(May 28, 2014 / JNS)
My grandparents really knew how to cook. It seems to me that everyone born in “the Old Country” (in this case, Transylvania) was born with built-in cooking intuition. Somehow they could create the most scrumptious meals using no fancy equipment, and not even measuring spoons. I recall that they hosted every holiday humbly, turning out the expected delicacies with what seemed like the simplest, most relaxed effort. No exotic flavor profiles, nor any food combos and wine pairing, because when the food is that good—no, make that superb—there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
But since recipes evolve with each generation, I present some of my favorite traditional recipes with a few of my own twists.
Poppy’s sour cream potato soup
My grandfather, Poppy, was nicknamed “Chefu,” Romanian for chef. A butcher by trade, he was amazing in the kitchen. He and my grandmother each had their specialties. Anytime we stopped by their house off Philadelphia’s Northeast Avenue, there was something tasty and fresh for us to eat.
I loved sitting at their tiny kitchen table enjoying sour cream potato soup. Poppy’s original rendition of this soup consisted simply of potatoes, water, salt, pepper, sour cream, and small square luckshen. (It may sound like Chinese, but it’s Yiddish for noodles.) I’ve beefed up his recipe by replacing the water with vegetable broth and substituting small red-skin potatoes (eye appeal) for his peeled, diced russets. This rich soup immediately transports me back to his kitchen table with my legs dangling above the floor.
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 10 cups
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 quart vegetable broth, such as Manischewitz all-natural vegetable broth
1 pound very small red-skin potatoes, quartered
One 16-ounce container sour cream
Ground white pepper
2 1/2 cups cooked small pasta (such as square noodles, ditalini, or orzo)
1. Heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring continually until translucent, about 10 minutes. Do not let the onion brown.
2. Add the broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, 10-15 minutes.
3. Temper the sour cream by placing it in a large bowl and slowly, so that it doesn’t curdle, whisking in 1 cup of the soup. Pour the tempered sour cream into the soup. Mix well and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Place 1/4 cup noodles in each of 8 bowls and ladle the soup over the top. Serve warm.
Small square noodles by Manischewitz can be found in your local supermarket under the name Egg Noodles Flakes. This recipe keeps the cooked noodles separate from the soup so they don’t get mushy. Portion the noodles into bowls and top with hot soup just before serving.
You can vary the recipe by serving it as a chilled soup. Omit the noodles and puree with a dash of nutmeg until thick and creamy. Top with chopped chives.
For a fun twist, dress it up with Poppy’s Potato Soup Cups. Make a spice rub to rim mugs for a fun presentation. Combine 2 tablespoons each paprika and celery salt in a small bowl. Dip the edges of 10 eight-ounce mugs in water and then in the spice rub. Fill the mugs with soup and garnish with a dollop of sour cream.
This soup is perfect with fresh buttered pumpernickel rolls.
Daddy’s Mititei: Romanian garlic meat sausages
I really should stop griping about being disadvantaged when it comes to cooking DNA. The fact is, Daddy is one of the best cooks on the planet. What gives his Mititei authentically Transylvanian flavor is the loads and loads of garlic—not at all for the faint of heart.
Warning: If you don’t like garlic, this recipe is not for you. If you just kinda like garlic, this recipe is not for you. If you love garlic, you will hug this book, hug me when you see me, tear out this recipe and frame it on your wall, ask for my dad’s number so you can call him, thank him, and arrange for a time to meet him in person, and hug him, too.
Tradition dictates that these are served with mustard, not ketchup.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 minutes
Marinate Time: 24-48 hours
Yield: 15 sausages
2 pounds ground beef (not too lean)
2 1/2 teaspoons ground caraway
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic head
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups club soda or seltzer
Spicy mustard, for serving
1. Place the beef in a large bowl. Add the caraway, salt, and pepper. Crush the garlic cloves with a garlic press and add them to the bowl.
2. Combine the baking soda with 1 cup of the club soda or seltzer in a small bowl and whisk to dissolve. Add to the meat and mix well by hand to fully incorporate. Once fully absorbed, mix in an additional 1/2 cup club soda or seltzer. Once that is fully incorporated, add the remaining 1/2 cup. Continue to mix by hand for 5 minutes.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.
4. When you are ready to cook, preheat the grill to high.
5. Oil your hands, scoop 1/3 cup of the meat mixture, and form it into an oblong sausage about 3 inches long by 1 inch wide. Place the sausage on a plate or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining meat mixture to form 15 sausages total. Lower the heat to medium and place the sausages on the grill. Grill for about 15 minutes, gently flipping and turning them often so they don’t burn and are evenly cooked through, until an instant-read thermometer registers the temperature at 160°F. (To cook on the stovetop, heat a grill pan over high heat, brush the Mititei with canola oil, lower the heat to medium, and cook as directed, or heat about 2 tablespoons canola oil until shimmering in a sauté pan or griddle over high heat, lower the heat to medium, and cook as directed.)
6. Serve with mustard.
My dad says, ideally, for “real” Mititei, use ground neck meat with 200 grams (in English that’s a little less than half a pound) of beef fat added in. Since I can’t even begin to go there, I just buy 2 pounds of ground beef for the pride of Romanian cuisine.
Dress it up by serving the Mititei with Peach salsa: Combine 4 ripe peaches or nectarines, pitted and diced (about 1 1/2 cups); 1 small red onion, thinly sliced; 20 cherry tomatoes, halved; the juice of 1 lemon; 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; 2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves or 2 teaspoons dried; 2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves (optional); 1 tablespoon honey; and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl. Toss well and serve on top or on the side of the warm Mititei.
Griz Galuska: Hungarian farina soup dumplings
Farina dumplings are the Hungarian version of matzoh balls. A wonderful addition to a chicken, beef or tomato soup, they are so tasty that you may find yourself working them into your regular repertoire. If not serving immediately, place dumplings and some of the broth (just enough to keep them moist) in a sealable container, and store in the fridge.
Prep Time: 4 min
Ready Time: 4 min
Yield: 5 servings
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons farina
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 chicken consommé stock cube
5 cups water
1. In a bowl, mix egg, farina, salt and olive oil until well combined. Let stand 30 minutes, either in refrigerator or at room temperature, until firm.
2. Place water and soup cube in a 4-quart stockpot and bring to a boil.
3. Using a tablespoon, scoop up farina mixture and drop in soup. Repeat, placing as many dumplings as you can in the pot without crowding.
4. Lower heat to a slow, rolling boil (too strong a boil will cause dumplings to fall apart).
5. Cook 15-20 minutes, or until a dumpling cut in half is no longer yellow on the inside. Repeat until finished with all the batter.
6. Place 2-3 dumplings in each bowl of your favorite soup and serve.
Jamie Geller is the only bestselling cookbook author who wants to get you out of the kitchen—not because she doesn’t love food—but because she has tons to do. As “The Bride Who Knew Nothing,” Jamie found her niche specializing in fast, fresh, family recipes. Now hailed as the “Queen of Kosher” (CBS) and the “Jewish Rachael Ray” (New York Times), she’s the creative force behind JoyofKosher.com and “Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller” magazine. Jamie and her hubby live in Israel with their five busy kids who give her plenty of reasons to get out of the kitchen – quickly. Check out her new book, “Joy of Kosher: Fast, Fresh Family Recipes.”
Credit: “Joy of Kosher: Fast, Fresh Family Recipes” by Jamie Geller (William Morrow/HarperCollins), “Quick & Kosher Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing,” by Jamie Geller (Feldheim). Portions of text written by Jaime Geller on JoyofKosher.com were used in the introduction.