Moldovan Polenta "Mamaliga"
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Why I Love This Recipe
Mamaliga is a traditional dish from Moldova, a small Eastern European country that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. These days, it has emerged as a hip ethnic food that can be seen in fancy restaurants of Moldova and Russia. Unlike some other ethnic dishes, it has not spread much beyond the borders of Moldova, so that if one has either tried it or knows how to make it, the chances are they are either from Moldova or they know someone who is. I am lucky enough to have a mother-in-law from Moldova, who introduced me to this dish.
Mamaliga is a solidified bread-like porridge that is often compared to the Italian polenta. Indeed, they are very similar. The difference is that polenta is softer than mamaliga and will flow, albeit slowly, when poured out of its container. Mamaliga, on the other hand, is dense enough to stand on its own with no need for a container, just like a loaf of bread. It is usually eaten topped with sour cream and crumbled feta cheese and makes for a great breakfast dish that's typically served with either hot dogs, sausage, or fried eggs. It also works great as a side dish for meat stews.
Traditionally, mamaliga is made in a cast iron dutch oven with a curved (U-shaped) bottom, which makes it easy to flip the “cake” out of the pot when the mamaliga is done. However, the chances are that most readers of this book don’t own a pot of this type. In the absence of such a pot, the best type of cookware for mamaliga is a thick-walled, cast iron sauce pan. It distributes heat more evenly than an aluminum pan, thus minimizing the chances of burning the dish. However, it is much more difficult to flip the solidified porridge out of a flat-bottomed pot than out of a pot with a curved bottom. A solution to this problem was found in Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman. The authors recommend placing the porridge into a smooth-walled bowl when it is thickened but is still in a liquid state. The porridge should solidify in the bowl, and it will be much easier to flip the dish out of the bowl than out of a sauce pan.
Ingredients You'll Need
3 cups cold water
1 cup corn meal (finely ground)
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
• Pour cold water into the sauce pan and set on low-to-medium heat.
• When the water is still cold, slowly pour the corn meal into the water while stirring, preferably with either a wooden or a plastic spoon. (Material of the spoon is important since corn porridge sticks to metal.) The corn meal should be mixed into the water as soon as it enters the water in order to prevent lumps.
• Let the porridge simmer for about 10 minutes, until it thickens.
• Add butter and salt. Stir vigorously for about 4-5 minutes.
• Transfer the porridge to a smooth-walled bowl, preferably ceramic. Smooth out the surface with a spoon.
• Wait about 5 minutes, until the dish solidifies and becomes almost springy to the touch.
• Try to flip the yellow “cake” out of the pan onto a plate. It should come out easily. (A little prodding with a knife may be needed.) If it is too stuck to the bowls to be flipped out, no worries. You can slice the dish right inside the pan.