The season is almost upon us and, while the prospect of cycling all those incredible routes through Transylvania is indeed exciting, what is concerning us today at The Slow Cyclist HQ is cabbage.
Yes, we're excited about cabbage.
Alas, no ordinary cabbage. We're getting hot under the collar about the upcoming opportunity to gorge ourselves on Varza a la Cluj which is, essentially, lasagne with cabbage instead of pasta. Varza means cabbage and Cluj refers to Cluj Napoca, the capital of Transylvania.
However, that explanation doesn't do it justice. So, we asked Anca Dalmasso - who along with her French husband Charli, often welcomes Slow Cyclists into her home to taste a range of exceptional cooking - to explain the process to us. If you follow her instructions carefully, you too could go to comfort food heaven, Romanian style.
500 gr of minced meat (mix beef and pork)
1 large cabbage
500 ml of tomato juice
1 cup of rice
200 gr of full fat sour cream
Salt, pepper, thyme
Preparing the Meat
In a frying pan, cook the onions with the carrots (cut in small cubes). Add the meat. When the meat has browned, add the tomato juice. We add salt and pepper and leave to cook slowly for at least one hour. In the meantime...
Preparing the Cabbage
Slice the cabbage and mix it with the salt and thyme. Leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes. Then fry the cabbage in sunflower oil for a few minutes before adding water, bringing to the boil and simmering gently for about 20 minutes. And in the meantime...
Preparing the Rice
Cook 1 cup of rice in 3 cups of water, adding salt and pepper before the process.
When the meat, cabbage and rice are ready, take an ovenproof dish and begin the construction of Varza a la Cluj. First, lay cabbage on the entire base of the dish. On top spread some of the meat and then some rice. Depending on the size of the dish, make 2 or 3 layers of each ingredient.
Finally, pour the sour cream all over the dish, cover with kitchen foil and cook slowly for at least one hour. Take off the foil and cook for a further 30 minutes. The sour cream on top will turn a golden brown on top when the dish is ready to serve.
There you go! And as Anca would say, "pofta buna!"
To taste Anca's home-cooking either come cycling with us (!) or go and spend a night or two at their house, Casa de pe Deal ("House on the Hill") overlooking the Transylvanian town of Saschiz.