There are those who would deny mamaliga’s place in the culinary pantheon, where it is exalted right up there with pastrami and carnatzlach in Aaron Lebedoff’s nostalgic song from the Yiddish stage, “Rumania, Rumania.” True, its illustrious landsmen (compatriots) resonate with more jazz—and garlic—but peasant-bred mamaliga is so deeply comforting to eat. Like its Italian cousin polenta, this velvety cornmeal porridge will happily accommodate your flavor mood of the moment, cradling savory braises, stews, and grilled meats or rich cheeses. And mamaliga, like polenta, can be served immediately after it is boiled, or baked with melting cheese, or, my favorite method, cooled, sliced, and lightly fried, as in this recipe.
I like to accentuate the corn taste by lightly toasting the meal first and by using unrefined corn oil to sauté the firm, cooked slices. For dairy meals (Romanian and Italian Jews often make it from white corn-meal on the dairy extravaganza of Shavuot), mamaliga is usually prepared with milk and butter and seasoned with a sharp cheese like feta or a milder Balkan sheep’s milk cheese, bryndza. I mellow the saltiness of the feta with spicy scallions and the sour tang of yogurt, a cool complement to the crunchy fried crust.
© 2000 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.