Thursday, January 2, 2014

Winter Savory and Warming Dishes

A ritual in the Romanian kitchen during the winter months or after long feast nights are sour soups, CIORBA...heart warming, full of flavor and easy to make.

It can be made with a variety of meats, I selected chicken for this recipe, but capon, turkey or goose can be substituted.

chicken stock, preferably
home made
chicken breast and thigh meat, skinless cut in small pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
2 eggs
2 tbs sour cream
1/2 cup sauerkraut juice
few pepper corns
chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

chopped fresh dill
chopped fresh basil
dry lovage, a pinch
dry thyme, a pinch
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • In the soup pot sauté the chopped vegetables in olive oil for few minutes until tender and aromatic on medium heat.
  • Add the chicken pieces and sear for few minutes more, stirring occasionally.
  • Salt and pepper, add the dry herbs and cook for a couple of minutes more stirring the ingredients.
  • Add the chicken stock, few pepper corns and simmer slowly for 20-25 minutes.
  • Next add the sauerkraut juice and cook for 5 minutes more, tasting for salt and pepper.
  • Turn on very low simmer or off, add the fresh herbs and cover until ready to serve.
  • In the serving soup bowl, beat the eggs with few drops of water, add a small ladle of hot soup to temper them, mixing gently and follow with the rest of soup. 
  • Served with a dollop of sour cream and fresh chopped parsley and lovage.

Rustic warmed bread and a bowl of small marinated hot green peppers will accompany the steaming bowls of CIORBA.

Lovage, tall perennial herb (Levisticum officinale) of the family Umbelliferae (parsley family), native to the mountains of Southern Europe. 

Its aromatic fruits are used in soups and as a flavoring for confectionery and for some liqueurs. 

An aromatic oil extracted from the roots has been used medicinally and also for flavoring. 

The edible leaves are usually used like celery.

                  Voyages of Discovery

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bring In The Goats!

Caroling with the Goat in ancient times between Christmas and Epiphany became extremely significant for Romanian farmers, as was intended to predict  the weather.... will it be better in the year to come, or would it bring many rainy days and cold?

The Goat would become a divine calling to bring blessings in all areas of agriculture, more fertile and fruitful land, rich harvest and increasing the number of animals in the shepherds’ herds. 

The folks receiving the Goat in their homes would throw seeds and berries in the path of the dancers to invoke a good harvest.

This dance came through the centuries from the Romans as a pagan ritual but it has become a folk tradition throughout Romania to bring joy, good fortune and good health to each house for the New Year.

In every region of the country, the Goat is celebrated in a special way, in Hunedoara is replaced by deer, in Muntenia and Oltenia called Brezaie while in Transylvania is known as Bourita. In the eastern part of the country, Moldova, the name of Capra is very common as well a Turca and each regional colors and textures are used in the costumes.

 Rejoice! Dance and Celebrate! Happy New Year!

                                                      Voyages of Discovery

Monday, December 30, 2013

Home in Saliste....a Memory

Săliște, Sibiu

Roaming the hills of my childhood, I remember stories about the old Dacian citadel between Saliste and Tilisca. The first document mentioning Saliste is from 1354 and refers to it in Latin as Magna Villa.

The air is sweet and crisp in Saliste, my grandmother's roses, herbs and apple orchard are as fragrant as ever. When the wind picks up, the green scent of cedar from the mountains touches my face. 

The wood stove is warming the kitchen, a big calico cat has found his nook near the herb drying shelf. 

A pot of GREEN BEAN CIORBA is simmering on the edge.

2 cups fresh green beans cut in bite size pieces
1 onion finely chopped

6 cups chicken stock(preferably home made)
4 hard boiled eggs finely chopped
1/2 stick sweet butter
lemon juice according to taste
4 slices of rustic bread
fresh parsley chopped
oregano a good pinch

basil a good pinch
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a sauteuse combine a bit of butter with the onion, green beans and 1/4 cup of water, cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, until beans are cooked al dente.

Heat the chicken stock in a separate soup pot. 

When the beans are ready, transfer them in the soup pot, add salt and pepper, lemon juice and the herbs. 

Toast the rustic bread and brush with butter.

Each serving bowl gets a slice of buttered rustic bread on the bottom, chopped egg, a sprinkle of fresh parsley and a large ladle of the soup.

Across the street, our neighbor is sitting at her loom adding more magic to the wool carpets she creates, her window is getting darker, the sound of bells is trickling through the air...the cows are coming home from pasture.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

In The Company Of Shepherds

There is never a dull moment in the Romanian kitchen or the table for that matter. So for today's journey the table is set outdoors, in the heart of the mountains in the company of shepherds in the Fagaras Mountains.

Flock of sheep on the hills of the Carpathian Mountains


The colors of the day are muted rich greens disappearing into cerulean pale blue skies.

The sides of the mountains and emerald green meadows are gently dotted with brush stokes in shades of white, gray and black forming a moving tapestry...the hundreds of sheep, their guardians, shepherds and mountain dogs.

Sheep dog from Fagaras

The STANA, corrals with sheep waiting to be milked, has several fires going with large kettles that are are sending si
gnals of warm milk and smoke.
The charcoals are dripping with juices from sides of lamb and wild mushrooms filled with goat cheese.

Shepherd from Sibiu

Shepherd Polenta

Shepherd's Goat Cheese Grilled Mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms
Prosciutto chopped fine

Goat cheese
Garlic finely chopped
Fresh dill finely chopped

Basil, fresh or dry
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil
  • Clean the mushrooms, removing the caps and setting aside.
  • Chop finely the stems and place in a sauteuse with some olive oil, the prosciutto and the garlic. Allow to release their juices, stirring occasionally, salt and pepper to taste. Cook at medium heat for 10 minutes.
  • Mix the goat cheese in a bowl with the dill and basil, sweet paprika salt and pepper.
  • Fill each mushroom cap with prosciutto and garlic mixture and a spoon of the goat cheese spread on top.
  • They should be grilled on medium hot coals for few minutes and served hot.
  • The mushrooms could also be baked in a baking dish brushed with olive oil and a couple of spoons of water. Bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes and broiled for 3 minutes more.
This dish is enjoyed with a demi-sec white wine Feteasca Alba from Sebes.

On the day of St. George, the protector saint of the flocks, dogs and shepherds, the tradition of centuries is to make a basket with clay pots filled with fresh milk, sweet rolls and a candle. 

The women take them to poor families in the village as an offering for next year's safe and prosperous sheep herding season.

                                          Voyages of Discovery