Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Luscos (ciorba de varza cu afumatura)

"Ardeal cabbage soup with smoked pork"

This hearty soup, pronounced ‘looshcosh’ in Romanian, hails from Ardeal (a region of Transylvanian Romania) and therefore almost certain originates from the Hungarian soup called lucskos kaposzta, which translates something like ‘sloppy cabbage’. I don’t know if that means that it should be closer in texture to a wet stew rather than a soup, but if so, that wouldn’t be so bad, especially on those cold autumn evenings. I found various recipes for luscos, but most of them seemed to have certain common elements, namely the cabbage (obviously), the onion, the tomato and the smoked meats. Other recipes also contained carrots and parsnips (to make the stock), or just used stock cubes, but I felt in this case it was better to use some carrots, as I had them to hand, and let the veg and meat flavour the stock. Radu Anton Roman’s version also contained a glass of white wine.

Time: 90 minutes
Servings: 4 bowls

200-300g of smoked pork of some variety
½ a medium white cabbage
2 medium onions
1 carrot
2-3 serving spoons of tomato bullion/thick passata (or a smaller amount of concentrate)
About 2 tablespoons of oil, porkfat or butter
700ml of water
Two large pinches of dried thyme (or a chopped up sprig of fresh if you have it)
Dill or parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper for seasoning

1. Peel the onions, cut them in half, and slice them thinly. Melt or heat the oil/fat/butter in a large saucepan and add the onions and sauté them gently over a medium heat for a minute or two.
2. Cut the pork into largish chunks and add them to the onions. Continue to cook over a medium heat for about 5-6 minutes, stirring regularly.
3. Grate or finely chop the carrot and add it to the pan, stir it in, give it another couple of minutes.
4. Meanwhile, shred the cabbage and put it on top of the mixture already in the pan, put on the lid, turn the temperature down, and leave to stew for about half an hour. At first, it might seem like a lot of cabbage, but it will wilt down to about half its size. From time to time give it all a good mix and make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan (it shouldn’t if the temperature is low).
5. Once the cabbage has wilted down and has turned a slightly translucent yellowy colour, pour in the water (I usually pre-boil it), add the bullion, the thyme, stir well, bring it to the boil, turn the heat right down, and leave on a low heat uncovered for at least 30-40 minutes, an hour if you can.
6. If the soup looks watery, or you prefer it thicker and more ‘sloppy’, you can add a ‘rentas’, which is basically a kind of roux made from flour and pork fat, sometimes with finely chopped onion or garlic added.
7. When done, season it to taste, dish it out, sprinkle with green stuff (dill or parsley seem most popular), and serve with some nice crusty bread, smantana (sour cream), and/or hot peppers.

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