Sunday, 26 February 2012

Chiftele de conopida

“Cauliflower croquettes”

Meatballs of various types are an integral part of Romanian cuisine and the word chiftea (pl. chiftele) (pronounced /kif-te-a/ - /kif-te-le/) is clearly an indication of their Turkish origin, the word being a corruption of the Turkish kofte and related to the Middle Eastern kafta. In the Moldavian region of Romania they are also commonly known as parjoale (/pur-joa-le/) although these seem to be a little larger in size than the standard Romanian chiftea. Due to the preference for pork in the Romanian diet, these meatballs are most commonly composed of pork, perhaps in combination with some beef. Lamb chiftele are quite rare in Romanian cuisine.

The chiftele I have made here are actually vegetarian ones, perhaps not very traditional although mixed vegetable croquettes are not uncommon. These cauliflower croquettes have a moist, light interior and, if cooked right, a crispy coating. Cauliflower is more usually pickled in Romanian or the whole florets are battered and fried, but I've seen these appear on a few menus and had them as a guest ay people's houses.

Servings: 10 croquettes
Time: 40 minutes

1 small cauliflower (or 2/3 of a big one)
1 large egg
200g of fine breadcrumbs (pesmet)
½ cup of chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
A splash of milk (if needed)
Oil for shallow frying

1. Cut the florets off the cauliflower and cover with water. Bring the water to the boil and boil for 15-20 minutes until the cauliflower is soft and the point of a knife slides in easily.
2. Drain the cauliflower and leave to steam dry for a few minutes.
3. Break the cauliflower up with a fork. You don’t want to smash it into a puree – you should end up with something like large breadcrumbs.
4. Break an egg into the cauliflower. Add salt and pepper to taste, three large tablespoons of breadcrumbs, and a handful of chopped parsley. Mix well.
5. Heat a centimetre of oil in a frying pan.
6. Pour the rest of the fine breadcrumbs into a dish.
7.  Take an egg-sized lump of the mixture and form it into a flattened disk. Dip it into the breadcrumbs until it is well covered and carefully place it into the hot oil. It’s probably best to cook them in two batches to save cramping the pan.
8. After a few minutes, carefully turn the croquette over to cook the other side. Cook both sides until golden brown. When cooked, remove to a plate with some kitchen paper on it to soak up any excess oil.
9. Serve with any sauce you like (a homemade tomato sauce, for instance) or simply with a dollop of good yogurt or sour cream.


i said...

This looks delicious, and I love cauliflower in all forms, so I will probably try it soon!

Romanian food is so meat-focused that it's easy to forget there are lots of delicious vegetarian dishes too, often variations for lent. I've only ever had meat chiftele in my family, but was excited to find recipes for veggie versions in my Romanian cookbooks... they sound a bit like malai kofta!

Romfoody said...

I know what you mean about the meat focus. I'm a meat eater myself, but I do enjoy vegetarian food too, and sometimes it's just nice to have a lighter variation of something, which is why I'm trying to list a few vegetarian/vegan recipes.

There are a lot of recipes for 'post' (lent) which would work for vegans. These chiftele includes eggs, so they're not vegan/post, but they would probably hold together ok with the eggs, maybe just with a little dash of oil or water.

i said...

Same here -- love meat, but not all the time. But I'm often not moved to cook Romanian (despite my blog!) because of the meatiness... and the arduousness of many dishes. I'm trying to seek out more of the easy, simple, summery foods that are what I love about Romanian cuisine. I don't mind a good sarma a few times a year, but it's not something I would dedicate days to...

Romfoody said...

Hopefully I'll be posting some more 'light' dishes. I try to cook with what's in season (as much as possible) so as you know, there's a lot of root veg and pickle-based dishes at the moment (to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of pickled food). Once spring really gets under way, I'll be on the look out for some nice summer-day dishes.

Do you have a URL to your blog?

Anonymous said...

Contrary to what is being written here, I can tell you that Romanian day to day food is not as "meaty" as you find it in cookbooks. In my family we would have meat at lunch 3 maximum 4 times a week, and some of the "meaty" dishes, would be a supa de cartofi cu carnati folowed by clatite cu branza/dulceata or ciorba de burta followed by papanasi cu smantana. Not much meat really. Moreover, out of those 3-4 days of meat, 1 would have to be fish. That kind of leaves you really with only the big Sunday roast and the Monday leftovers from Sunday. And myself and a lot of my older or even younger friends are pretty serious with the fasting periods of the Orthodox Calendar so....not much meat in Romanian cuisine, I guess. No wonder one can find a great variety of veggies only dishes or dishes that are versatile and tasty enough just to omit the meat in them and to have a nice fasting meal. For example, the rich Tongue with olives becomes in the fasting periods Leek with olives for the ones who are missing the taste. Or sarmale, normal ones or fasing ones filled with whatever your imagination let you choose: corn (crupe de porumb), mushrooms, sultanas, tofu, small shredded soy that immitates mince meat, or just plain rice with herbs. My potato soup with sausage in winter time, in fasting times just forget the sausage at the butcher, the salad sour soup - can be done without bacon rashers, just salad in oil and garlic.Basically, for almost every meat dish there is the fasting variant (well, I wouldn't substitute though the chicken schnitzels for the soy ones). As a pure Romanian, I must say that I think of our food more of having a strong vegetarian core to which you can add eggs, dairy products or meat if you have them or choose to add them.

Romfoody said...

Greetings and thank you for your insightful comments.

Part of my initial reasoning for starting this blog was to discover and record a more accurate record of this country's cuisine. Even though I've been here for approaching a decade, most of my exposure to Romanian food has been in restaurants or at friends' houses on special occasions, when the food has been rather hearty. Most tourists who visit the country probably leave with a similar impression as most restaurants/hotels have largely meat-based menus, plus a few salads.

As a result Romania food doesn't have much of a reputation for being light. This is why I've started to put up more salads and vegetable dishes; to show there is more to this cuisine than mamaliga and mici!

i said...

Anonymous: I'm not sure what a "pure" Romanian is, but I suspect I am one, at least ethnically, and although my family is Greek Orthodox we don't fast. (So we also never cooked any of the Lent variations.) But since I'm in the diaspora, the Romanian foods we make more often tend to be the holiday foods, which are pretty meaty. And cookbooks and restaurants (in the diaspora) tend to focus on the meat.

That said, most of my favourite Romanian foods, the ones that I'd want on the desert island, are extremely simple and very vegetarian. There are few things as delicious on this planet, in my opinion, as salata de vinete and salata de ardei copti, preferably on the same plate, with some cucumber and tomatoes and cheese. Maybe a few slices of salami for meat, but not necessary. I could eat this every day for the rest of my life and be happy.

Although I would also kill for some hamsii cu mujdei...