One of the best things about slow travel is undoubtably the chance to sample local specialities, and to meet the people who make them. Anca and Charlie live in the Saxon village of Saschiz. Their hillside home is filled with a menagerie of rescued animals and, as they’re both keen cooks, the kitchen is filled with jars of traditional, homemade pickles and preserves.
A local favourite is Varza a la Cluj, meaning ‘Cluj style cabbage’. It’s a classic, hearty dish perfect for re-fueling after a morning cycling through the hills of Transylvania, and Anca has kindly shared her recipe with us.
Varza a la Cluj
Serves 4-6 people
2 onions, peeled & finely chopped
2 carrots, scrubbed & finely chopped
300g minced beef
200g minced pork
500ml tomato passata
Sea salt & black pepper
1 large Savoy or white cabbage, washed, damaged outer leaves & stem discarded
Fresh thyme, stripped from stalks
180g basmati or long grain rice
200g full fat sour cream
Heat a couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil in a heavy based frying pan on a medium heat. Add the chopped onions to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring every now and then. Stir through the carrots and leave to cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the minced meat, cooking until it browns, then the passata and seasoning. Simmer over a low heat for at least 1 hour or until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Whilst the mince is cooking, prepare the cabbage. Slice the cabbage into thick ribbons and place into a large bowl. Add a teaspoon of salt and small handful of thyme and use your hands to combine. Set aside for 30 minutes. Heat a large saucepan on a medium-high heat and add a little sunflower oil. Carefully pour the cabbage into the hot pan and allow it to fry for a minute – it is best to do this in batches. Boil the kettle and carefully add the hot water to the pan. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes until the cabbage is cooked through.
Prepare the rice by placing it in a saucepan and covering with 500ml water, or according to the packet instructions. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Simmer until cooked through.
Once everything is prepared, heat the oven to 160C fan. Take a 30 x 20cm deep roasting tin and arrange a layer of cabbage, meat, then rice and continue to layer until all is used. Spoon the sour cream over the top and cover tightly with foil or a lid. Cook for 1 hour then remove the foil and return to the oven for 20-30 minutes until the sour cream is golden brown.
As Anca says, ‘your meal is ready to be devoured!’