I’d seen mamaliga (pronounced "ma ma LEAGUE ah") a couple of times.  I personally would describe it as a heavy, moist kind of cornbread.  Well, I read that in Romania it is called porridge and Moldova it is Moldovan mush.  The word "mush" brings back horrible childhood memories when my dad tried to make me eat fried mush.  Never.  I wouldn't do it.  So, I sat at the table - supposedly to change my mind - and it didn't happen.  However, I really liked mamaliga. There would be no sitting at the table if this was served when I was a kid, especially since you eat it with your hands!

Still, I’m a little surprised that this is what porridge actually is.  I always thought it was something like oatmeal that you ate with a spoon.  What do I know about porridge?  Well, mamaliga comes with a little history lesson.  The Turks introduced corn, from the New World, to northern Italy, where they make polenta, as well as Romania, home of mămăligă.  And, how did the Turks first get their hands on corn?  From Venetian merchants.  Now you know. 

Mama Octavian's Mamaliga
Chisinau, Moldova

  1 tsp salt   1 round bowl
  2 Tbs butter   6 - 10 garlic cloves
  3 cups water          

1/3 cup oil

  1 cup corn meal    1/2 cup grated feta cheese

Add the salt and butter to the water and bring it to a boil.

Gradually add all the cornmeal and mix it up with a wooden spoon.  Yes, most sources I found claimed you should use a wooden spoon and it's recommended that it's also long to protect fingers from hot steam.  However, when I actually saw it made, my personal chef used a whisk.  I read that you should stir in the same direction continually.  I have no idea why.  When the cornmeal begins to bubble, turn down the heat to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Stir frequently.

When you can insert the wet end of a wooden spoon into the mămăligă and it comes out clean, your dish is ready.  The other test is to see if the sides start to pull away from the bowl.

Now, when I had mamaliga, I was told that you had to pour it into a rounded bowl and let it cool.  I have no bowls with rounded bottoms.  So, it is one more ingredient on my list.  But, I’m not convinced anything rounded is necessary.  As I watched the preparation at a bed and breakfast, the chef used a METAL tablespoon to push the mămăligă away from the edge of the pot, forming a ball.  Then, the whole pot was inverted on to a wooden tray to settle, cool and harden. There was no need for a round pot. But, I was assured by friends that not everyone does it that way. Octavian said the mămăligă should first cool and harden a little in the rounded bowl to get its shape.

You can see the difference between molding in a rounded pot in the first photo and not waiting for it to fully harden first in this photo. And, this time there were veggies and cheese but no garlic!....

You could add grated cheese, herbs which would certainly include dill, more butter, more cheese and even sour cream while the mămăligă is still hot.  Stir that in well before cooling.  But, it wasn’t done when I had mamaliga, so that’s not how I'd make it.  My mămăligă was sliced up like a pie.  But the slicing wasn't done with a knife.  Holding a string with both hands, the line was slid under the dish and then pulled upwards.  The process was repeated three more times so there were eight slices.  Each person then picked a hand-full from their slice and squished it into a ball.

Dip your little mamaliga ball into your freshly made garlic sauce.  How do you make that, you may ask?  Take 6 to 10 garlic cloves.  Peel and crush those little suckers.  Mix them up with some oil and you are good to go.  My first choice would have been olive oil, but I read you should use anything but olive oil.  These days nobody will report you to the KGB if you break this rule. 

After your mamaliga ball is all juicy with garlic, dip it into grated cheese.  Now, if you have your own sheep and make your own cheese, that's the authentic thing to do.  However, if you must, go get some Feta cheese and grate it.

Savor the flavor and enjoy the Moldovan treat.  But, it's not a night to kiss anyone unless they also shared this garlic experience.

Okay, okay, I'll share another option.  Fry up the slices of mamaliga in butter until golden brown.  That's too much like an awful childhood memory.  I'm giving you the option, but I'll never do it no matter how much sour cream you add on top.

Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.