A chef's modern twist on some of her favorite traditional recipes.
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 — 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.
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 luchshen. (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.
Poppy’s Sour Cream Potato Soup
3 Tbsps. butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 quart vegetable broth, such as Manischewitz all-natural vegetable broth
1 lb. very small red-skin potatoes, quartered
1 container (16 oz.) sour cream
kosher salt and ground white pepper
21⁄2 cups cooked small pasta (such as square noodles, ditalini or orzo)
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.
Add the broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Temper the sour cream by placing it in a large bowl and slowly, so that it doesn’t curdle, whisk 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 eight bowls and ladle the soup over the top. Serve warm.
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.
Makes 10 cups.
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.
Daddy’s Mititei — Romanian Garlic Meat Sausages
2 lbs. ground beef (not too lean)
21⁄2 tsps. ground caraway
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic head
1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups club soda or seltzer
spicy mustard, for serving
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.
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.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.
When you are ready to cook, preheat the grill to high.
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˚. (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.)
Serve with mustard.
Variations: 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.
Makes 15 sausages.
Jamie Geller is a bestselling cookbook author and the creative force behind JoyofKosher.com and Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine.