(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Romanian recipes I want to bring home

Now that I'm at the end of my time in Romanian, and because at heart I'm a foodie, I find myself thinking about the best meals I've eaten in Romania and trying to find recipes so I can eat faint reminders back in the states.
Cornell's birthday dinner
The best meals I have eaten were home-made by our landlady, Luci.  We were invited to Cornell's birthday dinner with his extended family. Luci had been cooking for weeks!

The most memorable meal was the Gypsy Birthday Party Cami arranged for her visiting college friend Laura.  We did a rural home-stay with a Roma family and went to another village to visit a musician clan who grilled meats in our honor.  They harvested the largest fish I have ever seen to add to the grilled sausages and chicken.  But what made it memorable was that they sacrificed a rabbit for the birthday guest. 

So, on to the recipes:
As the Romanians say: POFTĂ BUNĂ!

Mici (pronounced meech), or Mititei, from Luci
You find these little sausages everywhere and they are great with beer.  We don't have anything that tastes quite like them, I think it's because they don't have chemical preservatives.  Most Romanians I asked about their mother's recipes, said "She always bought them at the store." But when I asked Luci, our landlady who prefers not only to cook her own food, but also to raise it and kill it, she gave me her old stand-by recipe:
400 grams ground beef
250 grams ground pork
100 grams ground lamb
200 ml water
25 grams condiment (pepper, paprika, garlic powder)
10 grams salt
15 grams bicarbonate of soda
Mix with wet hands and form sausages.  Cook on grill or teflon skillet.
Salate de Vinite (Eggplant Puree)
This is a staple at every Romanian covered dish supper, and each person has different ways of making it.  Again, the vinite that Luci makes is the best we've had in Romania! 
This recipe is from cdkitchen.com, with preparation hints from Luci's kitchen.
3 medium eggplants 1/4 cup olive or sunflower oil 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste pinch of ground black pepper 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 ripe tomato, cut in wedges black olives 1 small onion, chopped
Preheat oven to broil (Luci chars them on the gas stove top until they are black.  This gives the final product a wonderful smoky flavor). Pierce eggplant skin in several places with a fork. Arrange onto a broiling pan and place under the broiler. Broil until eggplants are soft and skin is charred. Turn the eggplants once during broiling. (They will leak a good deal of liquid.) Broiling should take about 30-45 minutes. 
While eggplants are cooking, prepare a place to drain them. (It's necessary to remove the bitter liquids before using.) We use a serving platter with one wide end resting on a book to elevate it about 2", and place some paper towels under the lower end to catch excess drips. When eggplants are done, place them on the prepared set-up and allow to drain for at least 15 minutes, then press with a fork or wooden spoon to expel any remaining liquid. Trim off the top stem end and bottom flower end, and peel off the skin. 
Puree the eggplant in a blender or process in a food processor until smooth (Of course, Luci uses a fork). It may be easier to do this in two batches. Pour eggplant puree into a serving bowl and stir in the oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice until well-mixed. Serve immediately or chill for later. Garnish the bowl with tomatoes and olives. Serve the onion in a separate bowl for those who prefer to mix it into the eggplant on their own plate.
Sarmale (Stuffed Cabbage Leaves)
Again, recipe is from cdkitchen.com.
large white cabbage (Romanians use a pickled cabbage leaf that you can buy in the ag-market) 2 onions, chopped 2 tablespoons white rice 1 1/2 pound ground beef or veal 1 tablespoon chopped parsley salt and pepper, to taste 6 tomatoes 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1/2 lemon, juiced 3 cloves garlic, chopped
Break off the cabbage leaves and cut out the hard spines with a knife. Boil a pot of salted water and add the leaves, simmer several seconds, and remove when they begin to soften. Place the cabbage leaves on paper towels and allow to cool. In a greased frying pan, brown the chopped onions and rice, then add 1/2 cup hot water. Cover and allow the rice to swell, then cool several minutes. In a large bowl mix together the meat, rice, parsley, salt and pepper. On a wooden board, lay out a cabbage leaf, and crossing over the part that was cut out, add a spoonful of meat mixture, fold in the sides, and roll the leaf over the meat to form a sausage shape. Repeat with the rest of the leaves and meat. Roll up the small remaining cabbage leaves and cut into strips. Slice the tomatoes. In a large casserole dish, place several tomato slices in the bottom, followed by half the shredded cabbage, and a tight layer of stuffed cabbage. Cover with another layer of tomato and stuffed cabbage, and cover with the remaining tomato slices and shredded cabbage.  Dilute the tomato paste in 4 cups water. Add the lemon juice and garlic and pour the liquid over the cabbage. Cover and bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour. Add more diluted tomato paste if the liquid lowers to half its original level. Serve hot with mamaliga (a Hungarian version of Polenta; Romanians would object that this is a Romanian dish, too) and sour cream.

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