'Romanian hamburger' with baked potato and asparagus on a plate, before 'saucing'

‘Romanian hamburger’ with baked potato and asparagus, before ‘saucing’

Recently I haven’t posted much about cooking, once a mainstay of this blog. Resisting the temptation to comment on recent horrific events and the sad world we live in (later), I’ve decided to tell you about my ‘Romanian hamburgers’.

I don’t really do ‘recipes’ – there are few things for which I use exact quantities (English dumplings, some cakes and bread being examples). I just use recipes as a guide. My favourite cooking is just throwing something together with whatever is in the home at the time (see ‘Fast food’ under the Food menu above).

Romanian hamburgers are an invention of mine, you’ll find hamburgers in Romania are just like here, in McDonalds and the like. When I make ‘hamburgers’ I usually make ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise’, roughly following Julia Child’s recipe in ‘Mastering the art of French cooking’, volume 1 my cooking bible since the mid-1960s (first published in 1961) and joined by volume 2 when it was published in 1970. I’ve mentioned it several times in the past, a couple of times under the Food menu above.

Romanian hamburgers

Two 'Romanian hamburgers' before cooking.

Two ‘Romanian hamburgers’ before cooking.

As suggested by the name the meat in Julia Child’s recipe is beef and the principal ‘flavouring’ is thyme (and butter?). My ‘Romanian’ version substitutes pork for beef (Romanian pork is superb, beef not good), dill (mărar), one of the most encountered herbs in Romania, for thyme and smoked pork back fat (slănină afumată) for most of the butter in the ‘French’ recipe. In the UK you will find slănină afumată in a Romanian shop, perhaps in other east European shops.

For two of us I use about 300g of minced pork that has little fat.

Sweat a finely chopped onion and two chopped garlic cloves in a little butter till translucent. Tip it into a bowl containing the mince. Add finely chopped fresh dill – a lot! – and finely diced smoked fat (a bit like the fat in black pudding). You can use dried dill but if so leave the mixture for a few hours before cooking for the flavour to develop. Add salt and black pepper. Add a large free range egg and thoroughly mix (hand is best). Leave in the fridge for a while then form into into two fairly thick patties. Sear in a frying pan with a little butter (it’s hot enough when the foam subsides) then  lower the heat and fry till cooked through, turning when half done. Deglaze the pan with a little red wine opened to drink with the meal (I prefer Trei Hectare from the Murfatlar region of Romania but it’s not available in the UK; a good reason to drive to Romania – fill the boot!), and pour over the hamburgers. We like with chunky chips and a salad but a baked potato (or boiled Jersey Royal potatoes) and asparagus, as here, at this time of year is another good accompaniment), as is mashed potato.

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Yesterday was a damp, misty, chilly day so very suitable to serve our dinner guests a classic boeuf Bourguignon (or, if you prefer, boeuf a la Bourguignonne); very filling so a simple, light starter (more below) and a small but rich classic desert – mousseline au chocolat – with a little side of fresh fruit to offset the richness.

Romanian wines, red and whiteMuch as I like French wine, it was a good opportunity to drink a couple of excellent Romanian wines which have been in the rack for a while, a red called ‘3 Hectare’ (three hectares) from the Murfatlar wine region, between the Danube and the Black Sea in south east Romania and made from the ancient Romanian grape variety Feteasca Neagra, and a sweet white called Grasa de Cotnar, from north east Romania, with the dessert. This latter is a wine favoured by French visitors as an affordable alternative to Château d’Yquem. With the starter I chose a refreshing dry Riesling from Germany.

This is the first ‘haute cuisine’ I’ve attempted in quite a while, for reasons I touched on in the previous post (and I forgot to take photos for this post so have cobbled some together from left-overs and pix taken by my wife at the occasion). (more…)

Traditional horse and cart, sadly being replaced by more and more cars in Romania

When I first visited Romania in the early 90s this was the most common form of transport, romantic but very dangerous. No, the horses were not fierce, but driving at night, with no lights on the cart (and no street lighting), if you were lucky you saw them just in time to stop. Many people didn’t make it, along with a great number of horses. Now they are an increasingly rare sight among the BMWs, VWs, Citroen and Renault and, of course, the ubiquitous Renault in disguise, the Dacia.

If you want to see the real Romania you’ll have to be quick; it’s fast disappearing in the slough of despond, otherwise known as the European Union.

Looking towards the River Prut, the border between Romania and the Republic of Moldova, from the village of Popricani in Iasi 'county'

Even the land itself is disappearing. Thirty years ago the high point to the right stretched a hundred metres or more towards the River Prut, the border with the Republic of Moldova which is a few kilometres towards the horizon. Year by year it tumbles down, the precipice moving ever closer to the house for which my wife, as a child, helped to make the clay and straw ‘bricks’.

In the house, Zavastita waits for the inevitable.

Back in the city, my favourite coffee shop is still there and I gorge on my preferred cake, the syrup-soaked savarina, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. It costs about 30p in English money. Time is short, so I indulge myself with a meringue too. They are made on the premises and served by the same friendly, efficient staff as were there when I first discovered it almost 20 years ago.

A savarina and a meringue made and served in the 'Linden Tree' coffee shop, Iasi, Romania

The coffee shop is called Teiul (The Linden Tree), appropriate for Iasi which is immersed in the perfume of its flowers every June. The Linden trees will certainly be there for many years to come, but will Teiul be there for a savarina on my next visit or will it fall victim to the more sophisticated establishment next door?

'Teiul' coffee shop in Iasi, Romania

Quality eating places were difficult to find when I first discovered Teiul; it’s not so difficult now and a visit to Oscar isn’t too different from a good restaurant somewhere in a western economy, except the portions are larger, there are traditional Romanian dishes among the French and Italian, and the bill for five people each eating a main and desert was less than £10 a head, including two bottles of very good wine.

Inside the Oscar restaurant, Iasi, Romania

The red wine, ‘3 hectare’ feteasca neagra – a genuine Romanian grape – from the Murfatlar region in the south east of Romania, was particularly good. I brought a bottle back to the UK.

Label on a bottle of 3 hectare feteasca neagra Murfatlar Romanian wine

So all progress isn’t bad.

But, I repeat, if you want to see the real Romania you’d better be quick.