Sunday, November 4, 2012

Making Mamaliga

It's another dark and cold night in our household, so we went to seek shelter somewhere warm and comforting - to my brother Peter and sister-in-law Fiana's apartment.  Fiana's family is staying with them right now as well, due to the hurricane, and since I've been pestering them to make a traditional Moldovan dish they were kind enough to show me how to make Mamaliga.  

A much talked about peasant dish, it sounded a lot like polenta, made of cornmeal, water and then later stuffed with bryndza cheese
and coated with butter.  It's a rustic dish and by nature very versatile, eaten on its own, with protein or even as a dessert with fruit preserves.

It was truly a special evening, as I watched the whole family take part in making this high-maintenance dish that you need real muscle to keep up with.  I stirred it around a bit as well and enjoyed the fruits of my labor with tonight's delicious Moldovan dinner.  So without further ado, here's how you make it, step by step.

Gershengorin Mamaliga
(serves 8)


Approximately 2 cups of cornmeal
2-3 tbs of melted butter
1 - 1.5 cups of crumbled bryndza (you can get this at Czech/Slovak Varieties store)

Boil 2 cups of water with a generous pinch of salt in a medium sized cast iron pot.  Add the cornmeal, lower the heat and gradually start stirring it around.  It's going to start out pretty lumpy, but keep stirring it so you get a smoother consistency.

You'll need real muscle to stir this thing, as it becomes thicker by the minute, so don't be afraid to take turns - men and women alike are welcome.  And remember, if you see those pesky lumps and areas that are not yet covered by the water, make sure to break them up, and keep stirring. 

Poke the mixture consistently with a wooden spoon but don't really stir it until the dough separates naturally from the back of the spoon.  After that, turn up the heat to medium and keep stirring.  

After about 15 minutes of constant stirring and making sure that the lumps are smoothed out, the dough forms into a solid structure that separates naturally from the sides of your cast iron pot.  You'll need to deflate the air that keeps puffing it up constantly, or just until you're about ready to eat it.

When you're ready to eat this baby, turn off the heat, flip the pot over on a wooden cutting board or a flat plate.  It should form a rustic oval shape and you're ready to eat.

Instead of cutting it with a knife, the traditional way to do it is with a string from the bottom up.  The Mamaliga forms these lovely slices that you use later to house toppings such as cheese and butter. 

Here's a video of Fiana cutting the Mamaliga.
Top it with melted butter and bryndza cheese, pinch together into a little purse like so (the Moldovans call it a little "bear"), and then enjoy!  I tell ya, this is amazing stuff, and really the best thing to have when a cold, dark apartment waits.  I can't wait to make my own version when the lights come on.  Thanks to the Gershengorin family for this fabulous tradition - and recipe.

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