By Nicholas S. Balamaci
Not many people know about our cuisine -- and what a shame. Our diet, like that of the Greeks, absorbed many Middle Eastern elements during the five centuries of Turkish rule of the Balkan Peninsula. But nevertheless, some essential differences remain not only between Vlach and Middle Eastern food but also between Vlach and Greek food.
Pita is an excellent example. Everyone in America thinks pita is quintessentially Greek. And yet, according to Alan Wace and Maurice Thompson, the foremost authorities on the Vlachs, pita is a Vlach specialty that Greeks have only attempted to copy in the last century. Pita is the centerpiece of Vlach cuisine -- our devotion to it is almost religious. And why not? It takes a good morning's work to roll out the pieces of dough, one by one, to make a good pita. The results, as we all know, are more than worth the labor. Our obsession with pita is such that we have taken almost every raw material you can imagine and made a pita out of it. There is pita di spinak (spinach), pita di prash (leeks), pita di lapte (milk), pita di ordzuts (nettles), pita di curcubeta (squash), pita di ouaua (eggs), pita di tseapi (onions), and on and on. In my own humble experience, I have never tasted a Greek pita that was good. Greeks tend to use ready-made filo dough and stuff it full of spinach, sprinkled with a little feta cheese. A real pita does not look like a pie full of stuffing; it is almost as flat as a pizza and its crust is rolled up in much the same way (the resemblance to pizza ends there). Not only do they have the proportions all wrong -- Greeks tend to use spinach and/or cheese almost exclusively. If I ever so much as suspected I might never have pita di curcubeta again, I think I would kill myself -- does this give you some idea what Greeks and those who eat Greek cuisine are missing by limiting themselves to fat, prefabricated slabs of spanakopita?
Anyway . . . this will be an occasional column devoted to Vlach cuisine, offering recipes and tips to all food-loving people. We'll start off with some Society Farsarotul recipes from Sylvia Fatse's 1989 Cooking Class, but please don't hesitate to send in your own favorite recipes -- we'll publish them and give you credit for them. Who will be the first to send in their favorite pita recipe?
Boil syrup ingredients until thickened and stringy. Cool.
In round, ungreased pan layer kadaifi, sprinkling with nuts and then butter. Lowest layer should be a bit thicker. Repeat until all kadaifi is used, allowing for another thicker layer on top. Do not top with nuts. Bake one hour at 375 degrees until browned.
Pour cooled syrup over hot kadaifi. Cool, then cut into diamond or square shapes.
CARA CU VIN (a/k/a CARNI CU YIN)
Coat meat with paprika, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Brown meat in butter, then remove meat and place in a saucepan. Pour 1/2 cup wine over beef. Put aside.
Add 1/2 cup flour to meat juices and brown in a frying pan over medium heat. Add V-8 juice and 2 cups of water.
Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally so sauce will not stick to bottom of pan. Simmer until meat is tender, approximately 2 hours, continuing to stir occasionally.
"A man who thinks too much about his ancestors is like a potato --
the best part of him is underground."