A Tough Cookie

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Or when in Moldova, a tough nut. What we in America might call a really strong/scrappy/headstrong/discriminating/unrelenting or whatever-adjectives-you want that go along that line -a person who is a “tough cookie” is in Moldova referred to as a “tough nut”, or in Russian a “крепкий орешек” (krepkiy oreshek). My counterpart in Balti told me on my last day of work with her, that I will need to be a “krepkiy oreshek” when I am “out there in the world” and so I had to laugh today as I took all of the apricot pits from yesterday’s harvest and washed and cracked them for the tasty and healthy kernels inside. As I tried to perfect the pressure of the hammer so as to not ruin the delicate nut inside the very hard shell, the words “tough nut” and kept floating through my head. And I thought, I have to break those “tough nuts”!

I looked up from my work to check on my loyal companion, the small, still nameless scrappy kitten we recently acquired. He was completely passed out…sleeping on the job!

100_5538Even the most tough cookie/nut, is always quite delicate and even a little sweet inside…

Your Moldovan Guide to Cracking Tough Nuts :)

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Apricot kernels are known for their health properties. As we were picking and gathering even many apricots we couldn’t use for making juices, jams or baked good, I knew I wanted to crack those hard shells and get me some goodness. While the kernels from apricots around the Mediterranean and central Asia are so sweet they can replace almonds, the ones here in Moldova aren’t quite that sweet but still have a hint of almond. The chemical properties have long been used in Chinese medicine and have been used an alternative treatment for cancer in Russia since the 1800s. This is partially due to high levels of vitamin B17, a unique compound that is believed to work to strengthen the immune system.

 

 

…and everything nice

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Moldova is known (or at least should be known) for it’s incredibly delicious fruits. The village where I will soon be living, Truseni, is particularly known throughout the regions for its cherries. Cherry harvests are collected en-mass and sent off to what is currently the biggest market for Moldovan fruits and vegetables: Russia.

Cherries in Truseni, ready to be picked up and sent to Russia

Cherries in Truseni, ready to be picked up and sent to Russia

Beyond cherries, the local strawberries, apricots and raspberries are also incredibly sweet and delicious. Moldova has what is known in the farming world as “black soil”. This soil is full of the micronutrients and beneficial microbes that much of the world’s topsoil is losing due to over-production and lack of crop rotation. Because of Moldova’s post-Soviet ruling of partitioning strips of land to individuals, and it being illegal for foreigners to own land, it is very difficult for “big-Ag” to get in on what could be some of the world’s last great soil. I think this is a good thing and I know my tongue loves the taste of the local cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes and fruits!

And so the MORE fun thing to discuss is yummy ways to use these fruits. Since they are “organic” in the sense they aren’t treated with chemicals, they don’t stay for long and you need to either freeze, making into some baked goods or smoothies, or into what is known around here as “варенье” or “dulceaţă”…AKA Jam! Around here we’ve been making jams from green walnuts (incredibly high in iodine so great for the thyroid as everyone here tells me!), strawberries, cherries, apricots, and even the unlikely “kabichoke”. This is a vegetable sort of in between what we have in America-the zucchini and yellow/summer squash. It is a light green and very tasty. This is chopped up into small pieces and made into a jam that is very caramel-like. SOOOO good!

So here is the basic jam recipe I was taught:

1. Pick fresh fruit and clean. If it’s cherries this means doing the following:

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2) Put cleaned fruit (or kabichok/squash thing) into large pan for boiling

3) Add about as much sugar as you have fruit and then let sit for at least an hour, to pull the juices out of the fruit/veggie (or even in this case fresh green nuts!).

4) Bring this to a boil, then turn of the heat, stirring often. You don’t want to burn the bottom. Do this twice a day until you reach the consistency of jam you like. For us it was about 4-5 times, or 2.5 days. Doing it this way rather than boiling through keeps the nutrients alive and keeps the taste PERFECT!

5) Sterilize glass jars and put the jam inside. Seal the lid on tight!

