A taste of Transylvania: Mark Hix recreates some delicious Romanian artisan specialities

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A few weeks ago, Jason Lowe and I found ourselves in the middle of a field in a forest in Biertan, in Transylvania. We had been invited over to attend the Transylvania Festival, which was showcasing some of the best local artisan food producers – along with various ceramicists and copper still and cauldron makers who were selling their wares. Jason, who can never resist buying random culinary objects of desire on his travels, bought himself a lovely big old goulash cauldron and tripod (although I had a hard time persuading him to buy a full-blown copper distilling kit).

Artisan food production is slowly gaining momentum in Transylvania – and I don't think it will be too long before the region's cuisine will be recognised across Europe. We also visited some sheep-cheese producers up in the mountains; they seemed so content, leading their simple life away from civilisation.

We witnessed a huge amount of preserving taking place at the festival – a process that reflects the traditional way of life when the summer crops have to be preserved for the cold winter months. The preservation of plums seemed to be especially important, as this is the basic ingredient used in the local distilled alcohol – readily available everywhere and often sold in simple plastic bottles.

You can hear more about my trip to Transylvania on Sunday 5 September, when I will be presenting Radio 4's The Food Programme at 12.30pm.

Meatballs with yoghurt, capers and mint

Serves 4

This unusual starter is usually served at room temperature, and it is somewhat reminiscent of Lebanese or Turkish cuisine, as were many of the other dishes I tasted on my brief visit. In fact, the cuisine of Transylvania seems to have many influences from other countries.

Small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
tsp ground cumin
tsp paprika
3tbsp vegetable or corn oil
50g cooked long grain rice
350g minced lamb
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

250g Greek yoghurt
A small handful of mint leaves, chopped
2tbsp capers, rinsed

Heat a tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a pan and gently cook the onion, garlic, thyme, cumin and paprika for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often until soft. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Chop the rice up a bit, then add to the onion mixture with the minced lamb; season and mix well. Mould the mixture into 10 pence-sized balls, place on a tray and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the meatballs in a couple of batches on a medium heat for 6-7 minutes, turning them as they are cooking; then transfer to a colander and leave to cool a little.

To serve, mix the yoghurt, mint and capers together, then mix with the meatballs and transfer to a serving dish.

Ewe's milk blue cheese and purslane salad with honey

Serves 4

While I was having breakfast at the lovely Copsa Mare Guesthouse (copsamare.ro) just outside of Biertan, we tasted some fabulous, slightly salty, ewe's milk blue cheese. No one knew where it was made or what it was even called, so I was unable to find any information about its provenance – just use your favourite blue cheese for this dish.

Likewise, I found this purslane growing wild in the guesthouse garden. Purslane is an annual succulent which can be eaten like salad or spinach leaves – but if you can't get hold of it, you can use any small tasty salad leaves.

A handful of purslane or small salad leaves, washed and dried
150-180g blue cheese
2tbsp clear honey
A few chives cut into 4-5cm lengths

Arrange the salad leaves on serving plates, then break the cheese into nuggets and arrange on the leaves. Spoon the honey over the salad and serve with the chives scattered over.

Apple wedding cake

Serves 8-10

This is a local wedding recipe that is served as a pre-ceremony snack with a glass of the local plum-distilled alcohol, which is a bit like a rough version of the the French drink vieille prune. The base uses a sweet bread dough which I haven't given you a recipe for, as most people have their own favourite bread dough recipe; it could be yeast- or sourdough-based.

About 300g white bread dough with a couple of tablespoons of honey kneaded into it

Flour for dusting
4 dessert apples, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
1tsp ground cinnamon

For the polenta

750ml milk
A pinch of nutmeg
75g quick cooking polenta
100g caster sugar
100ml double cream

For the topping

150ml double cream
100g caster sugar
4 egg yolks

Roll the bread dough out to about 40cm x 20-30cm or to fit a shallow, lightly greased baking tray. To make the polenta, bring the milk to the boil in a thick-bottomed pan, then stir in the nutmeg, polenta and

sugar and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often (a simmer plate is perfect for this). Add the cream and continue cooking for another couple of minutes and remove from the heat. The polenta shouldn't be too stiff; if it is then just add a little more milk.

For the topping, bring the cream and sugar to the boil, place the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk the cream mixture on to them. Return to the pan and stir or whisk over a very low heat until it begins to thicken, then remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Spread the polenta over the dough, mix the apple and cinnamon together and scatter over the polenta; then spoon over the cream mixture.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes until golden, then leave to rest, scatter over a little caster sugar, remove from the tray and cut into squares or rectangles.

Roasted green onions with raisins

Serves 4

This was one of the starters at the feast. It's deliciously simple and it was served with tiny dried wild berries; for this recipe I've used raisins instead. If you can't find large bulbous spring or green onions, then you could use large shallots.

250-300g large spring onions, cut to about 5-6cm from the ends
2tbsp raisins, soaked in water overnight
100ml red wine
2-3tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Place the onions in a roasting tray with the olive oil and season. Cook for about 30 minutes until tender, turning them as they are cooking. Meanwhile, drain the raisins, put them in a pan with the red wine and simmer until the wine has evaporated. To serve, toss the raisins and onions together and serve hot or at room temperature.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?