Friday, 4 November 2011

Ciorba de salata verde

"Lettuce soup"

In Romanian cuisine there are two types of soup, supa and ciorba. Supa is generally a clear broth whereas ciorba mostly refers to a sour soup. Lettuce soup is of the latter variety and its sourness comes from the addition of sour cream, sour milk, and also whey. Whey is not such a commonly-found ingredient in most supermarkets these days, even in Romania, and I couldn't find any when I went shopping for the ingredients for this soup, but I compensated by adding a little more of the sour cream. Similarly, in these days of UHT milk you are unlikely to have soured milk, so just use regular milk instead - the end result might be a little sweeter than is traditional, but the taste is still good all the same.

This dish can be cooked as a vegetarian dish. Sometimes sliced pieces of smoked sausage are added to it at the beginning, and smoked slanina (pork fat) is also frequently added, but these can be omitted if you don't eat meat. I added some crispy bacon as a garnish instead.

Time: About an hour and a quarter
Servings: 3-4 bowls

3 heads of lettuce (regular lettuce, not the crisp iceberg lettuce)
2 small onions
1 small carrot (or half a bigger one)
1 litre of water
2 tablespoons of flour
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
3 eggs
3-4 cloves of garlic
50ml of sour cream (smantana)
100ml of sour milk (or regular milk, failing that)
250ml of whey (zer) (optional)
1 bunch of lovage (leustean)
Salt to taste

1. Wash the lettuce to remove any soil and chop it up into ribbons.
2. Grate (or blitz) the two onions and grate the carrot.
3. Put 1 litre of water in a saucepan and add the lettuce, the carrot, and half the onion. Bring this gently to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes.
4. While the soup base is simmering, warm the flour in a saucepan being careful not to burn it. It should start to take on a little colour, but keep stirring and shaking it to make sure it doesn't burn. Take it off the heat and mix in the rest of the onion and the oil to make a stiff paste. Add a little more oil if it looks to dry and crumbly. Keep to one side.
5. If you are going to add the pork fat lardons or the crispy bacon, cook these in a pan until the fat renders out, then remove to a plate with some kitchen paper on it to absorb the excess fat.
6. In the same pan as you cooked the bacon/pork fat in (or in a pan with a little vegetable oil if you are making the vegetarian version), add two well-beaten eggs and make an omelette. When the omelette is cooked, cut it into squares (you choose the size) and put to one side.
7. Chop the garlic finely and put to one side.
8. When the 45 minutes is up, stir in the onion/flour/oil paste, pressing it against the sides with a spoon to remove any lumps, and mix it well into the soup. Then add the garlic and the omelette and stir.
9. Let the soup simmer for another 10-15 minutes during which time you can beat the remaining egg with the sour cream, milk, and whey (if using).
10. Take the soup off the heat and leave for a minute until it stops bubbling and simmering, then, stirring constantly, gradually add the egg/milk mixture. If the soup is still boiling it'll end up curdling so make sure it's off the simmer before you add it.
11. Season the soup to taste with salt and sprinkle on the chopped lovage.
12. Serve with the crispy bacon, pork fat lardons, and some crusty bread.


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