Tag Archives: Romania

Mediterranean veg with seedy mamaliga (polenta)

2 Oct

When I get a visitor with food needs I haven’t met before, it’s a challenge I love. This week’s visitor eats meat, but has allergies to dairy and gluten. No dairy, no problem, but no gluten (wheat, oats, rye, barley) is a restriction I haven’t catered for yet.

Mamaliga, polenta, aubergine, red pepper, garlic, seeds

Colourful and flavoursome

Last night I made this and served it with late-summer Romanian yellow beans (and I had feta cheese crumbled on top).  There are endless variations you can try, including a bit of chicken or tuna grilled or pan-fried, any green veg such as Savoy cabbage, broccoli or chard; you can try different herbs with the polenta, different cheeses, either crumbled or melted on top… The choice is yours. But here’s what I concocted last night. [This long list of ingredients and instructions might look as if this post doesn’t qualify as “easy”, but I’d say it does – the recipe is flexible and forgiving, so unless you leave the polenta cooking while you have a bath, or don’t cook the Med Veg for long enough, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s not fiddly or over-precise, so it’s a good one for less experienced cooks.]

Seeded mamaliga

Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, and is a staple food here. I find it – as normally served – like wallpaper paste, tasteless and gluey. but with a little extra something, then sliced and grilled, it becomes something altogether different.

Ingredients

300g maize meal or instant polenta

Boiling water

Big handful of fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoons of dried), chopped finely

Handful of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds

Toast the seeds till pale brown and set aside

Boil a kettleful of water and pour half into a large pan on full heat – when boiling, add the dry polenta/maize meal and stir vigorously (use a whisk to get rid of the lumps) for 15 mins or so (follow cooking instructions on packet), topping up with water as polenta thickens. Add the toasted seeds and the parsley, and a salt to taste – check seasoning several times. You want the polenta thick, but still pourable. When it gets to that point, pour it into a shallow dish and let it cool while you cook the veg.

Meanwhile…

Mediterranean veg

I call this Arthritis Relish because it consists of all the veg that do no good for arthritic hands – but they’re all so delicious I put up with a couple of days of discomfort.

Ingredients

1 aubergine (eggplant) –  cubed into 1” pieces, skin on.

2 red peppers (bell peppers) – chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 medium onion

2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 chilli pepper, chopped – with out without seeds, depending on how hot you want it

Herbs of choice – basil, thyme, marjoram or a Provencal mix

A teaspoon of a spice mix like Baharat or Ras al Hanout

Salt & pepper

How to do it

Put all the ingredients in a big pot with plenty of oil (extra virgin olive, for preference) and frazzle slowly for at least 45 mins, so the aubergine has softened thoroughly and tastes sweet and rich. Check flavours and adjust seasoning if needed.

When cooked down to a jammy chunkiness, take off the heat and keep the lid on the pan.

By now the polenta wshould have cooled and set so that you can slice it; cut a slice for each person and put them under the grill or in the microwave for a few minutes to heat through. (If you’re all cheese-eaters, a bit of grated cheese of choice goes well on top of the polenta slices.)

On each plate: a slice of polenta, a scoop of Mediterranean veg, something green and leafy, and perhaps some crumbled feta cheese or grated Pecorino, and a good twist of black pepper.

NB There should be polenta left over (it’s very filling) – a grilled slice works very well as breakfast, topped with scrambled, poached or fried eggs, mushrooms or grilled tomatoes. And/or bacon, if you’re so inclined.

 

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Mushrooms to kill for

12 Mar

Wow. Some dishes are just knock-out. Our supper tonight was one of those. Knock-out delicious, and knock-out for any passing vampires – the garlic content must be driving every vampire out of Romania, and every flu bug out of existence. Vegetarians, say huzzah – this is a dish worthy of a celebration.

Mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, vampires, healthy food, veggie gourmet, vegan option, breadcrumbs, super supper, Transylania food

Mushroom crumble with a cheese lattice, served with cauliflower in white sauce

I had a box of field mushrooms (half a kilo @ 12 lei per kilo) demanding to be eaten, and a fat bulb of garlic sitting by a tub of sour cream. What was I to do? Could I neglect a whining mushroom any longer? Was the garlic to be denied? Not to mention a bag of crumbs made this morning from a belly of crusty brown bread and four lebanese flatbreads whose hey-day was past.

I wasn’t sure what would result, although I was confident of the ingredients – just wondered how it would all emerge from the burning fiery furnace of my oven.

By the way, I’ve swallowed half a litre of  organic pear cider (we used to call it perry), hence the purple prose. I shan’t apologise, but shall get on with the recipe.

