Romanian has been occupied throughout history by the Greeks, Romans, Turks and Austro-Hungarian Empire. Other European countries, such as France, Italy, Poland and Russia, have also had a profound effect on the language and culture of Romania. In fact, the Romanian language is a Romance language like Latin, French, Italian and Spanish, and not Slavic as one might expect. These mixed cultural influences are evident in traditional Romanian food. The most common Romanian herbs, spices and vegetables are allspice, basil, bay leaves, caraway seeds, celery root, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, dill, lovage, parsley, parsnip, rosemary, summer savory, tarragon, and vanilla.
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Romanians love to entertain and almost any celebration would include a spread of salami, sausages and cheeses, known as mezeluri. Many of the sausages are from Hungary, Germany and Poland, but Romanian salam de sibiu is popular. And many of the cheeses include feta and kashkaval from Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. Often the drink of choice with an appetizer spread is ţuică, a potent plum brandy, similar to Bulgarian rakia and Serbian slivovitz.
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Romanian sweet pepper salad or salata de ardei or salata de piper starts with Romanian peppers that begin ivory-colored, turn orange, then mature to red. The peppers are often harvested when ivory and fried. Red bell peppers can be used here and, unlike other Romanian pepper salads, they are not roasted or peeled in this recipe, and garlic or onion are not used. Peppers are a traditional mezeluri (appetizer) dish.
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Mamaliga is a staple side dish in Romania that often replaces bread or other grains and starches. Classic Romanian polenta is served with warm milk or sour cream, and often benefits from shredded telemea, feta or other cheese on top. Sometimes mamaliga is served with a sunnyside-up egg on top. But mamaliga most often is served as a side dish with stews or sarmale (see the Romanian atuffed cabbage recipe below). This mamaliga recipe is for a basic soft polenta. Another common treatment of polenta is in this Mamaliga Balls Appetizer recipe.
Sarmale or stuffed cabbage are enjoyed year-round in Romania, but especially for holidays like Christmas and Easter. This Romanian stuffed cabbage recipe is made with pork, sauerkraut, cabbage and tomatoes. Here are more Eastern European stuffed cabbage recipes.
The story has it a popular mid-19th-century Romanian inn, famous for its sausages, was out of a customer favorite. To save time, the chef formed the unstuffed meat mixture into sausage-shaped cylinders and grilled them over charcoal. The customers delighted in "the wee ones without skin," and so these casingless sausages became known as mititei or "the wee ones."
Schnitzel or şniţel is a popular main course in restaurants, fast food places, and homes across Romania. It is typical of the Austrian / German schnitzel but it can be made with any type of meat or poultry. This recipe for a type of schnitzel known as pork cordon bleu, or cordon bleu şniţel in Romanian, features pounded pork tenderloin filled with prosciutto or ham and cheese. Other popular Romanian filled schnitzel are the şniţel mozaic-rulat stuffed with two different thin meat layers, cheese, red peppers and mushroom filling. And then there is the sniţel de ciuperci, a mushroom fritter.
This recipe for Romanian chicken kebabs or frigarui can be made with seasoned chicken only or a combination of chicken and veggies. Frigarui is also made with pork or beef and sometimes bacon skewered with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms and then grilled. It is a popular Romanian street food.
Romanian cozonac is a slightly sweet yeast-raised egg bread, similar to hoska, that is traditionally eaten for Easter, Christmas and New Year's. Bulgarians call this bread kozunak. It's considered the Italian panettone of the Romanians. Some cozonac are filled with nuts, lokum (Turkish Delight) or raisins. When the cozonac dough is filled with farmers cheese, it becomes a pasca, similar to a Polish kolacz.
Thin, French-style pancakes are popular throughout Eastern Europe and are known variously as palacinke in Serbia and Croatia, palacsintas in Hungary and nalesniki in Polish, and so on. In Romania, crepes are known as clătite. Depending on the filling, they can be served as an appetizer, meal or dessert. Any crepe recipe will do just fine.
Here is another example of the French and Slavic influences on Romanian food. Romanian savarina is virtually identical to French baba au rhum and Polish rum-soaked babka without raisins. This cake is made with a sweet yeast dough which is soaked in a rum syrup overnight after baking and then either filled with pastry cream or topped with whipped heavy cream and garnished with fresh fruit or, at the very least, a maraschino cherry. This traditional dessert is often served at celebratory occasions like weddings, christenings and other happy events.