There’s a whole lot of cooking I’ve been doing over the past year that I never documented beyond my personal recipe notebook. So here it is, the first article of a new series of experimental recipes! Today’s story revolves around Romanian Easter lamb offal, cheese whey, lovage, buckwheat, mustard and a lot of explaining.
Disclaimer: if you wish to read the backstory of this new series, read below, if you wish to jump to the recipe, scroll a little.
Why experimental recipes?
I started Berries and Spice sharing recipes from my day to day cooking adventures. With time, I fell in love with fine dining, chefs have become my rockstars, and I started writing about management in the restaurant industry more. In parallel and yet not on the blog, my cooking has been getting better. And yet, the last recipe I posted on the blog was a year ago. Since then, I’ve learnt more technique, read more books, and have started to find my voice when it comes to the dishes I cook.
There are multiple reasons why I stopped posting recipes:
- My focus shifted and therefore my niche shifted too. From passionate home cooks, I started writing mostly for the restaurant industry. And while I want Berries and Spice to be a space for culinary inspiration, I knew that no chef ever would follow my recipes step by step.
- I didn’t have time to test the recipes and make sure they are correct. And I did not want to provide you with the wrong information and mess up your meal. I am not a trained chef nor do I have enough experience and technique to guarantee that the steps I advise you to take with a dish are correct. It may be that my standards are very high, but I am aware of my own lacunes more often than not.
- I wanted to take more time to learn, experiment and build my knowledge base and technique. So, a lot of my cooking in the past year has been experimental. I do keep track of all I make in a little notebook, so I hope that sometime soon I’ll be able to share some exciting and well explained recipes.
Long story short, I do use my creativity to cook experimental dishes with a contemporary look and feel. And, it would be a shame not to document them on the blog at all. So, I have decided to start sharing these recipes, but in a slightly less conventional manner. I will be focussing on the behind-the-scenes, on where the inspiration came from, on how and why I built a dish in a specific way.
Ok, now that I’ve bored you to death with my reasoning, shall I get to the point?
Offal bon bons, cheese whey lovage cream, crispy buckwheat, pickled mustard, ash
In the first article from this new series of recipes, I’ll cover what I cooked last weekend. The dish is a twist on a Romanian Easter dish, drob. Drob, like its Scottish counterpart, haggis, is made from lamb offal (i.e.: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys). It is mixed with enormous quantities of spring onion greens, parsley, lovage and dill. Finally, it is baked in caul fat. I’m not a big fan of drob myself, but a huge lover of haggis. So, this year I decided to take on the challenge and make something that’s not quite drob and not quite haggis.
Drob is a traditional Romanian starter during Easter. But my memories of it often include a slice of good cheese, a little mustard and a spring onion. So, I wanted to recreate a bit of that, with my own twist and some ingredient changes.
The elements of the dish
- Offal bon-bons coated in gingerbread crumb.
- Cheese whey and lovage cream
- Crispy buckwheat seasoned with caraway seeds and lemon peel
- Mustard seeds pickled in quince vinegar and infused with caraway
- Spring onion ash
- Oxalis triangularis
Given that had never cooked with offal before, I took on the challenge.
I bought an offal kit from a butcher (they sell them all over the place in Romania during the Easter period), about 1.5kg of meat. I then boiled it (heart, lungs, kidneys and liver) like in a soup. I added the organs to cold water, together with sautéed carrot, parsnip and celeriac. That took exactly two hours.
I then minced the meat, then seasoned it well with ground coriander seeds (about 1 tbsp), a good teaspoon of grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. I added oatmeal to the mix, just like in haggis (about 50g), as well as a finely chopped onion and a bunch of lovage. The texture should be crumbly, but not dry. But this is an easy thing to adjust, since you can use some of the soup the offal cooked in to hydrate the mix more. Luckily, since the meat is cooked, you can try and adjust the flavour and texture to your liking!
The next step was to fry the bon bons like a schnitzel (coated in flour, egg and then breadcrumbs). However, I seasoned the breadcrumbs with gingerbread spices because they go really well with the lamby flavour. Why bon bons? Because they are a great way to make an otherwise ugly looking piece of meat look elegant.
The cheese whey and lovage cream
Whey, (and when I use this word I am referring to the liquid that remains when you turn milk into cream or cheese), is an underrated yet trending ingredient in Romanian cuisine. I’ve seen it in dishes cooked by some of the most talented young Romanian chefs. And yes, I did get my inspiration from both Alex Petricean from NOUA and Andrei Chelaru from Fragment. But it was an experiment I wanted to try.
I followed Alex Dumitru‘s advice to visit Piata Matache (one of the best farmers markets in Bucharest), and asked for whey in the cheese section. It is such an underrated ingredient, that the woman who had some, gave it to me for free.
I blended fresh lovage leaves (a large bunch) with about a cup of the liquid whey. This extracted the colour and flavour, without turning the cream I was going to thicken it with into butter. I added enough of the blended whey and lovage liquid to the cream to have hollandaise like consistency and the colour of a duck egg.
The crispy buckwheat, pickled mustard, spring onion ash and oxalis
Why did I choose buckwheat, you may ask? Well, in all fairness, it’s an ingredient I love when I’m trying to add a little crunch to a dish. And I particularly love it fried in a little butter and mixed with lemon peel. It works in so many dishes, not just this one. But, wanting to diversify a little and bring more Romanianness into the dish, I also seasoned the buckwheat with ground caraway seeds.
To fry the buckwheat, add it to a smoking hot pan and cover it with a lid. Towards the end, add a little butter, grate lemon zest and sprinkle with salt. This takes about a minute, but it’s best to try a grain: it shouldn’t feel hard, it should be very crunchy!
I pickle mustard seeds in a mix of vinegar, water, sugar and salt that I bring to boil and infuse with other flavours. This time I used quince vinegar because it is yet another favourite ingredient of Romanians, and infused it with caraway seeds that I just mildly crushed to release the flavours and oils. I then poured the liquid onto the mustard seeds and let it cool down. The seeds will expand, but you may need to strain some of that liquid or else it will flow around the plate when plating up.
The ash is a simple no waste trick. Since there were a lot of wasted spring onion greens, I popped them in the oven and burnt them. They look nice, but also add a hint of smoke to the dish.
Finally, I garnished the plate with oxalis triangularis. At first I needed to add a pop of colour and the radish slices I had initially prepared did not work at all. So I used oxalis without actually having tasted it before. It worked splendidly, since it added another hint of acidity to the dish. Lucky me, that I had the plant lying around my Mum’s house!
Phew, first experimental recipe explained. Now I need to hear your feedback. Do you think this series is a good idea? Is it even remotely inspiring? Does it help that I explain what I did and how? Do you find this type of content useful?
And, if you did indeed find this article useful, check out my guide on how to plate dishes like a fine dining chef!