After a dip into the Middle East, this week we journeyed back up north to eastern Europe, and specifically Romania. The southern detour was largely due to the abundance of tomatoes coming in at the end of the harvest, but as the weather is now turning colder, heartier northern foods feel more natural. Next week we're continuing on to Russia, and then on through northern Asia.
Our main dish was sarmale - Romanian cabbage rolls stuffed with a meat and rice filling. They actually are very similar to Greek dolmas, but flavored so differently that they become an entirely new dish. I've never made anything like them before, so that part was a fun experience for me. You blanch a whole head of cabbage in a pot of boiling water, peel off the outer softened leaves, place a raw meatball in each, and roll it up, poking in the ends. Then you tuck all those cabbage dumplings in a Dutch oven, add some tomato sauce and dill, cover it with cabbage leaves and sauerkraut, and bake low and slow all afternoon.
On the side we had mamaliga, which is indistinguishable from polenta. Have you noticed how many names this basic cornmeal mush goes by? And how much more sophisticated "mamaliga" or "polenta" sounds, compared to "hasty pudding" or "mush"? Anyway, our mamaliga was made with popcorn that I ground coarsely in our mini blender, which worked very well. I flavored it with a single piece of bacon, as I saw in some other recipes, and topped it with very thick strained yogurt, since we didn't have any sour cream.
For dessert was cozonac - Romanian sweet bread with chocolate. Usually it has walnuts too, but I didn't have any and our grocery budget was empty at the end of the month. So I found this recipe that just uses cocoa and sugar, a lot like a cinnamon swirl bread. It was good, and very beautiful, but I do hope to try it again someday with the walnuts.
If you use the linked recipe, you might have trouble following it between it being written in Romanian and with metric measurements. Here are the conversions I used to make a single large loaf:
1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
2.5 t. yeast
1/2 t. salt
2 T. butter
3 1/2 - 4 c. flour
3 T. each sugar and cocoa for the swirl
Inside it is completely threaded with chocolate! Next time I make it I'll use more chocolate and sugar - maybe even twice as much. And I'd love to try it with walnuts sometime as well.
In the end, Eastern European food still isn't my favorite, but it was still very fun to try something completely new. I'm not sure I'll be making this dinner again anytime soon (though Collin votes for a repeat appearance), but I'm glad we were able to try it and have a little taste of Romania.