Sauteed cabbage from Bihor, Northern Transylvania

Sauteed cabbage is a warming, comfort food that often finds its way on Romanian dinner tables, in the most honest and unpretentious manner. Standard recipe, great taste. So you’d wonder, what more could you do to this dish, and how come adding a few succulent vegetables could then be called by a different name, “Bihor sauteed cabbage”? It turns out that this enhanced version is indeed a more flavoursome, graceful version of its pedestrian cousin, a recipe which I’ll certainly cook again when missing the homy taste of sauteed cabbage.

  • 1 fresh cabbage (2 kg),1 onion, 2 gogosari (red pepper bell variation, which I’ve only seen in Romania),  2 red pepper bells, 2 garlic clover, 1 bunch of dill, 1 tbsp thyme, 3 tomatoes
  • 500 gr meat (viel, pork, chicken, anything you want), 200 gr smoked ham (optional)
  • 100 gr cream, oil, salt and pepper

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Chop the onion, the red pepper bells and the gogosari, cut the meat in rather latge cubes, and fry together in oil. When golden, add a little boiling water and let simmer.

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Finely julienne the cabbage and blanch in boiling water, until it softens; drain and put aside. When the meat is almost boiled, add the cabbage and complete with water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep on heat until it reaches boiling temperature, and boil for a short period. Cut tomatoes in disks, cover the cabbage, sprinkle thyme over, cover with a lid and put in the preheated oven (225 C) for half an hour.

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After you take it out of the oven, mix the cream with the finely chopped dill and add over the cabbage.

This is a great dish, sweet and very tender, melting in your mouth. It has a great flavour combination, and it’s a great summer dish. The winder version, with pickled cabbage, is saltier and with a stronger flavor profile, but just as good!

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Sunday in Transylvania: apple soup and Brasov pancakes

For today, a wonderful culinary expedition: very close, geographically, from home, but on completely new tastes grounds. The two dishes from Brasov county, which I have never tasted before, are indeed a Sunday treat, surprising and friendly, but most of all very tasty. I recommend them whole-heartedly!

Apple “Zoup”

Radu Anton Roman notes that the apple soup was made, for the past thousand years, only between Brasov, Sibiu and Sighisoara, where the Saxons, Cistercians and Teuton knights lay foot. Nowadays, it is prepared throughout Transylvania.

  • 400 g pork or beef (preferably with a little more fat)
  • 500 g apples (3 medium sized apples)
  • vegetables: 1 carrot, 1 parsnip, 1 celery root
  • 50 ml cream
  • parsley

Cut up the meat and the vegetables in nice small cubes, and boil in 2 liters of water. Peel and de-seed the apples, and cut in thin slices. When the meat and the vegetables are boiled, take them out and put the slices of apples to boil for 10-15 minutes. When the apples are soft, add the meat and the vegetables. Mix the double cream with some boiling stew, and then add the mixture to the soup (you first mix the cream with the hot stre so that when you add it to the soup it will not separate). Add the finely chopped parsley.

“Eat and liberate yourselves of al linguistic complexes, as no one could tell me when the  sour soup starts an the sweet soup ends, when it’s creamy and no longer a thick stew. But all know that it is good, when it is good, and that’s what is important” (RAR) -and indeed, this soup is very good, light and tasty in a way in which we’re not used to, slightly sour and sweet in the same time. And as easy is it to make it, i’s a shame not to try it at least once!

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Brasov pancakes

“This is a very special dish, tasty and solid. Among the few peasant dishes, a Romanian-Saxon mix, which made it to the menus of some (more or less) elegant taverns” (RAR). I don’t know in which elegant taverns you could find this dish, I haven’t seen it, but surely it would instantly become a start among polentas, that’s how pretty this pancakes are! They are certainly worth the time and the patience it takes to make them.

