The European Christmas Cookbook by Taliman Sluga impressed me right from the very beginning. Why? You’ll find recipes from over 40 different countries spread out over 220 pages. Plus it is the result of the long-standing Advent of Cultures in Wagrain-Kleinarl. I couldn’t stop flicking through the wealth of Christmas recipes and reading about the various customs of the different countries.
I decide to cook a recipe from the book. Easier said than done, After marking around 20 with post-it stickers, I still haven’t made a choice. That’s why I take a close look at all the ingredients again and choosing between the Rumanian Sărmăluțe moldovenești with Mămăliga and the French Christmas log Bûche de Noël I finally settle for the Moldavian stuffed cabbage with maize porridge.
Thus on the way home I purchase everything I need and prepare the ingredients. As soon as I have everything ready I start with blanching the cabbage. What I didn’t know beforehand, which I learn now, is that I shouldn’t tear off all the leaves at once, but place the cabbage back into the hot water now and again. In my case the lower cabbage leaves are stiff and break when I try to roll them up. So a little tip from me – when you notice that the cabbage leaves are getting stiffer – you should blanch the cabbage once again. I season the minced beef and together with the rice add it to the onions in the pan and afterwards I split the finished mixture into small portions.
Whilst the rolled cabbage leaves, covered in sauce, are in the oven, I prepare the polenta. For this I just need to boil up a mixture of water, salt, butter and yoghurt and pour the polenta in slowly. Then I just need to stir until the Mămăliga has a porridgey texture. I’m surprised how little time it takes. For a small spot of colour, I cut some carrots into pieces and glaze them in butter and sugar. Add a little bit of salt to finish and this part of the dish is ready.
As soon as all the separate components are finished, I place them on the plate with the sauce – and there you have it – Sărmăluțe moldovenești mit Mămăliga. As a vegetarian alternative you could fill the cabbage leaves with a mixture of tomatoes, rice and sheeps’ cheese and instead of lard use butter. Vegans can substitute the butter with margarine or vegan butter and leave out the sheeps’ cheese or fill with vegan cheese. For the polenta leave out the yoghurt or use a vegan alternative, such as soya yoghurt and as a replacement for butter use margarine again.
The Rumanian dish tastes very good and the preparation is not that difficult, as I first thought. The time required in the oven is quite long, but if you have a pressure cooker, you could shorten this time. Plus you can arrange the dish in an attractive way and serve your guests a real work of art. And the carrots add a touch of colour. Just a small tip to finish if: if you put your vegetables in cold water after cooking, they keep their bright colour.
Photo credits: Belina Huttegger