Friday, April 24, 2009

Some philological notes

Though I enjoyed writing about the Persian origins of chiftele in the last post, I suspect that etymological musings are a blatant infraction of the food blog genre. However, as I've been writing up the recipes below I've started to wonder about the origins of some Romanian food words. And if you know anything about Romanians, it's that they love etymology. (Romanians are not unlike the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a man who can prove that just about every word is descended from Greek!)

Also, it's my blog, and I'll write what I want to.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chiftele din dovlecei cruzi - Zucchini fritters

One of my great moments of enlightenment occurred when I realised that the kofta in malai kofta was closely related to the Romanian chiftea. Originally a Persian word, kofta generally refers to a ball of ground meat. In its various incarnations, the kofta is mixed with spices, herbs, onions, and a variety of vegetables. Variations of the word and corresponding food are to be found all over the Middle East and the Balkans. In Europe, the kofta owes its popularity to the Turks, who not only introduced their köfte to Balkan cuisine, but do a pretty good job of popularizing tasty köfte kebab, or şiş köfte, in Döner stands throughout Germany.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Salata de vinete, variation

A while ago, I made the claim that when it came to eggplant salad, the roasted eggplants had to be mixed with raw onions "or else." This was not as reckless a statement as it might seem, seeing as, at the time, I had spent almost twenty-nine years on this earth, most of them eating salata de vinete, and in all these years, I had never liked anything as much as eggplant salad with chopped, raw onions.

Imagine the shock I had a few months ago when I tasted an eggplant salad that did not, indeed, have raw onions, and lo, I found it good. Yea, even better than the eggplant salad of yore. So, this week, when my fridge broke down and I had to do something with the now-melted roasted eggplant I had stowed away in my freezer, I decided to try something similar: I lightly fried the chopped onion in the oil until it was translucent, and then added all of it to the eggplant.

The result is salata de vinete that you can eat for breakfast without worrying about your breath. (Though, I had it for lunch with raw green onions dipped in salt, but that just meant I was able to consume two kinds of onions rather than one!) It is also, and this should be noted as a possible strategic error, a salata de vinete that my boyfriend seems to enjoy more, and eat more eagerly, than the raw onion variety.

Note that it is also possible to mix a raw egg into this to make it even more creamy. I'm too scared of salmonella to do this myself, though by some magical effect, I'm not too scared of it to eat the result when someone else has mixed raw egg into a recipe.

Fursecuri cu stafide - Raisin cookies

This is the first batch of cookies I've ever made, and, not surprisingly, only the unsurpassed deliciousness of Romanian cookies could motivate me to bake. Although I'm sure this recipe could be found in one of my Romanian cookbooks, I have it via the time trusted method of calling up a grandmother. In this case, my grandma Nadia gave me the recipe from memory with exact weights, but since I don't have a kitchen scale, she hung up the phone so as to measure the equivalents in volume of the flour and sugar. When she called again, she asked me, "Do you have a mug the size of the "Yale Grandma" mug you gave me?" I said yes, and with the approximations she had worked out, was able to make a pretty convincing first batch of cookies. Accordingly, measurements below are given in metric and in "Yale Grandma" mug units.

The first step is to soak about a cup of raisins in rum or cognac or whatever you happen to find in your liquor cabinet. The raisins I was using were particularly dried out, so I also nuked them a little bit:

The next step is to mix three whole eggs with 200 g of sugar (one Yale Grandma mug full up to about two centimetres from the top). Then mix in 200 g of butter. Then mix in 200 g of flour (one full Yale Grandma mug) and a pinch of salt. Add the grated rind of one orange:

Mix well and add the drained raisins:

Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil (or whatever you like to use) and place small little mounds ("the tip of a spoon" according to Nadia) about 5 cm apart. They will spread and flatten out. I was able to fit eighteen on each sheet:

Put them in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F. Baking only takes 10 minutes, until the cookies are reddish-brown at the edges:

This recipe makes quite a few cookies (I'm waiting to pull the seventh pan out of the oven, so it's already well over a hundred). This is why it's nice to be able to just take the tinfoil off the pan and start the new batch as the old one cools. The cookies are not very sweet, as the taste comes mainly from the orange peel, raisins, and liquor. Since this recipe makes so many cookies, you may wish to freeze some of the batter to bake later, but I find they tend to disappear pretty quickly.