June 30, 2012

My Romanian vacation Part 5 – Romanian farmers’ markets

Growing up in Romania, I’ve always been accustomed to buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market.  Back in the day, it was incomprehensible to shop for fresh produce anywhere else but the farmers’ market.  Today, things have somewhat changed in Romania due to the invasion of gargantuan supermarkets, which are open late and packed with produce from around the world all year round. 

That being said, most Romanians still shop for produce at farmers’ markets. And that’s because the goods are fresher, organic and usually locally grown, and way more inexpensive than at a supermarket.  From break of day, farmers and small vendors set up their stand, ensure that the produce looks tempting, and hope for a lucrative day at the market.  People sell everything from vegetables, fruits, nuts, homemade pasta and noodles, bread and honey, to eggs, cheese, milk and flowers; anything you can and can’t think of.  Even my 92 year-old great-grandmother still sells eggs at the market every Tuesday morning.  Admirable to say the least! 

Being home for a slightly longer period of time, of course I made it to the market, either by myself walking around, taking pictures, and soaking up the frenzied atmosphere, or with my mom doing grocery shopping.  The most popular farmers’ market in my hometown is called The Cathedral’s Market.  The reason it’s called like that is pretty obvious – the market is situated in front of the old cathedral in my hometown.  Every day, the market overflows with people and noise especially early in the morning when the market is at its peak.  Vendors want to lure you in by handing you a basket for you to fill up with goodies, buyers are trying to negotiate the prices, some are asking questions, others are chatting, and everyone wants to leave happy, and hopefully to make a profit.  To be painstakingly honest, it’s hard to leave the market without giving in and buying something, often for no other reason than the beastlike satisfaction of your eyes and tummy.  But it’s well worth it!

While the open market abounds with gorgeous fruits and vegetables, in the massive hall next to the open market farmers sell bread, homemade pasta, eggs and dairy products; the atmosphere is also less hectic and the hall is a chance to escape from the chaos outside.  Finally, I shouldn’t overlook the tiny souvenir corner of the market where you can buy anything from traditional Romanian fedora hats, baskets and colorful flip-flops, to wooden spoons, water canteens, flamboyant plates and Dracula trinkets; anything that would remind tourists of our beautiful country.  The funny thing is that the market hasn’t changed a bit throughout the years and has remained a little gem, a place to shop and explore.  And there are thousands like it throughout Romania waiting for locals and tourists alike. 

June 23, 2012

My Romanian vacation Part 4 – What it turns out

On May 2, while Romania was still digesting its mititei and slugging down its beer, I introduced my family to Mexican food – Giada’s White Bean Chicken Chili.  Was it different?  Definitely.  Was it good?  Indisputably.  And besides, Cinco de Mayo was not far ahead either.  And on top of it I was the chef and Grandma Vicki was my sous chef.   Talking about switching responsibilities!

A few days later, everything was back to normal, my grandma was the chef again, and another meat dish made its way onto our plates.  More specifically, Pork Schnitzel, or to go with the original name – Schweine Schniztel.  To give you a little bit of background, Pork Schnitzel is a variation of the famous Wiener Schnitzel.  While the original Wiener Schnitzel is made with veal cutlets, the Pork Schnitzel is made with pork cutlets.  However, regardless of what cut of meat you’re using (it could also be chicken breast or turkey breast), it’s essential to coat it in bread crumbs and fry it; that’s what makes it a schnitzel.  

It’s not a complicated dish by any means and it’s absolutely delicious.  The most exciting part of preparing this meal was watching my grandmother carefully and meticulously cover in flour, then in egg, and then in bread crumbs, every single piece of boring pork meat.  It was so inspiring to see her showing so much love and devotion to the food like a mother to her children.  In the end, it turned out to be an unpretentious but delightful dish – just well-seasoned pork schnitzel paired with velvety golden mashed potatoes.  Once again I was reminded that you don’t need fancy ingredients to make fantastic food.  More often than not simple ingredients create sublime flavors.            

Pork Schnitzel
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Yield: 4 servings


·         4 boneless pork cutlets (about 1 pound in total)
·         Kosher salt and black pepper
·         ¾ cup all-purpose flour
·         2 eggs, beaten
·         ¾ cup plain bread crumbs
·         ½ cup vegetable oil       


Using a meat mallet, lightly pound the pork cutlets until about ¼ to ½ -inch thick.  Season the pork with salt and pepper on both sides.   

Using 3 shallow bowls, put the flour in one of them, beat the eggs in the second, and add the bread crumbs to the third.  Dredge the pork cutlets in flour, then dip them into the beaten eggs, and finally coat them in bread crumbs.  

