by Thao Uyen and Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
Greetings everyone! It’s going to be Halloween soon (very soon!) and we’re doing a special post for this occasion *drums*. Just the idea of ghosts and spirits entering this human world at midnight sets our imagination on fire, and let us guess, yours too. We know that you’re going to throw a party with scary-looking food, or, to put it more bluntly, over-the-top, disgusting all-over-the-place dishes that make people wonder how they can even imagine eating them. And so with that inspiration in mind, we’re going to present to you two ideas for you to thrill your guests while having lots of fun in the process. First, let’s discover this artful recipe with a cute name…
Voma de Fantoma - Ghost (goat) Puke cheese salad
It’s a simple, fast, delicious recipe…yes, I mean it! It’s basically a cheese dip/spread (depending on how moist you want it to be).
I behave ghostly when serving this dish, follow my advice and just let the guests taste it before telling them what “it is” and surprisingly, everyone will want more. The spirit of Halloween!
INGREDIENTS ( for a party of 20)
1 kg goat cheese of your liking
1 kg cottage cheese or other soft, unsalted cow cheese
A healthy bunch of dill, and another one of parsley
30g grated horseradish
Pepper to taste
Optional: 1kg medium hot peppers for decoration and dipping
You just toss everything in the blender. First you chop the herbs and grate the horseradish, then you add the cheese and milk. Unless you have a very large blender, you might want to split the quantities in half, blend them separately and then mix the two halves in a large bowl. You can add more milk if you need it to be thinner. Your result should be a greenish, disgusting voma. It’s best to be prepared 24h before serving, for the tastes to get mixed while cooling. Keep in mind it will get thicker when cooled.
The best way to serve this cheese dip/salad/spread is with hot peppers that are not so hot, the sweet, mild kind. You can also use those to decorate the dish according to your inspiration. As you can see my result is more towards a surrealistic, supernatural version. You can replace the hot peppers with all kinds of fresh or baked/grilled vegetable slices. It’s also great as a spread for grilled bread, a dip for all kinds of meat and veggies, or as a thicker salad dressing.
'Zombie fingers' sausages
It’s an idea for your scary (and not disgusting) plate with zombie fingers and finish off with sriracha or strawberry jam for the children (the sweetness of strawberry jam and this salty zombie-ing bacon and sausage will keep them happy). Here’s how they will look like…
The way to do this is pretty simple because you don’t even need a recipe. You only need hot dogs and bacon stripes for the fingers and for the nails almond slices and Korean seaweed sheet, the one used for Kimpap.
INGREDIENTS: (prepare as many as you like)
Seaweed sheet called gim
First wrap one stripe of bacon around each hot dog/sausage, make sure that you leave a part of hot dog unwrapped to stick in the nail later.
Next heat the oven at 200C and grill the ‘fingers’ for 15 minutes, remember to turn them around if you want the fingers to have an overall ‘cooked’ looking.
For the nails, cut the seaweed sheet into nail shape figures. The nails should look bigger than the almond slices and shorter too. Next smash cooked rice and use it as a base to stick the seaweed nails onto the almond slices (you can just dabble a bit of water on the sheet instead of using rice but it won’t work as well as the cooked rice).
Alright, let’s get to the finishing part! Remember that we left out a part of the hot dog to make the nails? Use a knife to cut out a bit of the hot dog so that we can stick the nails in. Now insert the almond nails into the sausage, you can use the knife’s point and make a cut to make inserting the nails easier.
The next part is your creativity, use sriracha or strawberry jam to spread the ‘blood’ all over the fingers and what do you have there? A bloody scarred zombie hand!
Harvest Day in Romania extends itself to be almost a month :) It usually starts around the end of September and it continues way into October until around the 20th. Also having been embraced by the Romans, along with their own celebrations, its origins are mostly Thracian and focused around an essential local activity around this time: vintage, the harvesting of grapes and preparation of the wine. The whole autumn harvest season is accompanied by festivals, fairs, tables of local products (fruits, vegetables, cured meats and cheeses), dance and music.
