Although Romania has been reasonably prominent on our ‘To Visit’ list for a while now, we don’t actually know much about it other than that it’s where Dracula came from, and that there’s an ice hotel there. Both are very exciting, but neither gives much insight into the country’s cuisine. Fortunately, Google came to the rescue and provided us with a recipe for ardei umpluti, or stuffed peppers.
Unlike stuffed peppers we’ve made before, this one is served with a tomato sauce, and this is where the recipes we found differ the most. We opted for the one from RomanianMum.com which uses fresh tomatoes, but many other recipes used a tomato puree base. I suppose it comes down to what you prefer, and also what you have in the fridge. Otherwise, we adapted the recipe slightly, but it’s mostly as per the original.
We were lucky enough to find some enormous, locally-grown peppers at our fruit and veg market, although this did mean that we could actually have done with a little bit more of the stuffing. This amount should be plenty for normal sized peppers, but if you had any left over I suppose you could just fry it up like a mini burger or something. Conversely, we were also somewhat unlucky in that Miranda bought sour cream as an accompaniment (recommended in the recipe) but then forgot all about it. We don’t think it was really lacking anything without it though. We did heat up some dinner rolls to mop up the sauce, but as it happened, the stuffing kind of did that for us, so they weren’t an essential component either.
Ardei Umpluti (Romanian stuffed peppers)
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup rice
2 big peppers (we went for one red and one yellow)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 tomatoes, peeled (which is always a faff – probably do this first!)
250g beef mince (or other meat of your choice)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper
Sour cream, to serve (if you remember)
1. Bring the water to the boil. Add the rice, lower the heat to medium low, and parboil for about five minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered. (If, like us, you’re normally lazy and use a rice cooker, this will be a real novelty!)
2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and saute the onion and garlic over medium-high heat until soft (about 5 minutes).
3. Halve the tomatoes, and in a covered saucepan, heat them over medium heat until juice begins to boil. Lower heat and steam for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered. (No idea how this is supposed to work as it was threatening to irrevocably burn the bottom of our pan. Just cook them a bit…)
4. Preheat oven to 175C.
5. In a bowl, mix the meat, rice, onion, parsley, dill, salt and pepper with your hands until well combined.
6. Carefully cut the tops off the peppers and remove the core and seeds. Fill them with the meat mixture and replace the tops, then put them in a small oven-proof dish.
7. Pour the cooked tomatoes into the frying pan in which you cooked the onion. Stir to crush the tomatoes and mix with any remaining oil in the pan. Pour sauce over the peppers.
8. Bake for about an hour and serve with sour cream (optional). (The original recipe said they should be covered but I’ve only just noticed that now – so ours weren’t. They weren’t affected though, other than perhaps a little extra colouring on the top.)
We enjoyed this simple meal and would certainly make it again. At first, we found the combination of beef and dill rather unusual, but our palates soon got used to it and realised that it actually does work!
Bulgaria is next and we’re quite excited because we found a dish that is called ‘Mish Mash’. Yes, Bulgarian food with ‘mash’ in the title! It’s just days away so stay tuned!