Here is the step-by-step of preparing for the kabichoke (my favorite) jam:

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And in the end:

jars

Easter Bread in Moldova

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Пасха/Pasca/Paști/Easter, is probably the biggest holiday in Moldova. As Christmas and Easter are the two biggest holidays within the Christian faith, this country being composed of mostly Eastern Orthodox Christians, knows how to celebrate. The Easter holiday is anticipated with a long period of “post”, similar in to what is know as Lent in many other Christian denominations, where strict followers keep a simple diet that excludes (for the most part as there is a complicated scheme of exceptions that I don’t know or understand): meat, dairy, eggs, candy, alcohol. So pretty much it’s a vegan and alcohol free with no sweets diet. You can imagine that some people lose quite a bit of weight. Indeed the spring is a great time of year for all to do some cleansing/detoxing so I can see major benefits to this old tradition. Come Easter Sunday, people go to church at midnight and stay until sunrise to celebrate the miracle of Christ rising from the dead, and then go home to either feast right away or sleep then feast (I think most do the latter). People bring baskets of their Easter bread, called “paska” and other goodies, like candies and dyed eggs, to be blessed by the priest and later enjoyed with family.

In this post, we will take you through the process of making paska with Elena Grozav. She lives in the village of Truseni in Moldova and has been making the bread for her own family for over 20 years. She told me that as the years pass she learns about her own abilities, techniques, how to know her oven and how to make the paska the best she can. I can tell you it was a day-long process, and now, a week later, we are still enjoying slices of paska with butter and a cup of tea :) Enjoy the slide show!

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день рождения (denʹ rozhdeniya)

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There is a famous song from an old Soviet cartoon in these parts that has a line:

“К сожалению, твой день рождения только раз в году”

which translates to say:”Unfortunately, your birthday is just once a year”…and Moldovans know how to do it! And when I hear that song I laugh because I think, “well thank goodness it’s only once per year or we’d all be old!” (And broke in Moldova!)

You see, in America, we are usually treated on our birthday, but in Moldova, your birthday is a time for you to provide a lavish meal or event for your friends/family/colleagues. And work is no exception. In fact for me, as colleagues are the people I meet and see the most, it’s where I have helped celebrate the most birthdays. A few weeks ago the director of my partner NGO rung in her big day with all of us in traditional fashion. i invite you to enjoy a peek of a typical Moldovan birthday table at the office. We tend to keep things rather mild at my organization, each having a cup of sparkling wine to toast the guest of honor. But I have heard many stories of other volunteers having to sling back shots of vodka and cognac while “on the job”. When in Moldova, knowing how to hold your liquor is a must!

Cheers!

Corlateni Cookies and Cakes

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“Baking while ‘baking’!” was the title we joked about using for this post. It was Laela’s final days of Peace Corps service in Moldova and we made a date with our friend Nadejda to make our favorite desserts from the many times she opened her home and holidays to us. And even though the weather was oppressively hot (yes this post goes all the way back to July), we decided this was a lesson we could not let pass by!

In the peaceful village of Corlateni, we were welcomed by our friend Nadejda and her daughter, Tanya, to a day full of baking some of our favorite Moldovan cookies and cakes. We prepared and baked from lunch time until bedtime! Additionally, we shared the day with a friend from Poland – who said we couldn’t spread the love even further?

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This time around, we will share with you many pictures and a few comments.  Enjoy!

For these recipes, you can go ahead and email us! Homemade, as always, with love!

A Different Game Plan

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Finished product-rabbit stewStewed rabbit, a popular dish in many parts of the world, was specially prepared Moldovan-style for Taste of Peace. We had the pleasure of making a trip to the local outdoor market (bazaar) to pick out a fresh female rabbit, which we were told was more tender than a male rabbit. Following the preparations, braising, chopping, and stewing, this melt-in-your-mouth dish was served to a group from three different countries!

We paired the dish with a summer salad full of fresh vegetables and sunflower seeds. Use your imagination and taste buds to create the perfect pairing unique to you.

Enjoy the photos and perhaps you’ll decide you also like to try some rabbit one day.

