Sunday, August 10, 2008

Salata de vinete -- Eggplant salad

Inspired by this post on making paneer, I decided to make the curried eggplant with paneer pictured halfway down the page. I found a decent recipe online for Ringan no Ohloh, and as I contemplated making it I realised that oven roasting the eggplants would also give me the basics for salata de vinete.

Just to give a little bit of context: salata de vinete is my absolute favourite food in the entire world. It's my one "desert island" food. It's the one food I could have every day of my life. It's not too dissimilar from other roast eggplant dishes around the world, such as baba ghanouj and various concoctions that go under the name "eggplant caviar." But here's the thing: the way I remember it being made in Romania involved charring the eggplants on a plita, a flat sheet of metal (a kind of sideless pan) that would go over an open flame. This was a smelly and hot process, and somehow my memories of the subsequent removal of the charred skin are also not good. So I've never tried to make this myself, figuring that, as much as I love it, I lacked the equipment (I also don't have a barbecue), and it would be too much work.

Fasole verde cu sos de rosii - Green beans with tomato sauce

A very easy summer dish and one of my favourites. I bought a package of flat green beans (I think it was half a kilo), snipped off the ends and washed them. (As a child, snipping off the ends was always my job!). The rest is almost like making pasta sauce, but with beans, and in a pot. I fried a couple of onions chopped coarsely in oil, as well as a little garlic, and then put in a couple of cans of peeled tomatoes which I then crushed. I broke up the beans into pieces about two inches long, added them to the pot, along with salt, pepper, bay leaves, oregano, and some water. The meal just has to simmer for about half an hour (it takes longer than one would think) until the beans are soft.

All in all, the result was pretty edible, except that the beans were a little too fibrous for my liking. Next time around, I'd remove the long, stringy fibres on the edges, and I'd probably let the whole thing simmer even longer, so that the beans are really nice and mushy.

This is an all-purpose preparation -- one could use string beans, I think, or add some carrots and potatoes as well. Or red pepper. Now that I think of it...

Here's to you, Sanda Marin

"Sanda Marin" was, as I was growing up, the ultimate reference work. By the time I was a teenager, our family's copy of this Romanian cookbook had traveled, with us, through three continents, and had reached an advanced stage of dilapidation. Since the answer to any cooking dilemma was, "look in Sanda Marin," I'm not surprised that the poor thing no longer has any covers.

A month or so ago, realising that I could make a greater number of Indian dishes than Romanian, I decided to try my hand at creating some of the dishes I love. I was never a fan of the heavy, fatty, go-out-into-the-field-and-work Romanian foods, but there are a few basic dishes that I could eat every day for the rest of my life. Like salata de vinete (roasted eggplant salad). And clatite (crepes). And salata de ardei copti (roasted red pepper salad). And papanasi (cheese donuts). And snitel (schnitzel).

Unfortunately, I wasn't at home, and although a growing number of Romanian recipes is available on the internet, I had no idea which ones to trust. Until I found that someone, bless their soul, had digitized Sanda Marin.

Gleefully, I downloaded the pdf (no frayed covers!). Imagine my surprise when faced with the vagaries of Romanian cookbooks... you get the right weights and measures for recipes, but are then told to "spice to taste." No clue on what the spices should be. Just spice it with what you like. The recipes are, in general, meant for people who already know the dishes, know how they want them to taste, and let's be honest here, probably know how to cook them already -- they just need a reminder. Sanda Marin reminds.

Well, I don't know how to cook all of these things, and for some of them, I don't even know how I want them to taste. But I do have a mother and two grandmothers who are reachable by telephone. So here goes.