Recipes from Romania

Easter is a very special celebration in an Orthodox community.  Since my hosts were Orthodox Christians, plans were made to attend an Easter service at the local church.  Naturally, everything was in Romanian, so I didn't understand a lot of what happened.  But, that didn't stop the overwhelming sense of devotion and faith.  No words were needed for that.

Before entering the church, everyone received a candle.  Crowds of the devout lined the pathway leading up to the church and inside.  However, none of the candles was lit and the church was dark.  Darkness in a standing room only situation wasn't ideal, but there was a reason for this.  A recent Orthodox tradition across Eastern Europe included candle light brought directly from Jerusalem.  Certainly the candle light traveled by chartered jet.  There was no way that would make it through an x-ray machine at the airport.

At one moment, around midnight, a priest appeared holding a bouquet with a flaming candle in the middle.  And from that flame, imported all the way from the holy city, one by one, all of the candles were lit inside the chapel and out on to the street.  The chapel was not big enough for the crowd.  So, the priests brought the flame out to the front yard.  There was a lot of chanting that I’m going to loosely translate as "Christ is Risen!" and "He is risen indeed!"

The celebration continued throughout the night and into the wee hours of dawn.  It was approximately one in the morning when we left.  I had to ask if there were seats for the worshipers on days that did not have hordes attending the Easter celebration.  No, I didn't like the answer I received.  Chairs were for old women.  Everyone else stood no matter how long the service.

I felt like an old woman and really wanted a chair.

After the service, there was a traditional Easter dinner with my hosts.  I'm not usually (ever) hungry after midnight.  I've always considered it a good time of the evening, er . . . morning, to sleep rather than eat.  But, it was a feast!  The meal started by breaking Easter eggs.  You shared the experience with someone else at the table (each person took a turn to crack the tip of their neighbor's egg with their own egg) and proclaimed Cristos a Înviat!  (Christ is risen).

The table was filled with meat wrapped in cheese, as well as a dish that was sort of like potato salad.  It was heavy food and there didn't appear to be any light eaters in Romania.  I was already filled on delightful food when the plates were taken away and another course was delivered.  Why didn't anyone tell me about another course?  I didn't need another course.  I had no room for another course.  I received another course.  This time I was served turkey and lamb.  The correct way to eat the lamb was with a bit of yogurt / garlic sauce and a sip of local red wine.

And, yes, there were desserts.  Two of them!

Before leaving for the hotel at three in the morning, I had to ask about the recipe for that potato salad.  It was the only dish of the evening that I possibly had a chance to reproduce.  It was very fun trying to figure out the names of some of the ingredients in English.

Monika's Potato Salad
Bucharest, Romania

1 lb potatoes
1 lb carrots
7/8 cup celery root
1 1/4 cup sweet pickles
1 1/4 cup sweet peppers
2 eggs
2/3 lb chicken breasts
dash of salt
1 lemon
little bit of mustard

Boil the potatoes, carrots, and celery root (if you know what it is and can find it) in water with a dash of salt.  After they cool, dice them.

As the vegetables cool, dice the chicken, pickles, and sweet peppers.  Then, add everything to the vegetables.  For this recipe, the peppers were not the kind you find in the fresh vegetable section of the grocery.  They were bottled and pickled in sweet vinegar.  I'd never seen this product before.  But, if you can find them, use the pickled version.  The whole mixture is held together with mayonnaise.  And the amount used is a matter of taste.  Mold the mixture on a platter to form a flattened igloo shape.

In Bucharest, the recipe called for homemade mayonnaise.  That's another thing I've never done before.  (Probably never will.)  To make this, start with salt and an egg yolk.  Add oil a drop at a time (I have no patience for that.) and stir only clockwise.  (Why? I have no idea.)  Add the juice of the lemon and a taste of mustard.  (I'll add mustard to the mayonnaise that I buy.)

The entire surface of the salad on the platter is glazed with the mayonnaise.  Very long slivers of the sweet pickles are coiled to decorate the base of the igloo in a series of red circles.  Decorative flowers on top of the salad are made by piles of finely diced egg whites and garnished with sprigs of dill (or parsley) for the leaves.