For the rabbit stew recipe:
Rabbit -whole
Onion – ½ kilogram – chopped
Carrots – ½ – 1 kilogram – sliced
Jar tomatoes in juice – one large jar – save the juice
Garlic – approx. one head – sliced
Lemon for garnish

1. Cut rabbit into pieces.

2. Make a mixture of salt and pepper.

3. After cutting, wash rabbit, and coat the meat with salt/pepper mixture.

 

4. Brown each piece in oil.

5. Place the pieces in a bowl and set to the side.

6. Keep oil, if need to add more, then add more, but not a lot.

7. Saute onion and carrots in the same oil as you used for the meat- just a few minutes for them to start softening.

8. In a large pot, add in a layer of this onion/carrot mixture, then a layer of meat, and so on until the end.

9. Next after peeling the skin off of the jarred tomatoes (if they have skin on them), sauté with the garlic. Let simmer for a few minutes.

10. Pour this tomato/garlic mixture on top of the layered sauce and meat.

11. You want liquid to cover almost to the top, but not full. If there seems to be a need for more liquid, first use any remaining juice from the tomato jar, if not, add a little water.

12. Place the pot on a low simmer, covered with the lid.

13. In 30 or so minutes, mix it, smell it (because it will smell delicious), and check to make sure there is still enough liquid to your liking.

14. Maybe 30 minutes later (when carrots are soft), it is ready to eat!

15. If you like, you can simmer it even longer, add more or less of our ingredients, different ingredients – play around, have fun with your food!

guests for rabbit

Moldovans, Americans and a German!

Thank you Andrei for sharing your recipe with us and thank you everyone for enjoying! ;)

Friendly Spring Flavor

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Spring time has officially arrived and what better way to follow our last post, Springing into Celebrations, than by sharing a light, refreshing spring recipe. We combined the occasion with our favorites of sharing with locals and opening taste buds! Our guests included the chef Haley – another Peace Corps volunteer, Andrei -a local, and Laela’s brother, Ameir, who was visiting Moldova from the United States.

Haley, as our guest chef, chose to prepare a tasty dish that will brighten even the gloomiest of days: Lemon Shrimp Linguine. His dish was a hit even luring in a first-time eater of both spinach AND shrimp. Although nervous, Andrei captured the savory flavors from the first bite and enjoyed it down to the sauce. With such gratefulness and a satisfied belly, he offered to be our guest for the next Taste of Peace entry!  Be on the lookout for stewed rabbit!

As spinach and shrimp made their premiere for one guest, they also make this dish a winner for the palate and body – check it out!

Spinach: Popeye was on to something with his relentless love of spinach. This fiber and nutrient rich plant is full of vitamins and minerals, packing in vitamins C, E, K, beta-carotene, manganese, zinc, and selenium just to name a few. These antioxidant nutrients will wrap your body in health. Spinach has also been found to contain many flavonoid compounds that function as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents.  

Shrimp: They may be small but shrimp pack a lot of nutrient power. Shrimp are low in fat, high in selenium, packed with B12, omega-3, and protein shown to fight against cancer, high blood pressure, and Alzheimer’s.   You’ll also be happy to know that shrimp’s omega-3 properties have been shown to improve moods. “Ten health benefits of shrimps” mentions the power of shrimp for prostate and thyroid health as well as building strong bones. So eat up, be strong, and be happy!

Haley’s recipe for Lemon Shrimp Linguine:

 
Ingredients:
 
1 lb of peeled shrimp
zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 packages of linguine pasta
4 tablespoons of a dry white wine
1 large bag of fresh spinach
1 pound of cherry tomatoes cut into halves
200 grams of fresh parmesan for grating
10 cloves of minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil 

Sauté the fresh spinach with extra virgin olive oil seasoning with salt and pepper until spinach has wilted down, about 3 minutes. Set aside until later. Next, sauté the shrimp with extra virgin olive oil, half of the garlic, and a pinch of salt (no more than 5 minutes). Set aside in a bowl.

