Now, I am the first to admit that I find myself in more unusual situations than most people I know.  Actually, more than anyone I know.  And, being an English speaking American in very pro-Russian Transnistria is right up there with unique situations for me.  Not everything was new.  People ate pizza and wore shorts, jeans, and T-shirts.  But, I saw someone on the street wearing a Putin T-shirt because the Russian president was a hero in this part of the world.  I wanted to run up to the guy and ask if I could take his photo.  I was simply too embarrassed to do it.  But, I’m sure the man would be equally confused about the situation if he ever heard a news broadcast in the West.  Fortunately, I tend to find differences interesting and conversation starters because I truly believe we have more in common than we have different.
All of this was reinforced when I had dinner with my translator Olga’s family.  It was a “pinch myself” moment.  This was a special moment among new friends. Remember I said we had things in common?  Papa Olga loved to hunt, fish, and watch Clint Eastwood movies.  Okay, honestly, I don’t like any of those three things.  But, who knew Clint was famous in Eastern Europe?

Mama Olga loved to cook, care for her family, and go to church.  She was a devout member of the Orthodox Church, but to cover her bets, she also believed in reincarnation.  Just to be safe!  And, Mama pulled out all the stops to give me a traditional meal.  Papa’s contribution was the local wine and brandy.  I don’t drink.  It didn’t matter.

I tried the local specialties.

The traditional meal had my favorite food – potatoes – so there was no way it could lose.  They were baked new potatoes.  I might have smothered them with sour cream, but there was already enough sour cream in my future. There were fried chicken cutlets.  How much more Americ . . . er, Moldovan can you get than fried chicken?  The meal continued with home-made cheese, batter fried zucchini, grape leaves stuffed with rice and mint (topped with sour cream), Moldavian borscht (also with a couple dollops of sour cream), and placintas.

Your eyes might have taken a quick double take on the last word in the previous paragraph.  It looks very close to a word that has an “e” in it instead of an “i”.  And, fortunately, the “c” has a “ch” sound.  So, if you pronounce it correctly, it doesn’t sound nearly as gross or messy.  Placintas are a pastry brought to the region by the Romans.  There are several options for filling which include potatoes, cheese, cabbage, pumpkin, cherries, and apples.

Placintas are accompanied with borscht, a traditional soup throughout Eastern Europe.  Every area has their own version.  I was told in Romania it is called “ciorba”.  I have had that.  Once was enough.  It was served with stomach and that tasted like rubber.  There is no reason to eat rubber and no way to enjoy it either.  Actually, it was a horrible experience.  But, my meal in Tiraspol was delightful.  And, since these two items go together, I had to gather both recipes.  When I asked Mama Olga if I could post the recipes, of course, she said yes.  Papa said they’d do anything to help international relations.  No wonder I liked them!

Mama Olga's Borsch
Tiraspol, Transistria

2 onions
3 carrots
3 Tbs tomato paste
8 ½ cups meat broth
2 beets
5 potatoes
1 cup beans or green beans
½ head of cabbage
bunch of parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Fry up your onions and one of the carrots with tomato paste.  I must say, that’s a new one on me.  I never heard of frying up anything with tomato paste instead of oil.  If you feel you’ve got to add a dash of olive oil, I’ll never tell.

While you’re frying up your onions and carrot, bring the meat broth to a boil.  Then, toss in the onions and carrots to the broth as well as chopped up beets and the remaining diced carrots.   Cook for 40 minutes over medium heat.

Finally, add my favorite food (You should know that is potatoes.) along with the beans.  Continue cooking another 15 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, chop up your cabbage and parsley.  They get tossed in for the last ten minutes of cooking, along with salt and pepper to taste.

Variations:  There are lots of ways to prepare borscht.  If you want a little variety with your vegetables, you can also use leek, celery, and parsnip.  And, you can add a little more flavor with a couple garlic cloves, ¼ cup minced dill, and few tablespoons of red wine.

No matter what vegetables you use, no matter what you use for flavoring, each individual serving of borscht needs a dollop of sour cream.  And, we all know that everything tastes better with a dollop of sour cream.