My friends, last dinner cook I encountered a dilemma that I’d never encountered before.
According to the meal plan and the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, I was supposed to cook Eastern European food; a cuisine I am COMPLETELY unfamiliar with. What is Eastern European food anyways? Where’s Eastern Europe? Like, Eastern Eurasia? Or anywhere in Europe that’s not in the western half? Who? What? When?
So I Googled up a map and asked around to get a feel for where Eastern Europe was geographically. Aha… Those countries. The –ia’s (Latvia, Bosnia, Romania, etc.) and the other funny-sounding ones (at least in my mind). But really, what does anyone know about these countries?
There’s no use in trying to convince anyone that Eastern European food is wildly popular and delicious. Because no one will believe you. It seems that in Europe, the further you get away from the Atlantic Ocean, the less popular the country’s cuisine. In Spain, you have the famous paella, the citrus fruit, and other delicious seafood dishes; the British Isles, although mostly known for pub food, is shedding its reputation of boring, heavy eating and becoming more of a foodie hotspot; then of course France and Italy, which are the 2 gastronomical capitals of the world; and even Germany, with its spaetzle and bratwurst. But Ukraine? Poland? Bulgaria? What do people eat there? And seriously, what do people in Hungary do when they’re hungry (harhar..)?
To be honest, I didn’t know. And I still don’t know. So this dinner cook was especially challenging for me, because although I knew all the ingredients and how to cook them, in the end, I didn’t know what they actually looked like, or what they were supposed to taste like.
So I winged it. And it wasn’t half-bad.
Here’s the menu:
Trannsylvania Eggplant Casserole
Czechoslovakian Apple & Carrot Confetti
Creamy Hungarian Bean Soup
(Sorry there are no links to recipes this time around… all of these came from this Moosewood Cookbook.)
First things first: whenever you’re making dinner with beans in it, always start the beans first. They take the longest, and you need to take all the time you can get to make sure they’re fully cooked.
I started up our monster pressure-cooker, pouring in a 2:1 ration of water and kidney beans.
While the beans were cooking away, I prepped all the other vegetables for the soup.
Like onions (what else is new?).
Garlic (so. much. garlic!).
And leeks. Funny lookin’ things, aren’t they? They’re like giant scallions (i.e. green on the top, white on the bottom, mildly oniony in flavor).
A word of warning: leeks tend to have A LOT of dirt stuck in between the leaves, so you want to wash them extra-carefully. I go about doing this by slicing them down the middle.
Then cutting them into inch-long chunks and agitating them in cold water. After a while, all the dirt stuck in between the leaves will float to the bottom, leaving you with clean leek chunks and a bowl full of dirty water.
That’s how much dirt would be in your food if you didn’t wash it! Ewwww….
I sauteed the onions and the leeks for quite a while.. It took a long time for them to soften up. When they did, I added the garlic, the carrots, and the spices (i.e. salt, pepper, and paprika).
After cooking the spices into the vegetables for a bit, the cookbook said to add some flour to thicken up the soup. So I did.
Once the flour was cooked down, I added the now-cooked and tender kidney beans AND the bean water.
Not looking very pleasant… But I just let the soup simmer for the rest of the dinner cook, continuously tasting and seasoning the soup as I went.
In the meanwhile, the Trannsylvanian Eggplant dish was underway.
It started of with thinly sliced eggplant rounds that were oiled, salted, and peppered, then thrown into the oven for a couple minutes to precook it.
We also prepared a mushroom, onion, and tomato mixture for the casserole.
The eggplant and the mushrooms were then layered in between brown rice, cheddar, and egg, with a breadcrumb and parmesan cheese crust.
I know, it sounds a little weird. And it was a little weird. But in a good way. Except it was still a little weird because we put the casseroles with the raw eggs into the oven, BUT FORGOT TO TURN THE OVEN OFF. We did actually get to bake them, but only for 20ish minutes, and needless to say the eggs were runny and not quite fully cooked. But I swear it was alright.
Once the soup was done and the casseroles were in the oven, the dinner-cooks and I worked on the carrot-apple confetti, which was a sweet slaw mix of grated carrots, apples, dried cherries, and an OJ dressing.
Mmm.. a desserty side!
And the final, completed dinner looked like this:
Not the most attractive plate of food. But I bet it’s some of the most colorful plate of Eastern European food you’ve ever seen. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the flavor of any of these.. They were well-received, and I thought they were alright, but it wasn’t anything particularly exciting for the taste buds. And some might say that it’s because Eastern European food in general isn’t very good, but I’m inclined to say that it’s probably because I have no experience as to what it’s supposed to taste like. And I’m sure there are foods from Eastern Europe that are an absolute delight to eat. But If I’ve never tried food like this, how am I supposed to cook it, let alone make it taste good?
A serious gastronomical dilemma, my friends…