Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
We continue our journey through the flavors of my childhood with another Grandma recipe, ciulama, a traditional Romanian classic. Derived from Turkish word çullama, it sits on the threshold of the many influences in Romanian cuisine, and it reflects my paternal Grandmother's mixed Turkish heritage. Ciulama is at its basics a béchamel sauce dish, allowing for one of the most enhanced elevation of the main ingredient: either chicken or mushrooms, sometimes combined. In other words, if you want to taste the essence of the chicken or mushroom flavor in a dish, this is one of the best presentation recipes to achieve that.
Today, I am presenting the honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea) ciulama, but you can perfectly use any kind of wild mushrooms or champignons, or you can use a mix of fresh and dried wild mushrooms, since the main value of the recipe is allowing you to infuse your palate with mushroomy taste. For a perfect Romanian experience, do not miss tasting it with mamaliga, my version of mamaliga for this recipe being a softer, creamier polenta.
INGREDIENTS for honey mushroom ciulama (4 servings)
500g honey mushrooms (or other wild mushrooms)
1 medium onion
75g flour (3 full tbsp all-purpose flour)
100g sour cream
1 chopped parsley bunch
IMPORTANT: this is a dish that you cannot leave on the stove at any preparation stage, so prepare to be glued to the stove and to stir continuously during the following steps. It is quick though!
Sauté the honey mushrooms for about 10 minutes in half of the butter. Do not overcook them (however, honey mushrooms are "harder" mushrooms so for this quantity, 10 minutes is the proper time to soften them). Put them aside.
In a nonstick pot, use the rest of the butter to sauté the chopped onion, until translucent (tip: add a few drops of water to prevent it from browning and use low heat, always stirring). Since this is a white dish, it is important to keep the onion white. It takes about 4 minutes to achieve that. Add the flour and a pinch of salt and mix quickly with the butter/onion, "frying" the flour a little bit, and when it starts coloring (don't let it get brown or burn), begin to gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. When it starts to boil, reduce the heat and add the sour cream, continuing to whisk for about 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms in the mix. The consistency at this point, when you add the mushrooms, should be that of liquid cream. Continue to mix and stir for about 6 minutes. The result should be a thick cream texture. Keep in mind that the sauce will continue to thicken when cooling a little, so put it aside when it already starts to feel like sour cream.
INGREDIENTS for mamaliga (4 servings)
600g cornmeal (malai)
1/2 tsp salt
Mamaliga can be cooked in many ways and it traditionally needs a cast-iron kettle, yet this is a simple recipe you can prepare with any nonstick pot, just make sure the pot is deeper, since it tends to splash a little during boiling and a shallow pot won't do. Add the salt and heat the water to boiling point. When the water is boiling, add the entire cornmeal quantity and use a whisk to mix it (again, you need to prevent lumping). When it starts thickening and begins to "splash", reduce heat to very low and continue to mix with a wooden spoon (traditionally one uses a wooden paddle/stick called făcăleţ, but a wooden spoon or pot stick will do), for about 10-12 minutes. If you feel it is too runny, you can sprinkle a little more cornmeal in the process, towards the end, and mix it in. The final proper consistency should be of a very thick porridge. Overturn on a wooden plate or platter (be careful, it is hot)
Serve hot, with chopped parsley and for an even more authentic taste, use a wooden spoon. Rediscover the taste of mushrooms!
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Cover photo: Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!