Romanian Food

A Romanian Aubergine salad, with some home-made bread.

I think a great way to find out about a country, or culture, is to look at their cuisine and gastronomical history. Certainly some of the big one-off food events have had a massive effect on societies, like the importing of sugar, chocolate and coffee (I even remember reading an article suggesting that coffee was responsible for the reformation), but these are not so common. Demographic changes in countries are often echoed by changes in cuisine, for example, you can see the immigration in the 1950s from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by the huge rise in Indian-style cuisine- chicken tikka massala and butter chicken are both dishes that were invented in England. But it’s the traditional cuisine that can give good clues as to the traditional ways of life, and so the cultural values passed on through generations. Ways of preserving meat and fruit, use of spices, and any alcohol produced will all form the basis of the traditional cuisine- the French wine industry starting in Greek and Roman times, British jams and chutneys, or duck confit, for example. So when I visit another country, or have the opportunity to talk food with someone from a different country, I’ll always learn much more than just recipes.

So on a day when we had already made Dark Chocolate and Orange Eclairs and Rhubarb and Custard Sweets, we had some Romanian food to finish off the day: an aubergine salad (salată de vinete) and meatballs (chiftele) with mashed potato. The meatballs were flavoured strongly with dill, something you might not see in British cuisine, but it proved a intriguing combination. The aubergine salad was a bit like guacamole with aubergine instead of avocado, but piqued with onion- it reminded me a little of steak tartare in texture. Interestingly, though, both the aubergine salad and the meatballs are meant to have come from a Turkish influence, when the Ottomans ruled Romania, until 1878. The honey and nut combination found in baklava has also found its way into Romanian desserts.

Romanian wine is also of interest. Despite having a long history of viticulture, and being the world’s 9th biggest wine producer, they are seen perhaps by the rest of the world as an “up-and-coming” wine region. Whilst we didn’t have a Romanian bottle with the meal, I have had The Wine Society’s Prince Ştirbey Novac Sec, 2009 as part of an off-the-beaten-track tasting, which I enjoyed. Their reds particularly have a lot of potential and value for money, so look out for them where available.

So: an enjoyable day’s cooking, and a chance to learn and sample some of a foreign culture, and a great meal. Now all I have to do is find some great English food to return the favour…

Romanian Meatballs, Oregano Mash and Courgette

Aubergine salad (Salată de vinete)

Ingredients (makes a starter, with bread, for four):
2 medium aubergines
1 onion
~2tbsp mayonnaise
salt, pepper

1. Roast the aubergines for 1h-1h20min at 200°C. They should be turned every 20 minutes to ensure even cooking.
2. Drain the aubergines. After they cool down a bit, peel the skin off and let them drain by putting them on a tilted chopping board. They should drain for at least one hour. This bit is very important, to get all the bitter juice out.
3. Make the salad. Finely chop the eggplants and onion and mix them with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper to taste.

Romanian meatballs with Oregano Mashed Potato (Chiftele)

Ingredients (serves 4):
For the meatballs:
500g pork mince (you can also used mixed meats, for example, 250g pork and 250g beef)
1 onion
1 carrot
1 potato
1 egg
1 thick slice of bread
50ml milk
1tbsp dill
50g flour
200ml oil (for frying)
salt, pepper

For the mash:
6 medium-large potatoes
2tsp oregano
30g butter
50ml milk
salt and pepper

1. Make the meat mix. Chop the onion, grate the carrot and potato and add the dill. Soak the bread in the milk, then drain the bread and break into small pieces. Mix the meat well with all the chopped ingredients, egg, salt and pepper.
2. Form the meatballs. Traditionally in Romania they are a bit flat, not perfectly round. It is helpful to have your hands a bit wet while doing this, as the mixture can become quite sticky. Roll the meatballs in the flour.
3. Make the mash. Peel the potatoes, and chop them in half so that all the pieces are approximately the same size. Cook the potatoes for around 30 minutes until cooked, a knife should slide into a potato easily. Drain, then add the butter, milk, oregano and mash until homogeneous. Season to taste.
4. Cook the meatballs. Heat some oil in a heavy based pan to a medium temperature- the oil should be such that it reaches up to half the height of the meatballs- and add the meatballs. Cook for about ten minutes until done, then turn them on the other side once done. Cover the meatballs until ready to serve.


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