We built our own little celebration as we usually do, around the ultimate star of Harvest Day: must (vinum mustum, "young wine"). The must is sweet and enchanting, it contains the whole body of the grape, pressed, with seeds, skin and stems and it is the first gate of the alchemical transformation of the wine. Its name is a perfect mirror of its properties, since must is an elixir of youth, among its many other properties.
A glass of sweet, perfumed must by the end of September connects us with an ancient rite of passage from summer to winter that we share with nature, our ancestors and the future, an opening gate for an important metamorphosis happening around this time of year, that is meant to take us back inside, to preservation and transmutation of resources, and it prepares not just our body, but our soul as well, for this long journey through the regenerating cold.
In Romania, there is an old and widespread tradition to enjoy the must with mutton pastramă (pastrami, which in Romanian is connected to the verb "a păstra" - to keep), as the perfect combination of sweet-flavor-rich with salty and meaty. Pastrama is salted raw meat, brined, then dried and smoked, which can be eaten as it is or, just like we did here, barbecued. This way, pastrama also puts the fire where it belongs, at the center of such a rite of passage, as the hearth. Mmm I am carrying with me the smell of the smoke, the salty taste and the sweetness of căpșunică must until next year.
The main cast was not alone, there has been an entire firey preparation for us to become worthy of tasting them. Starting with hot tea with fallen silver fir needles...
...a very special guest, the amazing Iris...
and continuing with the help from pelin wine (Romanian bitter wine, fermented with Artemisia absinthium, making for a delicate aperitif taste similar to Aperol) and 3D (I think 45° of mirabelles - plums alcohol, a killer! not for the faint of heart), we managed to keep the fire going and enjoy the heart of autumn with a special mujdei, traditional Harvest Day delicacies like sheep cas, urda and telemea (don't despair, I am preparing a surprise when it comes to Romanian cheeses), Mau vegetables pie (recipe coming soon), lots and diversely marinated steaks and meats, among which a mutton chops specialty masterfully marinated by Bogdan with honey and secret ingredients, grilled harvested veggies, all crisp and perfect thanks to our master Grillman Alexandru, fruits, cookies and a divine Lavinia apple pie with ice cream. Sending you our autumnly love! Wherever you are, may your harvest be bountiful.
* Thank you, Fims, for the beautiful photos.
Today is one of the biggest celebrations in Vietnam and it is called Vu Lan. I’m so excited to bring this tradition to you – the first among many more to come. I didn’t mean the celebration is on the 4th September respectively because almost all traditional Vietnamese celebrations take place according to the lunar calendar. Every year, the people celebrate Vu Lan on the lunar 15th July, the day of the Full Moon, and it just happens that this year it falls in September.
Vu Lan celebration originated from Vietnamese Buddhist practice. The Vietnamese Buddhism, although derived directly from the Indian Buddhism, is a whole entity on its own. Buddhism first made itself known in Vietnam around the III and II centuries BC by Indian monks who crossed the sea to deck on the shore of the country. Since then it has grown to become the main religion of Vietnam. From the first day through its long history of influence, the original Buddhism merged with pagan traditions and belief and pervaded all aspects of the population’s life. And that’s why many of our celebrations derived from Buddhist myths and practices, one of them is Vu Lan.
The origin of the story
Vu Lan is an official day to offer respect and gratefulness to our parents.
In Vietnamese there’s an expression to describe the love one has for one’s parents: “hieu thao”. There’s no translation for this term in English, or in French. This moral code finds its origin in Confucian teachings and the Chinese influence. This practice is encouraged and celebrated as a way of life, the right thing to live by and to strive for. By the way, my name is originated from this expression if you haven’t noticed. I should write about Vietnamese names and surnames and their meanings as it’s another interesting cultural tidbit but let’s leave that for another article.
Back to our Vu Lan day, there’s a Buddhist myth leading to this tradition.