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Pancake pastry:

  • 300 g flour; 3 eggs; 500 ml milk

Filling:

  • 1 onion
  • 500 g mushrooms
  • 500 g chicken breast (or chicken liver, port filet, etc)
  • 1 glass of milk
  • 1 tb flour
  • 2 eggs
  • some tarragon leaves
  • 1 bundle of dill
  • some dried thyme

Crust:

  • 3 eggs
  • 200 g breadcrumbs

Sauce:

  • 2 cups tomatoe juice
  • 1 glass of wine (or asI replaced it with balsamic vinegar and lemon juice)
  • 1 tbsp sugar, pepper, 2 bay leaves

Filling: prep the mushrooms and the meat, cut in small pieces, and chop the onion. Fry the onion and the meat. When golden, add the mushrooms and continue frying until the juices are reduced. Mix the flour in cold milk, and add in the battered eggs. Finely chop the tarragon. When the onion, meat and onions are cooked, ad the milk and egg sauce, the tarragon and the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and leave on heat for several more minutes until the mixture thickens.

Pancakes: the Brasov pancakes are thicker and larger than normal pancakes (crepes), such that they are big enough for the filling.

Rolling: fill ad roll the pancakes with the meat and mushroom filling, and tuck in the ends of the pancakes (making them look like large spring rolls)

Crust -coating and frying: Batter the eggs. Heat enough oil in a large pan. Dip the pancake rolls in the battered eggs, then roll them in breadcrumbles, and fry on high heat until they get a nice brown crust (this is done very quickly). Place them on kitchen towels to absorb the excess oil.

Sauce: make a sauce of all the ingredients :). Put the sauce near the Brasov pancakes only at serving, so they don’t get soggy.

 

Absolutely delicious!!

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Mucenici -Saints

9th of March marks the end of the Days of the Old Women and the beginning of the Days of the Old Men; it also marks the Spring Saints or the Day of the 40 Martyrs -yet another day in which Christian holidays are entwined with pre-Christian celebrations. And from the midsts of all the celebrations, of all the various traditions of this day, one common symbol emerges -the Mucenici (a “type” of Saints); although their true symbolism got lost, or diluted, Romanians still bake these anthropomorphic figurines on this special day, in the memory of their ancestors and all the departed ones.

I still remember my astonishment as a child when looking at these Saints, which at the time looked very peculiar -neither sweet, not salty, neither cake, nor bread. I could not understand my people kept baking the strange dish year after year, why we’d piously accept them and why we’d treat them with an unspoken respect. Only now I understand: because this strange baking, in the shape of a human, or a bee, is the only thing you can do for the departed, for their memory, for them…

I baked Mucenici for the first time, in the loving memory of our grandmothers and our grandfathers, those whom we’ve met and miss, and those whom we haven’t met, and for all those who are no longer here. And I had the great joy of sharing them with dear Romanian friends.

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Here is the recipe, a combination between Radu-Anton Roman and Sanda Marin:

  • 500 gr flour; 20 gr yeast; 1 teaspoon oil; 1 teaspoon sugar; 1 teaspoon salt; 3 dl milk mixed with water; 2 tablespoons honey; ground wallnuts.
  • Syrup: 1 cup water; 6 teaspoons honey
  • Honey and ground walnuts

Activate the yeast in some warm milk, mixed with the teaspoon of sugar. Leave to activate in a warm place, until a yeast paste forms. This is then mixed with a handfull of flour, and stirred very well (until small bubbles emerge). The mixture should be left to rise in a warm place (e.g. in front on a warm oven), until it increases threefold in size. When risen, add to the rest of the flower, together with the oil and salt. Start mixing, by adding the milk, honey and wallnuts gradually. The dough should be thoroughly kneaded. After it’s well kneaded, leave to rise in a warm place for about 40-50 minutes.

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When risen, model the Saints as eights, by rolling pieces of dough into strings of 1 sc diameter. Place to rise again in the shape of eights, and after they have risen again, bake in the oven over medium heat. Egg-wash them to get the beautiful golden colour. When ready, cool down. Prepare the syrup my mixing the water and honey over medium heat, until thickened. When the Saints have cooled, briefly (2-3 seconds) place them in boiling water (to soften the crust), place in a bowl and pour the honey syrup over them. After they absorb the syrup, glaze each one with honey and sprinkle each with ground walnuts.