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat.  Add the pork cutlets, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook until golden-brown, about 5-7 minutes on each side.  Serve the Pork Schnitzel with Mashed Potatoes with Cheddar Cheese and Mixed Herbs

Note:  Although I love Pork Schnitzel, I sometimes like to mix it up and use chicken breast tenders instead of pork cutlets.  That way, I skip a step by not having to pound the meat.  In addition, it’s a lighter meat. 

For an extra kick of flavor and color, also season with paprika in addition to salt and pepper.  While frying the meat, drizzle some lemon juice over the schnitzel and sprinkle 2 minced garlic cloves.  You won’t regret it!

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

June 19, 2012

My Romanian vacation Part 3 – May 1: Labor Day

I know what you’re all thinking: “Labor Day is in September and not on May 1”.  Well, Europe (and many countries around the world) celebrates Labor Day on May 1 with picnics, parades and, at least in Romania, with grilled specialties and liters of beer.  For us Romanians, May 1, which is an official holiday, also represents the beginning of the holiday season.  Even if Romanians don’t instantly flee on vacation on May 1, they do flock to the seaside or to any good-green spot with friends.  But, whether we’re in the city, countryside or seaside, we are barbecuing on May 1.  While at the Black Sea Romanians grill mainly fresh fish and oysters, the rest of Romania grills the usual suspects: mititei, pork steaks, sausages and chicken drumsticks.

You can’t have Labor Day without Mititei.  They are a must!  Mititei or mici have been associated with Romanian cuisine since the 1800s.  In 1865, “La Iordachi” was a popular inn in Bucharest that was well known for its tasty sausages.  But the legend says that one night the kitchen ran out of beef sausages, so they mixed the ingredients left over, rolled them into small sausage shaped patties, and grilled them on charcoal without the usual casing.  Customers loved them so much that they asked for more of “the wee ones without skin”.  Since then, these new little grilled sausages have been known as “mititei”, “mici” or “the wee ones” (Taste of Romania by Nicolae Klepper).            

My family was no exception on Labor Day.  We didn’t go on a picnic but opted for our own back yard, which by May 1 was in full bloom.  The grill used to be my grandfather’s job and forte; now it’s become my father’s, although my mom always likes to lend a hand.  We took the grill out of storage, gently positioned it on the less than perfect pavement so that it wouldn’t tediously wiggle all the time, and lifted the heavy top to throw in some wood slivers; and waited for the fire to light up.  When the flames could barely be contained, we added the charcoal and put back the heavy worn out top; we brushed the top with an old brush that could be as old as I am, then greased it with a thick piece of lard, which only teased the fire and caused the surface of the grill to sizzle nervously, and engulfed us in a dense cloud of smoke.  Yes, we were all set to grill! 

First up were the mititei.  Twenty restless little sausages were dancing on the grill and in no time they had their proper color and grill marks on.  They were done and ready to be eaten.  Next, the pork steaks blanketed the grill followed by the paprika seasoned chicken drumsticks.  The air was filled with whiffs of char, fat, and sizzling meat; and you were instantly hungry.  Eventually, we sat down at the table and devoured the meat selection along with a generous side of crispy golden french fries and a dollop of mustard, and a vast glass of well cooled Romanian beer. Just what you needed on a sunny Labor Day!  Here’s a great recipe for those juicy Little Grilled Sausages.  Maybe you'll try something different this 4th of July!

Mititei (Little Grilled Sausages)
Adapted slightly from Taste of Romania by Nicolae Klepper

Serves: 4


·         2 lb. medium-lean ground beef (you can also use ground pork, lamb, veal or a combination of meats)
·         2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
·         2 Tablespoons water
·         3 garlic cloves, minced
·         2 teaspoons baking soda
·         ½ teaspoon dried thyme
·         ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
·         ½ teaspoon Hungarian paprika
·         2 teaspoons caraway seeds
·         2 teaspoons salt
·         1 teaspoon black pepper


Place the meat in a large bowl, and add all the ingredients.  Mix well and knead the mixture with your hands for about 5 minutes, wetting your hands often.  This is important because the water from your wet hands mixes with the meat and helps keep the mititei moist.  Cover the bowl with foil and refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight. 

By Tablespoon, with damp hands, make small meatballs; then roll between your hands into sausages about 4” long and 1” thick.  Cut off edges to form little cylinders.  

Grill or barbecue, turning the mititei frequently to cook evenly.  While they cook, drizzle frequently with water to keep them moist.  They should be ready in about 10-12 minutes.  Don’t overcook them. 
Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

June 14, 2012

Quick and easy

I still have stories to share with you from my trip to Romania, but I’ve decided to intercalate this short posting and a quick and easy Bean and Corn Tomato Soup recipe.  

