Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanța Ion
Here we begin a new journey, a new year, a new era at Nomades Gourmandes, and what better way to do it, as far as Romanian cuisine goes, than to inaugurate the ciorba on our blog. An essential dish and experience, festival of flavors, heat and health. When you think "ciorba", you think hot, sweet, salty and sour, a luscious garden, herbs and the flowing river of water. This is why I thought and mentioned health, this is what makes ciorba so healthy: the boil, the steam, the water. A giant teapot of vegetables, meat, herbs.
When you think "ciorba" you think of this ancient cauldron over an open wood fire where, in the last hours before dusk, the family alchemist prepares a magical water-based brew throwing in a little bit of this, a little bit of that, watching and carefully guarding the bubbles, for the whole family to gather around at dinner and tell today stories and adventures.
My grandmother used to do that when cooking the ciorba and here I will tell you the two main secrets about it, even before you know of the ingredients: she had a large, ancient wooden cutting board where she had all the ingredients chopped, and used everything of them, not just the parsley leaves but also the parsley stems (and this was before Jamie Oliver was even born :)). And then she performed a dance around the ciorba where she was throwing a little bit of each in the beginning, some of it in the middle and a last, essential touch just before the end. With this, in the bowl, you will still feel, taste and smell each ingredient. This old dance is, of course, a matter of practiced dialogue between you and your ciorba.
Ciorba is a potion.
In Romania, we have a variety of such magical brews, and the combination of ingredients can be infinite. I chose for our first ciorba a simple, smooth, soothing chicken ciorba, all good for you to heal after a (too) warm winter with its tricky type of bugs.
My favorite ciorba is a borș: essentially a sour soup that uses wheat or barley bran fermented water, and is typical for Southern and Eastern Romania, which is to be differentiated from what is commonly known as borscht, another type of sour soup of Slavic origin (typical for Ukraine, Russia, Poland, as example), the borscht using fermented beetroot brew as sour base.
Some health benefits of borș (that make you feel so good while and after you eat/drink it, either as the ciorba or fresh, before you pour it in, which I do, every time I cook it), which come mostly from the B complex resulted from grain fermentation and the breakage of grain minerals:
- antiviral, antibacterial
- immune booster
- lowers cholesterol and blood pressure
- low calories, good for weight loss
Last but not least, the best hangover remedy.
If you have a Romanian shop nearby, you are likely to find the powder version of borș, which is also very good when fresh borș is missing.
INGREDIENTS (serves 8)
The most important, a 5l lidded soup pot
1l fresh borș or 1 package of powder bors
300-350g chicken stock meat, with bone (wings, back)
1 chicken breast (boneless)
1 large onion (I tried this recipe now with 2-3 green onions)
2 garlic cloves
2 medium parsnips
1 large carrot or 2 medium ones
half a celery root
3 small potatoes
half a red bell pepper
a small bunch of dill
a bigger parsley bunch
and an even bigger lovage bunch (which is an essential ingredient, just like the borș, for an authentic Romanian ciorba taste; it can be quite hard to find outside Romania, in which case I recommend using celery leaves and stems, perhaps the best replacement, or tarragon)
salt and pepper
hot peppers, fresh or pickled
chopped lovage, celery leaves, tarragon or parsley
a very good, crispy, fresh bread
1. Wash the meat and put it in a separate pot to boil (usually for about half an hour, until tender), richly covered in water. Remove the foam during the boiling process (you can add a little bit of cold water now and then for the "foam" - which is blood - to rise). Let it boil, while replenishing the liquid: you will use this broth as base for the ciorba, to mix with the borș. When the meat is tender, turn off the heat and remove the meat from the broth, place it on a platter to cool.
2. Grate the celery, carrots, parsnips and place them on an ingredients cutting board or platter.
3. Chop (in cubes) the onion, garlic and potatoes. Wash the potato cubes in cold water to remove the starch. Slice the red pepper (I prefer to keep it sliced for better color, but you can also cube it, if you prefer).
4. Chop the dill and the lovage and make two lovely green piles. Put half of the lovage green pile aside (we will keep this for serving).
5. Heat some vegetable oil (Romanians use sunflower oil, traditionally) in your main ciorba pot and when sizzling, add all the potatoes cubes and half of all the other ingredients: onion, garlic, parsnip, celery, carrot, red pepper, dill, and one of the lovage piles and sautée them for about 4-5 minutes, while constantly stirring.
6. Pour liquid over the sautéed veggies: fill 2/3 of the pot with the chicken broth and water, add salt to taste, and a dash of pepper. Now let the ciorba boil, with a lid on, for app 30 minutes overall (until the veggies are cooked).
7. During this time, the meat has cooled. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the bones and cut the meat in small pieces, similar to the vegetable cubes, and do the same with the boneless chicken breast. Toss them in the ciorba pot, now (if you feel they are not tender enough) or about 15 minutes into cooking, when you proceed to 8.
8. 15 minutes into ciorba boiling, remove the lid and add the meat and 2/3 of the remaining veggies (for all of them, dill and garlic included). Place the lid on and boil for 15 more minutes.
9. 30 minutes into boiling on medium heat you can add 1l of fresh borș as (almost) final touch to your ciorba. The
borș can vary a lot in sourness, so just add 1/2 l of borș first, taste it with a cooled spoon, and then add the rest of the borș to taste. Remember the borș will be less sour once the cooking process is finished and once it is cooled, so if your taste shows a little more sour than you want it, it is probably good, you will like the end result. 1l of well-soured borș is a good amount for these quantities, for an authentic Romanian flavor. Now it is also time to check the saltiness again and add more salt, if needed. Add the rest of the veggies.
10. Let the borș and the last batch of veggies boil in the ciorba for 10 more minutes.
Serve hot, surrounded by love.
With sour cream, fresh lovage and hot peppers.
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!