Moldova is one of those countries that you don’t really hear very much about (at least not in Ireland). It’s a small country in Eastern Europe tucked in between Romania on the West and the Ukraine on the North, East and South. It bears some resemblences to Ireland in that it is a small country that depends very much on agriculture. Another similarity seems to be that Wildlife numbers have decreased substantially due to loss of habitat. However they are lucky enough to still have many mammals that we don’t such as Wolves, Brown Bears, Wild Boar and Beavers just to name a few.
Moldova may not be top of the list for Wildlife tourism but it does seem to be an interesting place to visit if you like wine. I don’t drink much alcohol of any sort but I have discovered that Moldova has quite a good reputation for wine production and this is also the main focus for tourism in the country with many tailored wine tours on offer. I also discovered that the World’s largest underground wine cellar is in Moldova (although I could not verify this) and Mici’s collection of over 1.5 million bottles still holds the record for the largest collection of bottles of wine.
When it comes to food I didn’t find much but the one dish that came up again and again was Sarmale or Cabbage Rolls. This dish seems to be Eastern European rather than strictly Moldovan and as with many dishes I found hundreds of various recipes. I have to admit that this is a dish that I was not looking forward to as I absolutely hate anything pickled so the thought of pickled cabbage made me cringe. I’m very glad that I put my feeling for pickles aside as I was very pleasantly surprised at the explosion of flavours and I can say that it is now up there as one of my favourite dishes.
As per usual I had to adapt a combination of recipes to suit my needs but at least I didn’t have to adapt too much. The biggest issue was the pickled cabbage as I cannot get pickled cabbage here. My first thought was great I don’t have to eat pickled cabbage I will just substitute regular cabbage but then I came across a recipe which gave me the instructions on how to pickle my own cabbage so of course I just had to try it.
1 head of cabbage
4 litres water
1 tablespoon Salt
125 ml of distilled vinegar
500g minced pork
250g uncooked rice (I used brown rice)
2 carrots grated
2 sticks celery finely chopped
1 large onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 tablesoons of tomato paste
1 large bunch of fresh parsley finely chopped
quater teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspons of paprika
2 teaspoons of chilli flakes
extra tomato paste or a can of chopped tomatoes for the sauce
1 chicken stock cube
First cook the rice just enough that it is only half cooked, strain and allow it to go cold (you can run it through with cold water if time is an issue).
Sauté the onion, garlic, carrot and celery for 5 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool.
Mix the parsley, pepper, paprika and chilli flakes with the minced pork. Add tomato paste and mix. Add the sautéed vegetables and the rice and mix. (the reason for letting them cool before adding them to the raw meat is because it is better not to add warm ingredients to raw meat)
Prepare your cabbage by taking off any unusable outside leaves. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the salt and vinegar. Add the whole head of the cabbage and then remove each leaf as it comes away from the head. I did individual leaves due to the fact that my pot was not big enough for a whole head. Let each leaf drain any excess water but be careful not to tear them. Cut the bone (hard white stem) from each leaf taking extra care not to tear them. Place a small amont of the pork filling into the middle of the cabbage leaf and fold in the edges in a similar way to they way you would do with a tortilla wrap. Place in an ovenproof dish. Combine extra tomato paste and the stock cube with boiling water and mix, then pour over the layer of cabbage rolls. Alternatively you can use a can of tomatoes instead of tomato paste. You can also add a layer of pickled cabbage and diced ham. You can make several layers of this as the amounts given above is enough for about 50 rolls. Cover the dish and put in a preheated oven 180C for about 2 hours. Cooking time needs to be adjusted to the amount of rolls in the dish but 2-2.5 hours should be enough time in most cases. Check from time to time to make sure that the sauce has not fully dried out and add extra water if needed.
Serve with Polenta and enjoy.
Join me next time for Jamaica night.