Our computer desk has been falling apart for the past six months, but for some inexplicable reason we kept postponing getting a new one.  I think it’s called procrastinating or we just thought that it would get fixed on its own.  It’s really beyond my comprehension.  Well, last weekend we finally agreed to get a new desk and stop holding the keyboard on our lap every time we used the computer.  Oh, I guess that by now you’ve realized that we use a desktop instead of a laptop.  Yes, we’re kind of old-fashioned and we prefer a big boring desktop. 

Anyway, after a week of staring at the new box in the middle of the house, last weekend we got our energy up and were ready to install the three piece professionally looking furniture.  There was only one problem – the Euro 2012 was on, too.  No, we couldn’t miss the soccer matches especially since the so-called group of death of the Euro 2012 was playing on Saturday.  And so, one eye was reading the instructions booklet, one was on the nails so that we didn’t nail our fingers, one was on fastening the screws, and one was watching the soccer game.  All in all, it only took us seven hours to put together the computer desk while also watching the Euro 2012 soccer games.  Long story short, by dinner time I was so tired and my knees were bloody red that I was in no condition to prepare anything fancy.  In fact, we were so exhausted that we couldn’t even find the energy to go out to dinner.  Bottom line, I fixed a quick and filling Bean and Corn Tomato Soup.

In the end, we didn’t need anything more than this quick and easy soup.  It was the perfect fix.  This soup has a full-bodied tomato flavor and a bite from the red pepper flakes, while the corn and carrots add a hint of sweetness to balance out the acid from the tomatoes; and the beans and pasta make it hearty and rich.  We love this fantastic soup and I’m sure that it will become one of your all-time favorites in no time!       

Bean and Corn Tomato Soup
Adapted from Quick and Spicy Tomato Soup by Giada De Laurentiis

Serves:  6 servings


·         3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
·         1 small onion, chopped
·         2 carrots, peeled and chopped
·         1 clove garlic, minced
·         1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
·         ½ cup frozen corn
·         1 (25-ounce) jar marinara sauce
·         5 cups chicken broth or water
·         ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
·         ½ cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta)
·         Salt and black pepper
·         1 Tablespoon sugar


Warm the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and carrots.  Season with salt and pepper and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the beans, corn, marinara sauce, chicken broth (or water), red pepper flakes, pasta and sugar, and stir well.  Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Season with more salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into bowls and serve.  

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

June 8, 2012

My Romanian vacation Part 2 – Out and about

You probably know that Europe is filled with tiny, tight, narrow streets where small cars can barely fit through, and more often than not these streets are also crammed with other vehicles parked on the sidewalk; that these streets are delimited by gorgeous colorful buildings, loaded with detailed architecture, which shows the passage of time and attests the strong, timeless history and influences that define each town, region and country.  Romania is no exception.

Adrian and I are originally from Transylvania in Romania.  Both my city, Arad, and Adrian’s, Oradea, are located on the border with Hungary, and for centuries were under the authority of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.  This is well reflected in the architecture, traditions and food.  Walking on the streets of our cities you can smell, see and feel the history that shaped our beautiful towns.  

One of the more recent events in the history of our country was the revolution in December 1989, which marked the end of the communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu.  The revolution only lasted for a week but the impact is still visible over twenty years later.  You could still see the bullet holes in the outside structure of many buildings throughout Arad for years after the revolution.  It was only a few years ago that those bullet holes were covered up and that some of the buildings were restored.  Until then, every time you walked on the streets (even on mine) you could feel the revolution alive and those times of turmoil still present. 

But let’s forget about those times long-gone.  When we arrived in Romania in April right before Easter, we were surprised by how cold it was and how grim everything looked.  It felt as though winter was stubbornly refusing to make room for spring.  However, Easter came and went, and then with every day that passed by things started happening; flowers started to bloom, and trees started to show their first green buds.  The nature was finally awake.  In no time, there was a subtle scent of jasmine and chestnut in the air, while all along the river bank it smelled of freshly cut grass.  And the town was back to life!     

And, after the food coma at Easter, it was a blessing in disguise to go out to an open terrace for a refreshing salad, homemade zesty lemonade in a ginormous one person pitcher, 

and a cappuccino


It was a pleasure to forget for a second about the succulent and rich lamb, lamb haggis, lamb ciorbă, and colorful sweets.  In fact, it seemed as if everyone was out and about, walking off those Easter calories, getting a breath of fresh air, or filling up the restaurants in search for something different.