In a large pot, cook the linguine according the time listed on the package in salted water. A minute before the pasta has finished cooking, take out two to three cups of the water from the pasta water and set aside. After the pasta is done, remove it from the water and cool it down with cold water to stop the cooking process.

In a sauce pan, heat up 8 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Quickly add the remaining garlic being sure not to burn it. Next add the pasta water, juice and zest of the lemons, and wine.  Allow the mixture time to simmer and the pasta water and olive oil to emulsify.  Season with sauce with additional salt, if desired.

When you are ready to serve, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and add a portion of the pasta, spinach, and tomatoes. Ladle in 1 to 2 spoons full of sauce and carefully toss the mixture, until it is thoroughly heated (about 3 minutes).

      

Serve in a bowl and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Ameir and Andrei paired the dish with a local beer.

Thank you Haley for cooking and to everyone for bringing smiles and love into our kitchen.

Springing into Celebrations

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What do the 2012 spring equinox, Nowruz, and Julie’s grandmother’s 84th birthday all have in common?  That’s right, they were all celebrated on March 20th.  With such grand new beginnings in the air, we decided to celebrate. Although we didn’t plan much of this in advance, we managed to successfully incorporate Nowruz traditions, welcoming the rebirth of spring, and celebrating a wise woman’s birthday.

First and foremost, let’s share the food portion!  One of the traditional meals for Nowruz is sabzi polo mahi, a rice dish with green herbs and fish. Our ingredients included basmati rice, potatoes for the tadik (the crispy bottom of the rice when cooked Persian-style), canned tuna, parsley, dill, cooked lentils, and a sprinkle of dried sumac.  We also prepared mast-o-khiar- yogurt with cucumbers and mint – another Persian favorite. Mast-o-khiar can be eaten alone or mixed in with your food.  We opted to mix it in! Dessert was embraced by eating the fragrant Persian saffron-rice pudding, sholeh-zard, and one of Julie’s favorite memories from being with her grandmother – ice cream!

sabzi polo mahi with mast-o-khiar

Up close and yummy!

Sholeh-zard

What is the spring equinox (aka vernal or March equinox)?

An equinox occurs twice a year, when the center of the sun aligns with Earth’s equator. Around this time, the length of day and night are approximately the same.  (Not to be confused with equiluxes which are the days when sunrise and sunset are closest to 12 hours apart.)  The spring equinox welcomes longer days and symbolizes the arrival of spring. Spring = rebirth = new beginnings.

What is Nowruz (aka Persian New Year)?

Nowruz, meaning “new day” in Farsi, traces its roots back to the days of Zorastrianism. It is celebrated on the first day of spring, marked by the timing of the spring equinox.  It is the fist day of the new year on the Iranian calendar.

One tradition of bringing in Nowruz is to lay out a haft seen table which includes seven symbolic items starting with the letter ‘s’ in Farsi.

The Haft Seen traditional items are as follows, although we did have to improvise a bit:

1. sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing plants and rebirth:  We used fresh green herbs to symbolize rebirth and also ate cooked lentils.

2. samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence: Although we did not make samanu, we made another Persian dish – sholeh-zard. It is a saffron-rice pudding, starts with the letter ‘s’, and is gluten-free.

3. senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love: We did not have this although we had the dried fruit of grapes.

4. sīr – garlic – symbolizing medicine

5. sīb – apples – symbolizing Earth, beauty, and health

6. somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise: We had in its dried, crushed form.

7. serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience

Other common haft seen items that we included:

  • sekkeh – coins – representing wealth
  • ajeel – dried nuts, berries and raisins
  • lit candles – symbolizing fire, enlightenment, and happiness
  • a mirror – symbolizing the sky, purity, and honesty
  • rosewater – symbolizing water and believed to have magical cleansing powers
  • a poetry book: We read Rumi and Hafiz.

No matter where you are, there is always a way to improvise traditions and make it your own.  If you are missing an ingredient, no problem, find a substitute.  If there is more than one event happening, combine them. With a positive focus and good food, the outcome will be spectacular.  Welcome spring, happy birthday Grandma Nydam, and aidee shoma mobarak!