Once they look beautiful, they should be given away in good faith, for the souls of the departed.

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Mousaka from Dorna, Bukovina

Here is a “goodie” that intrigued me with its minimum resemblance with the mousaka I used to know, despite having the same name. Cream, wine and plum brandy in mousaka? And fried potatoes instead of boiled ones? As such a dish must be tasted, I gave in the temptation, and did I get rewarded in the end! This dish is full of taste, right aromas, with a surprising sauce which ties the dish together. However, I must admit that this is a wintery dish, heavy but in a good way, with a taste that does remind me of my father’s Bukovina. A must try before we get tempted away by the freshness of spring vegetables!And as all dishes have a story in this book…”one one hand, the folkmen from Dorna believe that popatoes are cursed, and should not be used in Christian ceremonies, to taint them, but on the other hand, at home, not seen by priests or old women, they make a pact with the world’s best mousaka, so good that it’s impossible not to give in into temptation!” (R.A. Roman)

Mousaka:

  • 1,5 kg popatoes
  • 1 kg minced beef meat
  • 1 big onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 cup of oil
  • 1 glass of wine
  • 1 small glass of plum brandy 🙂
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 big cup of cream
  • 250 g edam or cheddar-type cheese
  • salt, pepper, dill, thyme

Sauce:

  • 1 cup of cream
  • 1 glass of tomato juice
  • 1 glass of wine
  • 1 spoon of honey
  • pepper, thyme

Chop the onion and finely dice the carrot; fry in oil until tender, then add the minced meat. When meat is cooked through, season with salt, pepper, dill and thyme and take off the heat. Add the wine and the plum brandy.

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Peel the potatoes, slice into round, thin slices. Fry on high hear in oil until golden, making sure they don’t stick to each other.

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Grate the cheese and mix with the eggs and the cream, season with salt and pepper.

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Grease a pan/tray with butter, and place a layer of potatoes, a layer of meat and then a layer of the cheese cream. Continue until mixtures finish (usually only 2 of these 3 layers), making sure to finish with a cheese and cream layer.

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Bake in the oven on low heat about an hour, until the top is golden and crisp.

For the sweet-sour sauce, put on a pan and add the tomato juice, the honey and the wine. Fold in the cream, wisking so that it does not separate. Season with pepper and thyme. The sauce is served along with the mousaka.

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Stuffed Leek

“This may be a moldavian dish, but it is much better suited in the vegetable exuberance of southern Oltenia, in places like Turnu-Severin, Calafat, Corabia.”

What you need:

  • 2 kg de leek (thick)

Stuffing:

  • 500 g minced beef meat
  • 2.3 spoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup of rice
  • 1 small celery root
  • 1 chilli pepper
  • 1 big onion
  • 1 spoon pepper-bell paste
  • 1-2 carrots
  • 1 egg
  • dill and parsley, chopped

Sauce:

  • 1 glass of sweet white wine
  • 1 glass tomato juice
  • 1 glass of pickled cabbage juice
  • 100 ml oil
  • thyme, bay leaves

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Cut the white part of the leek in 4-5 cm pieces; you take out the inner rings by gently pushing them, and keep 1-2 rings intact. You chop the centres finely.

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Chop and fry the onion in oil, together with a part of the chopped leek, until golden. Grate the carrots and the onions, add to the onion together with the minced meat. Fry until the meat is cooked. When the meat changed its colour, add the rice and fry for a little longer.
Season with salt and pepper, add the tomato paste, the pepper bell paste, the egg and the chopped dill and parsley. Stuff the leek segments with the mince mixture.

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Add oil on the bottom of a deep pan, add the rest of the chopped leek centres, and lay the stuffed leek rolls, and dust over thyme and bay leaves.

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Make a cold sauce from the sauce ingredients, pour over the leek rolls and place in heated oven on low heat for about one hour with the lead on. After an hour, take the lead off so that the rolls get a golden colour.”

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And here is teh surprizing and delicious rezult! What is surprizing about this dish is the perfect harmony between the lightly sour sauce, the sweetness of the leek and the lightly seasoned taste of the meat. Unexpectedly tasty!

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