By Sarah Berry of A Dollop of History
My mom tried to teach me how to cook when I was growing up, but I was not at all interested.
At least not until I spent some time living in Romania when I was 19.
As headstrong teens tend to be, I was only willing to listen and learn when my teacher was not my mother.
And in Romania, my teacher was an older woman named Marionela.
“Mario” not only helped me navigate the local post office and chaotic taxi situation, but also introduced me to traditional Romanian recipes.
In fact, she taught me my very first beloved future family recipe, one for sweet bread (cozonac) that I make every Christmas.
I learned that traditional Romanian cooking was —and is — in many respects a social activity and not just a chore.
My Romanian friends weren’t just cooking for me as a kindness, they were enthusiastically sharing their beautiful culture by giving me a literal taste of Romania.
And food, in many ways, shapes who we are and how we see the world.
This blog post will prove that.
Keep reading to hear a story about food, and one country’s love of sour cream.
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Travel & Traditional Romanian Food
Romanian travel has so much to offer.
While in the country I explored the beautiful cities of Iasi, Bucharest, Brasov and the surrounding villages, consuming popular street foods like langosi, kebab and shawarma.
There were also traditional dishes, including sarmale, ciorba and mamaliga, and a variety of pickled foods with names I forgot to write down.
I was fortunate enough to have been invited to dine with native Romanian families in their homes and experience the magic of muraturi, papanasi and mititei (but not at the same time!).
I drank far too much suc de soc, an elderberry soft drink that I truly loathe, but was afraid to turn down out of fear of being impolite.
Barely a day went by that I didn’t stop by the bakery and pick up a freshly baked loaf of bread on my way to work.
What I quickly discovered is that Romanians are not only some of the most generous and hospitable people you’ll ever meet, but that they also love sour cream. Smântâna. They put it on everything!
By the time I left Europe I still had yet to develop the patience and desire to cook for myself; but, a seed was planted that grew into a lifelong passion for experiencing culture and history through food.
For some of us the idea of being a home chef sounds great; though the harsh reality is that we lack the skills necessary to do it.
In these instances, our kitchen adventures often end in smoke and tears.
Had someone told me then that I would one day teach cookery classes and recreate historic recipes for fun I would have laughed out loud.Who knew? When #traveling #Romania, one must-try food is sour cream. Here's why. Click To Tweet
To celebrate Romania’s cultural attachment to smântâna — as well as my strange personal journey from anti-chef to food historian— I’m going to share two recipes that even the most inexperienced cook can make at home with ease.
Plus, you’ll be introduced to the delicious food of Romania.
If you are like I once was, it may be necessary to start small and build your way up.
So rather than jump right in with a labor-intensive Christmas cozonac, let’s start with a couple easy dishes that you already know how to make…
…but with a distinctly Romanian twist!
But First, A Bit About Sour Cream
It is unclear when exactly sour cream came to be; but various sources hint that it was developed commercially in Eastern Europe sometime during the 19th century.
Sour cream existed for centuries before that, though not necessarily in the form we think of today.
Before pasteurization and homogenization, raw milk could be left out for a day or two and the cream would naturally separate from the liquid and still be edible.
The cream would eventually become “soured” due to the presence of naturally-occurring bacteria.
There were actually kitchen tools specifically designed to skim cream from milk.
With the development of pasteurization in the mid-19th century, the bacteria was removed from the milk for mostly health and sanitation reasons.
This resulted in cream that wouldn’t become sour by being left out, it would just go bad.
Later, mechanical homogenization was developed to stop the milk from separating entirely so that in large scale dairies milk from different herds can be combined, easily filtered by fat content and have an increased shelf life.
Homogenized milk will not separate, so if you want milk cream you’ll have to buy it separately.
So how is the commercially packaged sour cream made?
In order for pasteurized cream to become “sour,” bacteria must be introduced to it artificially.
The lactic acid in the culture reacts with the protein in the cream, which thickens it and adds a distinct sour flavor.
