Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Father's Land..Transylvania

GRUI Church Saliste-Sibiu

Romania, where my love of food was born and nourished is located in South East Europe on the 45 parallel, richly blessed with a variety of reliefs, hundreds of rivers and streams, the necklace of the Carpathian mountains, a rich palette of colors, fertile soils and majestic forests.

The temperate climate and access to the Black Sea, offers a unique range of produce and regional traditional cooking, rooted in the
traditions of past generations that passed them along to the next for centuries.

Main regions of Romania are Transylvania, Moldova, Wallachia, Dobrogea.
Their geography, boundaries, rivers and soils as well as the folkloric traditions naturally determine the character and traits of their cooking.

Today's journey takes us to Transylvania, my father's land and a region of great beauty, historical past and deep roote
d gastronomical traditions.

My father was born in Saliste...a small village around the medieval city of Sibiu. 

Generations since the 1700's are buried in a cemetery on the grounds of a small church on top of the hill, called Grui. Each trip to Romania includes a pilgrimage to Grui Church and our sacred graves nestled among fragrant pine trees.

SIBIU was founded over 800 years ago (the actual territory of the city being documentary attested in 1191 by Pope Celestin III), it was a city of craftsmen who developed over centuries a prosperous trade with Hungary, Poland and the southern province of Wallachia.

The German name of Sibiu is Hermannstadt (mentioned for the first time in 1366) and even since its foundation the city has been a very important center populated by German people. Nowadays, Sibiu is known as a city of culture and art.

Around Sibiu, nestled among the hills and mountains
several villages each with their distinctive costumes, folklore tradition and century old cooking.
In Saliste, the young people come out in the main square few days after Christmas and dance century old dances. 

Food and drink is served, hot plum brandy-TUICA, hot red wine with spices, sausages and stuffed cabbage rolls-SARMALE.

There is no Christmas and New Year dinner without the little bundles of pork and cabbage.

This is my paternal grandmother Atena's recipe for SARMALE
Large head of cabbage
1 onion finely chopped
1 lb ground pork
4 tbs rice
1 can stewed tomatoes
2 slices of bacon cut in small pieces
2 tbs bacon drippings
2 smoked pork knuckles
4 tbs olive oil
1 32 oz jar of sauerkraut
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbs sweet paprika
thyme a good pinch
fresh dill chopped( can substitute dry, a good pinch)
basil dry or fresh
few pepper corns
2 bay leaves

  • Sauté the onions in olive oil with the rice, paprika, salt and pepper and a pinch of herbs for few minutes.
  • Prepare stuffing by mixing the meat with the sautéed onions, salt and pepper to taste, dill and basil, 1/4 cup hot water. Set aside to cool.
  • With a sharp knife, make four perpendicular cuts around the core of the cabbage to allow the leaves to separate while scalding.
  • In a large stock pot boil water and 1 tbsp. salt, add the cabbage with the core down and scald until leaves are soft.
  • Prepare a Dutch oven by lining the bottom with bacon drippings and some of the cut bacon, a layer of sauerkraut, some dill and thyme.
  • Drain the head of cabbage, pick the larger leaves first and after they cool and can be handled begin to stuff with the mixture by placing a large spoon full in the top middle of the leaf, folding the sides over the mixture and rolling again into a finished roll.
  • Place them in a concentric shape around the walls of the Dutch oven leaving a space in the center. Once the first layer is done, place one smoked pork in the center.
  • Sprinkle the first layer with some sauerkraut, smaller leaves of steamed cabbage sliced fine, sprinkle of herbs and peppercorns, a bay leaf and 1/3 of the stewed tomatoes.
  • Continue to the second layer the same way with a space in the center for the second smoked pork piece. This is a Transylvanian traditional way of building a "tower" of smoked pork inside the cabbage rolls in order to diffuse the flavor during cooking. Top with the same ingredients as the first layer.
  • Repeat the final layer, this time filling the middle as well with rolls. Now top with the remaining sauerkraut, steamed cabbage sliced fine, stewed tomatoes, bay leaf and herbs including basil.
  • Pour the juice from the kraut over the layers and hot water if needed to cover them completely. Let stand for 15 minutes.
  • Sprinkle some olive oil and start cooking on a low simmer setting for about one hour, covered. The liquid will reduce with cooking, watch for over spills at the beginning. After one hour, taste for salt and sour. If needed, a bit of sugar can be sprinkled to counteract the sour taste for some.
  • Cook for one hour more on the lowest setting. Before serving place the pot in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes at 300 F to finish reducing the liquid. Check it every 10 minutes to make sure it will not burn. The rolls should be moist and most of the liquids absorbed.
  • Traditionally SARMALE are served with MAMALIGA, Romanian polenta made from corn meal and water. Our family also uses a dollop of sour cream on top and a garnish of fresh dill.
  • Enjoy with a glass of Feteasca Alba wine from Blaj.
The Transylvanian plateau is rich in vineyards that produce world famous wines since the times of the Roman Empire.

Here are few selections:

  Vineyard        Location          Wines

TARNAVE         Jidvei         Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala

ALBA               Alba-Iulia   Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Traminer Rose

SEBES-APOLD     Sibiu       Feteasca Alba, Muscat Ottonel

                                               Voyages of Discovery