Recipes from Romania
Romania provided a few good food moments.  I love meat and know there is a lot of good meat in the world.  Unfortunately, there is also a lot of bad meat.  While eating with Romanian friends, one of them ordered a traditional soup, ciorbâ de burtâ.  Now I've traveled enough to know that you don't eat mystery meat, ever!  I learned that lesson in the Ivory Coast when I ordered "akpani".  Seriously, who ever imagined a waiter could serve a plate with just two, deep-fried, bats complete with heads and fangs?  I'd eat my vegetables before eating that and there were no veggies on that plate.  So, let me repeat, I don't eat mystery meat, ever!  But, I only heard the words "traditional Romanian soup" and that was good enough for me.  Except, it wasn't! 

When it was explained that the soup was cow stomach, I knew I made a mistake.  If you've never had it, well, it's sort of like eating squid.  And, if you've never had that, imagine eating a big chunk of white rubber.  Then, the traditional Romanian way to eat it was to add vinegar to sour the mix.  It didn't help.  I ate what I could, mostly sour broth.  If I did get tripe in my mouth, I added a chunk of bread and tried to swallow it whole.  My friend Eileen sat back smugly as a vegetarian, enjoying the entire meal.  I can't say as much for me. 

Fortunately, there was also good food to be had.  One of my favorite meals was a hearty stew served in a bowl that was entirely bread.  I had something like it before with clam chowder on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.  It's always good. 

It took a while to get a Romanian recipe.  But, my friend Iulian sent me one of his favorites. I'm including it as well as my own favorite bread recipe.  Two recipes inspired by my meal in Sighishoara, the birthplace of Count Dracula. 

Iulia and Iulian's Beef Soup
Iasi, Romania

  1 pound beef     tomato paste
  1 carrot   2 - 3 Tbs cream
  1 celery stalk   bors ( if you know what it is )
  1 onion   vermicelli
  dash of salt   parsley

Boil the meat and then dice it into small pieces.  Place the meat in a large pot and add diced carrots, celery and onions.  Add water and bring to boil.  After the mixture begins to boil, add salt, lemon (to taste depending on how sour you want the soup) and tomato paste. 

After everything is boiling, it's time to tinker with the cream.  Put the cream in a bowl, pour a little soup broth into the bowl bit by bit and stir continuously.  Then, add the mixture back into the soup pot. 

The Romanian recipe called for "bors", a tradition ferment from wheat flour, to sour the recipe.  Since most of us are not from Romania and will never see (or taste) bors, that's why you are using a lemon to sour the soup. 

Continue to boil the soup.  Add vermicelli ten minutes before finished. ( Arggg! I have no idea how much to add! ) Finally, sprinkle with chopped parsley. ( Arggg, again! No clue to the amount. )

Of course, all soup tastes better with bread.

I have a mental block or lack the required gene that one needs for delicious cooking.  However, I do like to bake bread.  My friends who cook and bake tell me that bread is not an easy thing to make.  Well, it's a good thing that I didn't know it when I started.  I learned to bake while living in Zambia.  If I had to sit around watching yeast rise as a form of entertainment, it might just give you a hint about my social life in Lusaka.  But, fortunately, I'm generally successful when I bake bread.   

When I traveled in Ethiopia, I ate a lot of injera.  It's a traditional spongy bread about the size of a pizza.  You use it instead of silverware to pinch a mouthful of food from a communal dish.  It was so much fun the first week.  I have to be honest and say it wasn't as much fun the second and third weeks.  There may be other kinds of bread in Ethiopia, but I only remember injera.  In this recipe, the bread was also meant to be flat.  My version isn't.  I use so many spices that even white flour ends up with bread that looks like wholesome whole grain flour was used.  And, it's so good with cheese!

My Twist of Ethiopian Tea Bread
Ohio, Zambia, Belgium, and back to Ohio

  2 Tbs. active dry yeast    ½ tsp. white or black pepper
  1 Tbs. sugar   2 Tbs. salt
  2 Tbs. ground coriander   ½ cup margarine
  1 Tbs. cumin   1 tsp. fenugreek
  20 ground cardamom   6 cups of flour
  20 ground cloves    

Preheat oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stir yeast and sugar together in one cup of warm water and let stand for an hour.  If all goes well, it will overflow the container, or at least swell a lot.  Then, in a large ceramic mixing bowl (which should be from Morocco) add another cup of warm water.  Mix together the yeast, coriander, cardamom, pepper, salt, fenugreek, and margarine.

I use about 20 pods of cardamom and grind them in a coffee grinder.  If you like cloves, it tastes good to add them in with the cardamom.  I’d never heard of fenugreek before I lived in Zambia, but I learned it is a hot spice similar to chili powder.

Add the flour about a cup at a time.  Knead well.  When all of the flour has been added, I knead the dough 100 times.  I don't want to have the bread dough so sticky that I can't get it off my hands. So, I keep adding pinches of flour until that problem stops.

Divide the dough into two loaves and place them in bread pans that have been greased and lightly floured.  Cover with a cloth, and let them rise for an hour. Bake 40 minutes.

Copyright 2009 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.