Since the birth of 196 flavors, Maria, our Romanian maid has been following my work in the kitchen and often asks “what about Romania?”
This week, Romania is celebrating Pentecost. Maria was very agitated as she prepared for this culinary festival full of traditions.
So I asked her to choose the recipe (well. .. anything but eggplant!) And she immediately offered to help me prepare sarmales. Wrong pick! Mike had already been preparing his sarmas for several weeks, I was obviously not going to steal his thunder!
I asked Maria to think of a dish from her childhood and without hesitation, she replied chiftele. I didn’t go online to find a recipe but rather to find pictures to see what it looked like.
Chiftele are meatballs that are a variant of the famous keftas served throughout the Balkan countries and North Africa. The specificity of the Romanian version is that the meat is ground with raw vegetables and the meatballs are fried. They can be eaten as such or simmered in a tomato sauce. Chiftele are often made with a mixture of two meats including beef, pork, lamb or chicken.
As I explained in my kubbah recipe from Iraq, expertise in meatball is part of my culture, a tradition that is passed from mother to daughter. I will not rewrite the story of meatballs, which are ubiquitous throughout the world, as others have done it before me.
As an example, Michele Stroun, the founder of the famous Swiss publishing house, Metropolis, published a book titled “Eloge de la boulette” (“Praise of meatballs’). Meatballs are the most ancient culinary traditions and have emerged in Northern India, in the Punjab, 4000 years before our era.
I learned so much about meatballs that I probably won’t see them the same way now
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1 large onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ bunch dill
- ½ bunch parsley
- 2 eggs , lightly beaten
- 1 small potato
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 slice bread , soaked in water
- 3 tablespoons water (cold)
- Flour (for dusting)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 2 scallions , grated
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ bunch parsley , finely chopped
- ½ green bell pepper , cut into strips
- 1 red bell pepper , cut into strips
- 1 green hot pepper , sliced
- ½ cup water
- A few pearl onions (optional)
- A few cherry tomatoes (optional)
- In the food processor, chop meat, onion, garlic, dill, parsley, potatoes, celery and carrot.
- Sprinkle with nutmeg.
- Stir in bread, cold water and eggs by hand.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Thoroughly mix the preparation and set it aside for 30 minutes by working it several times by hand.
Grease your hands and form smooth round balls, about the size of a large walnut (about 1 oz/30g) and roll in flour.
- Fry the meatballs in a large frying pan over medium heat one minute on each side. They should be half submerged in oil.
- Drain and set aside.
- Peel, core and cut the tomatoes into small cubes.
- Sauté onions over medium heat.
- Add all the other ingredients except the pearl onions and cherry tomatoes.
- Mix well.
- When it is boiling again, dip the meatballs in the sauce and cook for 45 minutes (15 minutes over medium heat and 30 minutes over low heat to simmer).
- 15 minutes before end of cooking, add the pearl onions and cherry tomatoes in the sauce.