begins to brown.
  18. Sprinkle the nutmeg over the Tavë Kosi.

Tavë Kosi goes well with a garden salad, grilled vegetables, dolmas, and pita or warm crusty bread.

Ju bëftë mirë

Recipe by T. Johnston-O'Neill
Photos by Shari K. Johnston-O'Neill