“Ardeal style Red Orach or Mountain Spinach Soup”
Every spring in Romania I see these brightly-coloured bunches of spinach-like leaves appearing in the market. I have even known the Romanian name for them for years. I have not, however, ever had the slightest idea what they are used for or how they taste. Writing a blog on Romanian food as I am, I thought it only correct that I change this and have a go at cooking them. As with many other spring leaves, it seems the most common way of cooking them, aside from using them in salads, is to make soup out of them so this is what I decided to do. Loboda, as they are called here in Romanian, are known as orach in English (not that I knew this before today). Other common names for this plant (atriplex hortensis) are mountain spinach, red orach and French spinach. Apparently it was more commonly used in southern Europe until the appearance of spinach. It is red and green in colour and (to me at least) the raw leaves taste a little of rhubarb.
I found there were two basic recipe types for red orach soup in Romania. The first, I would think, originates more in the eastern and southern regions of Moldovia and Muntenia. These use bors as a souring agent (a ciorba is generally a sour-tasting soup, whereas a supa is more like a broth) and often contain rice or sometimes noodles. The version I chose to make (mostly because I had the majority of the ingredients to hand) is the version from Ardeal, where sour milk is sometimes used instead of bors. The Ardeal versions sometimes have a kind of egg omelette served in them to give it more consistency just as I used in the ciorba de salata verde. I’ve started the soup off with some boiled smoked pork (actually it was scarita – smoked ribs) but you could use smoky bacon or whatever you have around. If you want to make a ‘post’ (vegan) version of this soup, then just make a simple vegetable stock at the beginning instead of boiling the smoked meat by replacing the meat with some chopped onion, carrot, celeriac and parsley, and then straining them out and reserving the resultant stock.
Time: 30 minutes
6-7 bunches of red orach (about 150g once trimmed of stems)
200g of smoked pork on the bone (or about 100g of smoky bacon)
4 spring onions
4 green garlic stems (or 2-3 cloves of regular garlic)
100ml of fresh milk
100ml of sour milk (or milk soured with lemon)
1 tablespoon of flour
Salt to taste
1. If you don’t have any sour milk (called lapte batut in Romania) then you can just sour some regular milk by squeezing some lemon into it. To make this a ‘ciorba’ it needs to have a sour component. If you are souring fresh milk, do this first to give it time to curdle a little.
2. Pour about 800ml of water into a pot and put on a high heat. If you are using smoked meat on the bone, put this in the water, bring it to the boil, and cook for about 10 minutes until the water takes on a little smokiness and the meat is tender enough to cut easily. Remove the meat when it’s done, cut it off the bone, cut it into small chunks, and put it back in the water. If you’re using bacon or smoked ham, cut it into chunks first and only boil it for about 5 minutes.
3. While the meat is boiling, pick the orach leaves off the stems and wash the mud off them. Then trim and cut the onion and garlic into small rounds and chop the dill and parsley reasonably finely.
4. Blend the tablespoon of flour with the fresh milk (not the soured one) and add the chopped onions, garlic, dill and parsley and put to one side.
5. Once the meat is cook, trimmed off the bone, and returned to the water, add the orach leaves and simmer for about 10 minutes.
6. After the 10 minutes is up, add the fresh milk containing the greenery and continue to cook on a low simmer for a minute or two.
7. Add the soured milk and mix and then season with salt to taste.
8. Serve hot.