A story in a story - the Buddhist aspect of the tradition
The story began with a man named Muc Lien. Our hero, initially practiced another religion, converted to Buddhism and diligently committed himself to its teachings and practices. Like the Yogis training themselves in adverse environment, Muc Lien did the same and achieved magical powers and became one of the best practitioners.
In the mist of this spiritual journey, he found himself thinking about his late mother and how he missed her. Using newly acclaimed magical power (some say it was clairvoyance), he found his dead mother, now a miserable spirit, in hell. Because she did wicked things when she was alive, his late mother was condemned to stay in hell as an evil spirit with nothing to feed, forever hungry. Dismayed by what he saw, Muc Lien stepped down to hell to offer his mother a bowl of rice. But strangely, when his mother tried to eat the rice it suddenly transformed into a blaze of fire.
Grief stricken, Muc Lien came to Buddha and asked how he can save his mother. Buddha replied that Muc Lien couldn’t do it on his own even if he had magical powers or even if his love for his mother moved the heaven. He would need set up an altar on the Full Moon of July and asked for the monks from all corners of the world to pray with him, in doing so he would not just save his mother but would also lift any bad karma caused by seven generations of his family. Muc Lien did as he was told and the truth came to past, his mother was forgiven.
This ceremony, the way to set up the altar, the prayer and also the story itself were called Vu Lan. Since then, Vietnamese Buddhists celebrate every year the Full Moon of July as the day about love and gratefulness toward their parents, the Vu Lan day. People would set up an altar in their home or attend big ceremonies in temples. It doesn’t matter as the ceremony will process in the same way: the altar will be set up with dishes (often vegan dishes), people burn incense and offer prayers. It’s the day to stop one’s busy life and be thankful for one’s parents, either they’re still alive or passed away.
The white rose, the pink rose and the red rose
Well, it has nothing to do with the war of the Roses in England. In this Vu Lan day, it has become tradition for each person to wear a rose on their chest.
This practice is recent in Vietnam, raised by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in the 60s. The rose is a symbol of love and a noble heart so there is no other symbol more appropriate for Vu Lan day. One wears a white rose if one’s parents passed away, a pink rose if one lost one’s mother and a red rose if both parents are still alive and well. The white rose stands for our love and respect for the ones who passed away, missing them and therefore striving to do the right things in life. The pink and red roses are a reminder to appreciate our parents and love them while we still can.
The pagan practice
There’s another practice which is independent from the Vu Lan celebration but people hold both ceremonies together on the Full Moon of July. It’s the pagan day of forgiven homeless spirits.
The pagan Vietnamese belief, just like those of other South East Asian countries, believes that human is made from two distinct elements: the body and the spirit. And unlike the body which will eventually decompose and “return to sand and dust”*, the spirit itself is eternal. The human world is closely linked to the spirit world and the deeds that we did in the human world, either good or bad, will be judged and rewarded (if good) or punished in hell (if bad) in the spirit world.
It is said that on the Full Moon of July, punished spirits in hell were forgiven and were free to roam the earth. The homeless forgiven spirits which have no one to set up altar and pray for them are believed to will be up to mischief. And so on that day, people set up altar facing their house entry with sweets and puddings as an offer for homeless spirits in hope that they will leave peacefully. Incense will also be burned for this ceremony and when it ends, the children in the neighborhood are invited to “sack” all the treats like the devils they are. I’m just half kidding since the image of children running rodshod over the treats is not so unlike that of homeless spirits sampling the offering. We can call this the Vietnamese Halloween day.
Although both ceremonies are performed on the same day, they are unrelated and often people celebrate Vu Lan more than the pagan day of forgiven homeless spirits. It is because the meaning of Vu Lan etches deeply in Vietnamese culture, not as a religious ceremony but as a way of life. More often than not one’s family is a part of one’s identity.
I hope you enjoy this article about Vietnamese traditions and their layers of meaning and origins. Now please excuse me, I have to go buy myself a rose.
* a Vietnamese description of death
We live in the city, and only now and then we get hold of fresh, all-natural dairy products from the farm, so it has become a tradition to "baptize" them (more like ourselves) with a good portion of ad hoc pancakes.