Depending on the desired flavor and texture/thickness, sour creams might include things like milk solids, stabilizers, rennet, gelatin, salt, etc.
Milkfat content also varies depending on the type of milk or cream from which the sour cream is made.Want some easy Romanian #recipes? We've got two for you! #Romania Click To Tweet
Romanian smântâna is generally thicker than American sour cream and has a higher fat content like créme fraiche.
Because of this, it doesn’t curdle when cooked and is a little bit easier to work with in sour cream recipes requiring high temperatures.
Cooking with American sour cream will work if smantana isn’t available, but it must be done a bit more delicately.
Two Easy Romanian Food Recipes
Ochiuri cu Smantana (Eggs with Sour Cream)
Recipe originally from A Taste of Romania by Nicolae Klepper, 1999.
- 2 Tbsp. sour cream
- 1 pinch of flour
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2 eggs
- salt and pepper to taste
- Warm a plate. Nothing says hospitality like a warm serving plate!
- Combine sour cream and flour and mix well. The flour is there to help prevent the sour cream from curdling.
- Heat butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Crack the eggs into the skillet and season with salt and pepper.
- When eggs begin to solidify, carefully spoon sour cream over them, cover and cook for a minute or so longer depending on personal preference. I flip the egg and cook both sides before I add the sour cream. Otherwise, the cream will slide right off the top.
- Transfer eggs to the warm plate and serve.
In order to make Romanian-style scrambled eggs, simply beat the eggs with the sour cream/flour mixture before pouring into the frying pan and cook as usual.
If you want to take it one step further, serve your eggs over Romanian-style polenta (mamaliga).
Salata Verde Cu Smantana (Green Salad with Sour cream)
Traditional Romanian food recipe from Carte de Bucate (Cookery Book) by beloved Romanian chef Sanda Marin, 1936 Edition.
Pick and wash the green salad as above. [Set] mix aside, for a large salad, two tablespoons of sour cream, salt, pepper, and lemon or vinegar, if desired. Pour over the salad and mix easily together.
- 1 head of Romaine lettuce
- 2 Tbsp. sour cream
- 1Tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Salata verde couldn’t be an easier dish to make.
Simply wash and prepare your lettuce and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, vinegar/lemon juice and seasonings.
Toss lettuce in the dressing.
To stay true to Sandamarinul (“the Sanda Marin”), use the ingredients above.
However, if you feel the need to jazz it up without losing the Romanian-style flavors, add a little bit of dill, paprika or garlic.
While these days Romanians tend to prefer green salads of the cheese and tomato variety, this recipe is a good example of how sour cream can be incorporated into a simple and familiar dish.
A more common traditional Romanian salad might be white cabbage dressed with vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.
And of course we can’t forget the Salata de Beouf, a traditional holiday dish similar to potato salad.
But as far as basic green salads go, this lovely pre-War recipe is still the one to use.
Once you have mastered these starter recipes and acquired a taste for sour cream you can move on to other delicious Romanian dishes like:
- Papanasi (fritters)
- Clatite cu Carne (meat pancakes)
- Conopida Ardeleneasca (Transylvanian Cauliflower)
- Sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls)
- and Musaca (Moussaka)
The options, whether you’re looking for a sour cream recipe or not, really are endless.
What are your favorite Romanian recipes? Have a story about food to share of your own? Please share in the comments below!
Berkeley Wellness. Homogenized Milk Myths Busted. Berkeley Wellness: University of California, Published Feb 13, 2013.
Klepper, Nicolae. Taste of Romania: Its Cookery and Glimpses of Its History, Folklore, Art, Literature, and Poetry. Hippocrene Books, 1999.
Marin, Sanda. Carte De Bucate. 1st ed., Editura “Cartea Romaneasca” Bucuresti, 1936.
“The California Dairy Press Room & Resources.” Sour Cream | The California Dairy Press Room & Resources, Department of Food and Agriculture, State of California, 2018, www.californiadairypressroom.com/Products/Sour_Cream.
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