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Friday, April 2, 2010

Romanian Cuisine

Romanian cuisine is mentioned in this famous novel "I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was "mamaliga", and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call "impletata"." Bram Stoker, Dracula, Chapter 1The cuisine of Romania is diverse. It has been greatly influenced by Balkan cuisine as well as of its neighbors, such as Germans, Serbians, and Hungarians.

Let’s take a look at some Romanian dishes:

Mamaliga is a dish made of yellow maize and is traditional for Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. It’s better known to the rest of the world in Italian – polenta. Historically it was a peasant food and substituted for bread or used as a staple food in the poor rural areas. In the last decades it has emerged as an upscale dish available in the finest restaurants. Traditionally it’s cooked by boiling water, salt and cornmeal in a special-shaped cast iron pot called ceaun. When cooked peasant style to be eaten as bread it’s cooked so that it can be cut into slices. Mamaliga is often served with sour cream and cheese on the side.

Kofta (in Romanian chiftes) is a Southeastern European, Middle Eastern and South Asian meatball or dumpling. In its simplest form it consists of minced or ground meat – usually beef or lamb and mixed with spices or onions.

Ardei umpluti – Romanian for stuffed peppers. Prepared with bell peppers stuffed with ground meat, usually pork, rice, onion and other vegetables and spices. Ciorba is a general Romanian word describing sour soups which consist of various vegetables and meat. To make it sour ingredients such as lemons, bors (fermented wheat bran) or zeama de varza acra (sauerkraut juice0 may be added. Ciulama pig or calf kidneys in a white sauce served with mamaliga. Frigaru a Romanian dish consisting of small pieces of meat (usually pork, beef, mutton, lamb or chicken) grilled on a skewer similar to the kebab.

Often the piece of meat are alternated with bacon, sausages or lard and vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and mushrooms. It is seasoned with spices such as pepper, garlic, savory, rosemary, marjoram and laurel. Its name is derived from "a frige" (to grill or to fry), which is of Latin origin and cognate with English to fry. Porkolt a meat stew originating from Hungary but eaten throughout Central Europe and the Balkans. It is made with boneless meat, paprika, some vegetables but no potatoes. Bell peppers, tomatoes or tomato paste, green pepper and garlic are common additions to the basic recipe.

Mititei or mici which is Romanian for little, small or very little. It is a traditional Romanian dish grilled minced meat rolls made from beef (usually mixed with mutton or pork) and contains garlic, black pepper, thyme, coriander, anise, savory and sometimes a touch of paprika. Best served with mustard and beer. The mititei are very popular in Romania, together with shkembe chorba – a cow or pork stomach soup. Rasol a dish made from meat, potatoes and several other vegetables which are boiled together. The meat is usually from a chicken, duck, goose or turkey. Potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and onions are usually boiled with the meat. Zacusca a vegetable spread popular in Romania. Its main ingredients are roasted eggplant or cooled beans, roasted red peppers and chopped onion. Other ingredients may be added according to taste. It can be eaten as a relish or a spread on bread.

Cheeses such as - Brânză topită (melted cheese) is the Romanian name for spreading/processed cheese. Cas is made up by adding rennet to the fresh milk and after it coagulates the curd is crushed and then gathered and hanged in a textile material to allow the whey to drain. The cheese thus obtained has a round teardrop shape and is dried and matured until it gets a yellow color and a slightly sour taste. Caş is a telemea cheese before, or just after being salted. Cascaval is the traditional name for a specific semi-hard cheese made in Romania, with sheep's-milk cheese Several sorts of the Romanian caşcaval have PDO status in the E.U. It is quite similar to the Balcan, Greek and Sicilian Caciocavallo cheese.

Beer in Romania comes from the long tradition of Romanian brewing having been introduced in Transylvania by the German colonists (Transylvanian Saxons) and in Moldavia by cultural connections with Poland. The association of beer with mititei however came only during the 1877 Independence War of Romania and after that it saw a spread of beer pubs throughout the Romanian Kingdom. The beer pubs (berării) became a place of social and business meetings for the Romanian urban middle-class. Romanian law considers beer and wine to be foodstuffs and therefore they are not subject to the usual tariffs and restrictions imposed upon alcoholic beverages.

There is also a type of sweet liquor. Vişinata is a Romanian alcoholic beverage produced by filling a jar with sour cherries (vişine in Romanian), then filling the rest of the jar with alcohol (ţuică or palinka), adding sugar and leaving it in the sun for a while. It is very flavorful and sweet.

Paprika Chicken
Makes 4 servings

6 to 8 chicken thighs (about 2 ¼ pounds total), rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (see note)
1 can (14 ounces) whole tomatoes in juice, drained (reserve juice for eggplant recipe)
½ cup chicken stock
1 ½ teaspoons flour
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons sour cream, plus more for garnish

Remove chicken skin and reserve. Set thighs aside. Heat oil in a deep skillet and cook chicken skin over medium-low heat until it renders about ¼ cup of fat, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove skin with slotted spoon and discard.
Add onions and salt, cover skillet and cook on medium heat until onions are very tender but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add paprika and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add tomatoes, reserving juice for Eggplant Stuffed with Spicy Sausage recipe, and stock, stirring to break up tomatoes.
Add skinned chicken thighs, cover and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes more. Mix flour and water to form a thin paste. Stir into chicken mixture, simmering until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Serve over noodles, rice, polenta or fresh bread, with a small dollop of sour cream.

Eggplant Stuffed with Spicy Sausage
Makes 4 servings

4 baby eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds total)
1 ½ cups mititei (see recipe) or other spicy sausage, casing removed
1 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped (2 tablespoons)
¼ cup tomato sauce or reserved juice from canned tomatoes, from Paprika Chicken recipe above
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Remove flesh from each half, leaving a lining ¼-inch from skin, to form 8 "boats." Set boats aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Chop eggplant flesh into ¼-inch dice. Set aside.
In skillet, over medium heat, cook sausage, breaking up large pieces. Cook until well browned, about 7 minutes. Remove sausage with slotted spoon. Set aside.
Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to sausage fat. Heat for a few seconds on medium. Add chopped garlic and shallot and sauté for about a minute. Add chopped eggplant, stirring until well coated with fat and oil. Return sausage to skillet and stir well.
Add tomato sauce or reserved juice and cook until eggplant softens and most of the liquid evaporates, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper. Divide sausage mixture evenly among eggplant boats. Place in baking dish. Drizzle boats with remaining olive oil.

Cover lightly with foil.
Bake in preheated oven until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. By Rasma Raisters

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