Romanian food isn’t necessarily the first thing you think about when considering international cuisine but foodies and travel enthusiasts alike are loving the hearty richness and intensity of flavours.
Traditional dishes take inspiration and techniques from neighbouring countries such as Hungary, Germany and Turkey so whilst Romanian food has a very familiar taste, at the same time, it tastes like something you’ve never tried before! Food, cooking and sharing a meal with friends and family is an essential ‘ingredient’ in Romanian culture and everyday life.
Much importance is placed on eating, drinking and spending hours around the dinner table. Any excuse to prepare and enjoy a feast with each other!
Our very own Head of Department for English, Maths and Essential Skills, Andra Ghencea, was born and raised in Romania before moving to the UK. Here she shares with us one of her favourite traditional Romanian dishes. Why not have a go at livening up your menu and try something new?!
Sarmale (Romanian Cabbage Rolls) is widely considered to be Romania’s national dish. Sarmale is one of the most popular recipes with each region having its own subtly tweaked version with different meat, vegetables and local herbs.
1. Prepare the meat stuffing by combining the minced pork and beef.
2. Boil the rice until almost ready. Set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile chop the onion. Sauté half of the quantity for a
couple of minutes, saving the other half for later and set aside.
4. In a large bowl mix the meat, sauteed onions and boiled rice, dried herbs, 1 teaspoon water, salt and pepper and mix well using your hands.
Making the rolls
5. Remove all the cabbage leaves gently so as not to break them. You will only need the large leaves to make the rolls. The middle part will be chopped and added between cabbage rolls layers. Cut each large leaf in half, removing the tough core part too to make it easier to roll them.
6. Add a tablespoon of the meat mixture to each half leaf. Cover the filling with the edge from the base of the leaf. Bend edges on both sides and cover over the filling. Roll the stuffed cabbage leaf holding firm, so they won’t break during cooking time. Repeat these steps until the meat mixture is used up.
7. Roughly chop the smaller/broken cabbage leaves and set aside.
8. Place a large saucepan over a medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the rest of the chopped onions for 2-3 minutes. Add part of chopped sour cabbage leaves and sauté for another 2 minutes.
9. Distribute the whole mixture on an even bottom layer and turn the heat to minimum. Arrange all the rolls over the cabbage and add some of the chopped bacon, bay leaves and fresh thyme sprigs evenly among the rolls. Create a second layer by repeating the above steps until all the rolls are used. When you finish the layer, add some more chopped sour cabbage on top, smoked bacon, another 2 bay leaves and some fresh thyme.
10. Add half part tomato juice and half part water to cover the rolls entirely. Place a lid on top of the saucepan and boil them on slow heat for at least 2 hours.
11. After 2 hours, add the remaining tomato juice to the
saucepan, place back the lid and boil for another 1-2 hours.
The total cooking time should be at least three hours.
12. Serve hot with a bit of sour cream on top and with a side of polenta.