Sarmale from the Heart

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A nation’s cuisine is always in the heart of its people.  We have noticed that sarmale is Moldova’s sweetheart.  What we might in English call “cabbage rolls”, sarmale are tasty little pockets of stuffing usually consisting of rice, meat, carrots, onions and spices.  These cabbage rolls are actually found all over this part of the world and beyond.  In Russian they are голубцы (pronounced golubtsy), and they have many names around the world; in Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian translating to “little pigeons”.  Perhaps your own mother or grandmother has made a version of these tasty pillows?

I am personally a big fan of sarmale because they are gluten-free.  A lot of the traditional food in Moldova includes flour and there is a lot of bread consumption as well.  So when sarmale is on the menu, I rejoice.  After tasting my coworker Elena’s sarmale at work one day, I asked if she might show us how they are made.  So let’s go on a trip to the Balti Bazaar where we gathered our ingredients, and then to Laela’s apartment, where we combine them all to create an alchemy of awesome flavor!

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Thank you to Natashia Meredith for the beautiful photographs of the day!

Elena Sava is 27 and was born the same day as the great Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu. Her native village is Draganesti, in the Singeredistrict of Moldova, but now she lives in the city of Balti. While she was a student, Elena worked and traveled to England and the USA. Currently, Elena works as a Project Coordinator at “Pro-Business Nord” NGO. During her free time, she enjoys knitting, crocheting, and cooking, and is eager to share her knowledge and experience with others.


Sunny Truffles for Blistery Winter

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Laela and I are always scouring the web for new ideas of tasty dishes and treats that are #1 delicious, but that of course fall into the “good for us” category as well.  And since this post-holiday season we are trying to eat as clean as possible, the recipe I recently found for Cinnamon-Sunflower Truffles seemed perfect.  Not only are sunflower seeds and their oil one of Moldova’s largest crops and exports, but all of the ingredients in these tasty treats are easy to find here and not-too-expensive.  I do have to admit that we changed the recipe up a bit because I did have some special ingredients from abroad (coconut oil and agave nectar), but to my surprise I found some agave nectar in a Moldovan grocery store yesterday.

I invited friends for a Thai themed dinner the other night and thought it would be the perfect time to test-drive the truffles! They were a hit! The taste was lightly sweet with a rich nutty flavor, accompanied by the warming-sweet cinnamon and caramel notes of the dates.  They went perfectly with a hot cup of tea.  We think it will be fun to play around more with this recipe, substituting different seeds and nuts, sweeteners and fruits.  We even joked with our Moldovan guests, Inna and Igor, about setting up a table at the local bazaar (market) to sell them :)  Who knows…?!

Inna and Laela at work

Julie sneaking a truffle!

Here is the recipe we used, though in the future I may try adding a few drops of vanilla extract:

Ingredients:

2 cups raw sunflower seeds, ground
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt (sea salt if you have it)
1 cup pitted dates, chopped
Dried coconut flakes for coating
2 tablespoons coconut oil (you can also use sunflower seed oil)
2 tablespoons agave nectar (you may also use honey, maple or brown rice syrup)

 Directions:

  1. Add cinnamon to ground sunflower seeds and blend (ideally in a food processor)
  2. Add chopped dates to mixture and further blend.
  3. Pour seed and date mixture into a bowl and add oil and sweetener, mix well
  4. Form small balls, about 1 inch in diameter and roll into coconut flakes.
  5. Let the truffles sit for about 30 minutes before enjoying :)

Some other fun nutrition facts about these truffles:

  • Sunflower Seeds are packed with vitamins and minerals including Vitamins E & B1, and the “feel good” mineral magnesium- perfect for combating the winter blues.
  • Cinnamon has many active properties known to have anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, as well as its best-known warming and soothing effects.  Now that is a super-food!
  • Dates are rich in dietary fiber as well as containing many health benefiting antioxidants known as tannins. Tannins are known to have anti-infective and anti-inflammatory properties.

приятного аппетита!  (The Russian version of the popular French “bon appétit”, pronounced priyatnava apyetita)

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