This serves between 4 and 6 people, depending on their level of hunger. I served the mushrooms with barely-boiled cauliflower in a white sauce made with the stalks of the mushrooms.

What

500g large (field or Portobello) mushrooms

4 or 5 big cloves of garlic

1 heaped teaspoon of sour cream per mushroom

lots of breadcrumbs

fresh black pepper, mixed herbs, salt

50-100g grated cheese, for topping

How

Pull the stalks out of the mushrooms. Give the mushrooms a wipe and put them gills up in an oiled gratin dish, and wedge the stalks in amongst them. Two or three mushrooms per person is more than enough (depending on the size of fungi and appetites).

Crush or chop the garlic and put a bit in each mushroom; add the herbs and seasoning, then the dollop of sour cream.

Scatter the breadcrumbs liberally over the mushrooms till they’re well covered, then grate the cheese over the top.

Hurl it into a medium-hot oven for 30-40 minutes until the cheese melts into a lattice and the breadcrumbs are dark gold.

Serve with caufliflower in white sauce. (I chopped the four remaining mushroom stalks into the white sauce.)

This is a seriously good supper dish, and if presented with more care than I bothered with this evening, it would make a stunning meal for the most exacting of veggie gourmets. With the cauli, it is a triumph.

Vegans – substitute hummus or nut butter for the sour cream.

Cheap – yes. Easy – certainly. Delicious – unutterably.

 

 

Tocana – a Transylvanian autumn treat

20 Oct
Gogosar is the Romanian word for rounded peppers, compared to the long, pointed ones known as ardei

Gogosar, the sweet capsicum you find in their natural shape and colours in Transylvanian markets

This is a fabulous foodie treat that hasn’t yet escaped its home cuisine in Transylvania (Romania). Tocana is a relish of the last summer vegetables, for sale in the market for buttons in October as the autumn takes hold and winter beckons. [Zacusca is a close relative, made by roasting the vegetables rather than cooking in oil like a confit.]

Housewives buy 20 kilo sacks of peppers and aubergines to cook and put in jars for a reminder of summer in the depths of a harsh winter, with smaller sacks of onions and carrots grown in the smallholdings of rural Transylvania.

Sweet with a hint of smoky bitterness, full of flavour and colour, the autumn peppers (ardei and gogosar) from the south of Romania and imported from Turkey are a far cry from the pretty but tasteless peppers you find in British supermarkets, grown in Dutch polytunnels without benefit of mineral-rich soils and southern summers. These aren’t perfectly shaped, uniformly coloured things, but organic vine fruit folded and twisted and coloured by the sun, grown without the synthetic encouragement of agrotechnology; the difference in taste is so marked that they might be different species altogether.

Tocana, the Transylvanian foodie secret that is one of the treats of the year

Tocana, organic, simple, naturally colourful and bursting with late summer flavour

So – tocana. A simple recipe, but cleaning and chopping takes time, so it’s best done as a family, or with a group of friends; if you’re on your own put some music on and surrender yourself to an annual ritual of aroma and maturing textures. Then you have the delicious reward of warm tocana for supper, and the looking forward to helping yourself to a jar of tocana from time to time through the long, frozen winter.

This is a dish of such rich summery colour and flavour that I’m amazed it hasn’t been swiped by savvy chefs in Britain, or exported by canny Transylvanians. An opportunity for you to make a coup, and worth every minute of preparation.

Ingredients

5kg red peppers

1kg carrots

1kg onions

800g tin of tomato paste

1 litre oil (sunflower or another mild-flavoured oil)

seasoning to taste

NB You’ll need a big pan for this amount, and several large jamjars. If you live in a northern climate, peppers might be prohibitively expensive in these quantities, but the 5:1:1:1 ratio of ingredients is easy to scale down for an occasional dish.

How to do it

Clean and deseed the peppers, skin the onions and peel the carrots. Chop the veg to a fine dice in a food processor (stop short of a paste) and put in a large pan (a jam pan is ideal) with the tomato paste, oil, salt, black pepper and/or cayenne, and if you like, a little sweet paprika. (Better to add a little seasoning and add a little more if needed, rather than overdoing it all at once.)

Cook over a high heat until the mixture is bubbling. The veg release plenty of water, so once boiling, turn the heat down and leave to cook (stirring often to stop burning) for a good couple of hours, until the water has evaporated, and the mixture is a thick, rich, glossy red conserve. Adjust the seasoning if you need to, then let it cool to blood temperature.

While still warm, put into sterilised jars and seal thoroughly. It should last for weeks, if not several months, in a dark place. Eat with a spoon straight from the jar, or if you want to be a bit more civilised, serve with toast or oatcakes. You can use it as a sauce for pasta, or as a relish with cold meat or cheese.