It’s National Vegetarian Week, so find a vegetarian and eat them! Mmmm – corn-fed!
Ahem. I was a vegetarian in my mid to late teens (around the time I started cooking) and eat meat a two or maybe three times a week currently (and no, I don‘t refer to myself as a ‘flexitarian‘, a ‘vegan until 6pm‘ or any such precious, guilt-addled nonsense). We have lots of vegetarian recipes on the blog (as you can see from the index), several of which have become things I eat regularly – particularly fasolakia, porotos granados and artichoke dip.
First off however, is a simple recipe which I remember my mother teaching me to cook as a young ‘un, though I haven’t made it for years. (Mamaliga is the Romanian term for this dish, incidentally.)
From The Vegetable Book by Jane Grigson, (Penguin, 1976):
Mamaliga fripte, Cruchades, Escotons
If you are not brought up to it, mamaliga can seem dull, I confess to preferring it made over into fritters, the crispiest ones one could possibly eat and altogether delicious.
Slice the cornmeal porridge when cold into finger lengths. Fry them in very hot corn oil [which has a very high smoke point] until crisp and lightly browned. Serve with garlic sauce on p562 or a home made tomato sauce. These fritters can also be eaten with a very rich meat stew.
The previous recipe, gives this description for how to make cornmeal porridge:
Mamaliga, polenta or milhas
At home in the kitchen prudent cooks can use a double-boiler so that they can turn their backs on the mamaliga without fear of it catching.
This is a simple recipe – bring 1 litre (1 ¾ pt) water to the boil in the upper part of the double boiler. Stir in half a litre (generous 3/4pint) cornmeal gradually to avoid lumps. Season it with salt and pepper, or just with a hint of salt if you want to eat it with jam or honey. Now place the upper part of the boiler over the lower part, which should be half-full of boiling water. Leave for 20 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally. If you want a softer mush [I love you, Jane!], add extra water. If you want o make a sweet dish, add sugar and some liqueur when the consistency is right. [A bit of parmesan is good too.]
Turn the mixture on to a wooden board if you want to serve it immediately. Otherwise pat into a shallow buttered dish to cool, for later use as cornmeal fritters.
Balkan Walnut and Garlic Sauce
According to the text, serving this sauce with cornmeal fritters is a Romanian dish,. This sauce is described as similar to skordalia but stronger, as it contains no bread. Blanching and skinning the walnuts (if you use them) is necessary to remove the bitterness.
6 tablespoons boiling water (if using with a blender)
2 – 5 large cloves garlic
125g walnuts or almonds blanched
125ml olive oil or yoghurt
Wine vinegar, salt
Blend the water and garlic thoroughly, then add the nuts gradually, alternating them with oil or yoghurt to keen the mixture moving. Flavour to taste with vinegar and salt.
If you use a mortar, you do not need so much liquid, so that the water can be omitted, or reduced. If the nuts start to oil, though, a little very hot water can be added to bring them back. It also helps to grate the nuts first to reduce the pounding labour.
I made the cornmeal porridge in a normal, heavy-bottomed saucepan, as I was also making tomato sauce and the nut sauce listed above, it was easy to give it the occasional stir.
I used a coarse ground cornmeal, made by Island Sun, which is jaunty yellow and not at all grainy. (I can’t imagine how smooth the fine ground is!)
Blanching and skinning walnuts is a pain – my recommendation is when you take them out of the cold water, put them somewhere dry immediately and the skins will peel off. Some of mine were left in a small amount of water, and the nuts soaked up the water and the skins stuck. Of course, if you make this in a pestle and mortar, as I did, any scraps of skin will soon separate from the nuts and you can pick them out.
For the Balkan sauce, I chose walnuts and olive oil. The tomato sauce contained tomatoes, onion, chilli and olive oil, cooked to a jam.
‘Pat into a shallow buttered dish’ is a bit twee. I poured it on to a plate which I’d smeared with a little bit of oil and when cold, cut it into wedges like a cake, not ‘finger lengths’. (Mostly because I have weirdly short fingers and was making dinner, not canapes.)
This was very, very good. The fried cornmeal was as tasty as I remember it – a mild, soft-centred, crispy-coated foil for the fiercely flavoured sauces. Once cooled, the cornmeal porridge keeps for several days in the fridge (well, 5 days in my fridge), making it a fairly efficient choice despite the time taken to make the porridge.
The Balkan sauce is a kind of cool, complex pesto – it separated slightly when it hit the warm plate, as you can see from the picture and is definitely one for people who like the taste of olive oil. I shall try variations of this in the future – including adding herbs, I think parsley would be a particularly good addition. One does end up with rather a lot, but as the recipe states, it’s more of a condiment than a sauce and I have also successfully deployed it in sandwiches, on salads and roasted veg and stirred through rice.
Fripte’d by Elly