Friday, October 10, 2008

Cake Tel Aviv

My definition of "Romanian" for cooking purposes is quite expansive -- dishes are Romanian if they're in Romanian cookbooks, made in Romania, or if they're made by members of my Romanian family. I think this is pretty reasonable when one considers that Romanian cuisine has influences from German, Turkish, Greek, Russian, and French cooking -- so much so that I never know what to answer when someone asks me what Romanian cooking is like!

This chocolate cake loaf is made with a recipe my grandmother learned in Tel Aviv. I'm not quite sure what she was doing in Tel Aviv, nor when she was there, but she did pick up this recipe and so it is called, in our family, "Cake Tel Aviv." Whether or not she learned it from an expat Romanian in Israel is irrelevant to its place here: Romanians like it, and so it is Romanian.

Because I have this recipe from my grandmother, the measures are a little haphazard. I don't bake at all, but the recipe seemed to work anyway, so it may just be the case that precision is not that important.

  • 200 g unsalted butter
  • 2 glasses (around 200 mL each) white sugar
  • 50 g cocoa
  • half a glass of milk
Put these into a small pan (around 4 L capacity) on a low flame. Mix them gently until the sugar and butter melt. The mixture should warm up, but should not boil. Take it off the flame, and reserve five spoons of the chocolate sauce in a cup. This will make the icing.

After the mixture has cooled, add:

  • half an envelope of baking powder (or around half a teaspoon), dissolved in the juice of a quarter of a lemon
  • three egg yolks
Beat the egg whites into a stiff foam. Add them to the chocolate mixture a spoonful at a time, alternating with spoons of:

  • 1 and 3/4 glasses of flour (with a pinch of salt added)
Keep alternating egg white foam and flour, mixing the batter gently after each spoonful. Once done, you may wish to add:

  • lemon or orange peel, grated
Pour the batter into a long loaf form, which is, of course, buttered and dusted with flour. Cook it at 350 degrees F, and once the top of the loaf cracks in the middle, leave it in for ten more minutes. It'll take about 40 minutes total.

Once you take the cake out, let it cool for about ten minutes, and then remove from the cake form. Place it on a dish or aluminum foil, and use the back of a spoon to coat the entire cake -- top and sides -- with a thin layer of the chocolate icing you saved in a cup. Let it rest.

The cake keeps well for several days, and becomes denser and moister as the time passes, so I prefer it a little old. Those who like fluffiness will prefer it fresh.

Zacusca - Vegetable spread

When I think of Romanian cuisine, the words "slow" and "arduous" come immediately to mind. No wonder I've always been more attracted to Asian cooking, with its promise of lightning-fast stir fry meals. But I'm learning that some Romanian foods can be quite easy, especially if you prepare extra quantities of time-consuming items and freeze them.

Say, for example, that you made salata de vinete, but you roasted two eggplants and froze one in a ziploc bag. Say you roasted some red peppers too, and froze some of those. You're basically ten minutes away from making your own zacusca, a spread very similar to ajvar.

This recipe comes from my grandmother, and she advised using four peppers to one eggplant. I should say that this made way too much, at least for me to consume, but I found another use for it. If I were making it again, I would make half the quantity at most.

So -- coarsely chop an onion, and sautee it in oil. Cut the red peppers into little squares, and add them to the pan:

Add the mushed up roasted eggplant, salt, pepper, and about a spoonful of tomato paste. That's it!

Let it cook for a bit, and the flavours will bind nicely together. I should add that I put some chili powder in this, and I don't think that was a good idea. I think the heat needs to come from the peppers or not at all, and the Romanian version is definitely mild.

In the end, I only managed to eat about half of this, even though it was nice to have in my fridge. (Unfortunately, I made it at the same time as the salata de ardei copti, so it was a bit of a red pepper overload.) But, I "recycled" the rest by frying a bit of garlic and ginger in a pan, some Indian spices (turmeric, cayenne, coriander), and then adding the zacusca (which already had onions). With some rice it made a quick, pseudo-Indian lunch.

Salata de ardei copti - Roast pepper salad

Roast pepper salad is my second desert island dish. It is, quite simply, one of the most delicious dishes I have ever met, and not surprisingly, it pairs well with salata de vinete. Its tanginess makes it a particularly good accompaniment to meat dishes, especially if the meat is fried -- I like to have something sour to cut the greasiness of a meaty main course.