May feels like it went by at lightning speeds. The world has finally started to move again, even if it hasn’t been in the best of ways. At least it’s getting warm outside, the gardens are growing, and nature appears relatively unharmed by what’s going on out there. With a new month on the horizon, it’s time to wrap it up with our May Cookbook of the Month, Carpathia. I have included links to the other articles about this cookbook below so that you can catch up before the rest of the review.
Take a look:
I came to this book after seeing it discussed on twitter, and after an admittedly limited amount of recipe trials, I am glad that I did. This is not a cuisine we get much of in the United States, but its ingredients are familiar to most of us. We can make it in our own homes without much extra effort, and it’s a shame that we haven’t been doing it for awhile. There is so much to learn from the cuisine of other cultures, and Romanian cuisine deserves a light on it too.
That being said, I was most fascinated by the baking portions of the book. There are so many recipes that I still have aspirations of trying one day, including a bread literally baked in a cabbage leaf. The author grew up during a period of great limitations, but those limitations birthed interesting and delicious food. It’s often said that hardship gives birth to creativity, and that is sometimes most apparent in food.
I had great aspirations of making a brioche baked cheesecake from this book that never quite came to fruition, but good god is it still a temptation. Every dessert she has put to paper makes me hungry just to look at them, but many of them can be long projects I would not consider unless I was in my current situation-- furloughed from my job with literally all the time in the world to do whatever I want to do while a pandemic rages outside.
Like most cookbooks, Carpathia includes a short section for basic recipes that are often used in the rest of the book or warrant inclusion either way. After my experience with Japanese Home Cooking where the basics became the highlight of the book for me, I couldn’t in good conscience treat this section of Carpathia as any less important than the rest of the book. Before I even published that this book would be our cookbook of the month, I began exploring the basics. I did not, however, give them their proper due with their own article. So here we are.
Mudjei cu rosii, or Romanian Garlic Sauce, was the first of these basics that I made. It is a pretty simple recipe that just needs a food processor to bring it all together after you blister a green chili in a dry pan. The secret ingredient is a few cherry tomatoes, and the magic of it is that my husband had no idea there were tomatoes. We used it as a sauce for steak that night, but the cookbook itself calls for it mostly for when fish is involved. We do not live in a place where we have access to whole sardines to use the sauce as called for, but it’s a potent weapon for our refrigerator.
I also had aspirations of making my own homemade ricotta according to the recipe provided by the author, but when I came around to it, I discovered through some trial and error that I may be lactose intolerant. I have yet to have it confirmed by a medical provider, but I feel much better without dairy currently in my diet. It’s a great shame, considering I just moved to the state of dairy.
Any budding food historian will rave about the very last section of the book where the author has devoted pages to the history and superstitions revolving around Romanian cuisine. As someone who knew virtually nothing about the region and its food, these portions of the book were a great read. While short, the knowledge contained in them made me feel like those few pages were worth the cost of the book alone.
And that, my friends, brings us to our final rating.
Accessibility: 5 out of 5
If there weren’t a pandemic on, you would never have trouble finding the ingredients that the author calls for. For this reason, I will keep the accessibility rating high. The barriers to entry with the recipes themselves are fairly low, and they are written well to help even budding cooks experience a new cuisine with ease.
There are a scant few recipes that call for ingredients such as sweet breads that wouldn’t appeal to most home cooks (not to mention would probably be hard to find at most supermarkets), but compared to some of our other cookbooks that focus on one cuisine, the ingredients remain more accessible.
Difficulty: 3 out of 5
While I maintain it is well written and accessible, there are challenging recipes in here that may not suit newer cooks. There are more challenges to be found here than in some of the other books I’ve reviewed on Eating Normal, but that doesn’t mean that new cooks can’t learn something in these pages. It’s a good way to push yourself into a new level of cooking.
Originality: 4 out of 5
I have never once in my entire life held a cookbook devoted to Romanian cuisine in my hands, but I am sure they are out there. Every recipe felt new. I had heard of pretty much nothing that I tried my hand at in my own kitchen, and I am thankful for that opportunity. It isn’t often that a cookbook will be full of new foods AND simultaneously be easy to shop for in the American Supermarket. I came to this cookbook expecting a great challenge on both of these fronts.