Lettuce Soup and more – a collection of Romanian recipes.
During lockdown we travel to foreign climes in our imaginations and our kitchens, our palettes traversing borders, opening our minds to new taste experiences. Visuals help too so a cookbook with evocative photographs is a boon. Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania is one such book. Written by Irina Georgescu, published in 2020 by Frances Lincoln, it draws the reader in from its beautiful mosaic on the cover to the gorgeous landscape photography inside. Carpathia takes readers on a journey to Romania, introducing its cuisine to those, like myself, who might be unfamiliar with dishes (like the lettuce soup you’ll find reproduced below) from this country.
Carpathia leads the cook from small, sharing plates and salads all the way to pickles, preserves, compotes and drinks, Along the way, there are chapters on breads and street food bakes, broths, main courses of hearty stews and dessert. The book takes its name from the Carpathian mountains, a central part of the Romanian landscape. Georgescu sets out to share not only the recipes of this culinary melting pot but to enable readers to become more familiar with Romanians and hopefully to dispel some of the misconceptions that exist towards Romanians in our intolerant times.
Georgescu describes her childhood in Bucharest under communist rule. The limited availability of food – queues and rationing often resulted in going home empty-handed – influenced what home cooks could prepare. Perhaps we have had an inkling of this during lockdown. In testing out the recipes I relied on what I had in the fridge and cupboard whereas usually, I would choose the dish I fancy and waltz off to the supermarket to buy the ingredients.
With Romanian cuisine carrying influences of Greek and Turkish dishes, usually cooked in the summer months, mezze-style starters are very popular. As this is my favourite way of eating, I chose three dishes to test out. Sadly, I did not have a bottle of tuicӑ – plum brandy – that is enjoyed at the beginning of a feast.
Aubergine caviar, chargrilled peppers with garlic vinaigrette as well as nettle fricassee all piqued my interest. Having no nettles to hand, or peppers, I decided to make fasole bӑtutӑ – a butter bean dip with sweet caramelised onions. Many of us have tins of beans stored at the moment so it seemed an opportunity to open some of mine. When I get my hands on some polenta I will be making a plate of bulz – oven-baked polenta balls with yoghurt and roasted tomatoes.
Those who enjoy hearty meat stews – the Slavic and Germanic influence on the cuisine, cooked in winter – will find much inspiration, but even for pescatarians like myself, there is plenty of choice.
Salatӑ de varӑ – a summer’s medley salad made good use of the vegetables in my fridge – tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions, lettuce – plus my larder store of olives and cheese.
Intrigued by the description of lettuce broth, I made a pot of ciorbӑ de salatӑ. I adore Turkish yoghurt soups and this reminded me of one of these.
When I brought this Romanian meal to the dinner table I must admit that my young men were sceptical about lettuce soup. However, after just a couple of spoonfuls the verdicts were in: ‘I’d eat this again, mum’, said one while the other admitted he really liked it while cutting into the omelette he was surprised to find in his soup bowl. It was very tasty indeed and an unusual melange of herbs, yoghurt, egg.
The butter bean puree was fab – so garlicky which we love but you could reduce the garlic if you don’t adore it. The caramelised onions and tomato topping was a wonderful addition, we mopped it up hungrily with hunks of sourdough bread. The summer salad was a good accompaniment.
Lettuce Broth from Carpathia: Food From The Heart of Romania (Frances Lincoln, 2020)
- 20 ml sunflower or vegetable oil I used a mild olive oil
- 1 onion peeled and grated
- 1 carrot peeled and grated
- 1.5 litres vegetable stock I used Marigold bouillon
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 2 heads romaine lettuce I used baby gems
- 4 tbsp white vinegar
- 3 spring onions roughly chopped
- 1 bunch dill roughly chopped
- 200 grams Greek yoghurt
- olive oil To drizzle, I use my best olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Start by heating the olive oil in a pan deep enough to cook the soup.
Cook the onion and carrot over a medium heat until caramelised
Add the vegetable stock and allow to simmer for 10 minutes
While the veg is cooking, make the omelette
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and cook the beaten eggs for one minute on each side. Season and set aside to cool
Cut omelette into long strips
Divide the yoghurt into a bowl.
Add the shredded lettuce and vinegar to the broth and bring to the boil, then remove immediately from the heat.
Using a large spoon, take some of the hot broth and add it slowly to the yoghurt until the mixture is hot.
Next, pour it back into the pot and stir gently to combine.
Taste and season to your preference
Add the chopped spring onions, dill and arrange the sliced omelette into the soup
Drizzle over some good quality olive oil to finish off with a flourish
I served the soup warm which was delicious but it can also be served cold. It does not reheat well.
Dessert is usually fruit and yoghurt in my house so Prӑjitura cu caise – apricot yoghurt cake – took the theme and turned it into cake. I had no apricots and so substituted pears which work just as well in a fruit bake. It was light and not overly sweet. We added a dollop of crème fraîche and ended the meal very satisfied.
The test of a useful cookbook is whether I still have further dishes I wish to try. Pilaf with smoked prunes and caramelised leeks, fish broth with rice and soured cream, cassata style ice cream cake, cataif, caramelised apple cake and more! Carpathia: Food From The Heart of Romania certainly passes the test. And I’ll definitely be making this lettuce soup again.
You can buy Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu, published by Frances Lincoln direct from Amazon at £17.60 for the hardcover edition and £14.30 for the Kindle version.
Looking for some Romanian wine to pair with recipes from this book? Check our review of Cramele Recas