Romanian pancakes are actually a form of French crêpes, they are meant to be thin and rolled around delicious homemade jams and sweets, or sometimes fresh cottage cheese with nuts or raisins. This time, I tried a thicker pancake, to fit the bio dairy products making the pancake dough fluffy and moist.
You can try this recipe with your favorite milk and butter, but it wouldn't be bad if you were able to try and taste them with fresh organic dairy and eggs. Something has been waiting on the shelves for this traditional moment: my freshly made golden mirabelles jam. I picked them out myself, from our own tree. You can find the recipe here (for red mirabelles), with the exception of experimenting with my wok (yes! for the jam) for the golden ones, in an attempt to provide a surrounding heat for the caramelization process (which can also be achieved by finishing the jam in the oven). It came out beautifully, preserving the tangy taste yet acquiring a caramel "effect".
So here it goes: I had at my disposal completely natural, untreated cow milk ( it came fresh after milking, and we boiled it here) and a magnificent foam of a butter from the same milk, farm chicken eggs and some golden sweetness in a jar.
I was looking for the perfect missing ingredient to make them dance together, the one that compliments all. My reverie took my eyes wandering towards the light and they stumbled on my fresh herbs window curtain...
...and there he was, my savior, my beauty: my Indian basil I had grown from seeds. He will compliment and wed the fresh buttery pancakes with this particular jam. He will bring out the freshness in milky way + eggs, and also make the tarty sweet stand out.
Time to get to work. Ingredients for 4 servings (8 pancakes):
800 ml fresh milk
a small bunch of fresh basil leaves
a pinch of salt
Make a nest for the eggs in the flour and sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Mix the batter and gradually add the milk. I use a whisker for the entire process. In the end, you should have a batter that is quite liquid, like a thicker milk or similar to liquid cream. Having enough liquid in the pancakes is important for their final fluffiness, and the best way to test a good pancake batter is to actually make one crepe, if it is too tough, you add more milk, or if you feel it is running, you add a little bit more flour by rapidly whisking it in the batter. But remember the best way to cook a pancake is to keep the batter liquid (it will come out melting in your mouth) and to flip it (in order to avoid breaking this delicate baby), which is exactly what I did for this recipe, since I wanted them as delicate as possible.
In the end, add the basil leaves, after mincing them by hand.
Use a bain-marie pot or simply heat water in a pot and put a large plate on top, with a lid. Once the water boils, you can turn off the heat; this is where you will put the pancakes when ready, to keep them warm and moist.
Heat your favorite crêpe pan (a non-sticky one) and add a teaspoon of butter, and when it begins to change color, use a ladle to pour the pancake batter, distribute evenly and when the margins begin to stick out, it's time to flip the pancake, baby! Be daring, and you might catch it back in the pan!
One of the delights of eating pancakes is the rush of rolling them, fingers burning, so that they melt their hotness in your mouth. Here they are, a family tradition that I hope you will enjoy!
Cherry Saturday of Souls (Mosii de vara, also called the Cherry Saturday of Souls) - cherry picking and barbecue. Romanian celebration of the dead before Rusalii (Whit or Pentecost Sunday). Time to feed the living to commemorate the dead and soothe the evil spirits (Rusalii: iele, zane = fairies) (ref. Rusalka ) They are tamed by the food, the fire, good loving thoughts and the dance of the enigmatic Calusari. Thousands of years old Pagan traditions mixing with Orthodox Christian mystique.
Veggie skewers with onion, courgette and bell peppers.
You just put them on the grill, no marinade, and they turn deliciously "chipsy", charred and crunchy. Served with Giacomina's special barbecue sauce (check the next photos).
Tomatoes and shepherd's cheese salad (with olive oil and fresh basil).
Chicken thighs with mix grill dry marinade (rubbed), pork neck rubbed with garlic powder, mildly hot sausages, and Giacomina's delicious barbecue dip: Greek (or other rich) yogurt, garlic, olive oil and oregano, mixed with a little salt and pepper, added to the veggie skewers and salad.
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!