Romanian Food Tips


These are NOT the same thing. Baking powder (praf de copt) contains both an acid and a base, so it will work alone as a leavening agent (it makes baked goods puffy). Baking soda (bicarbonat) contains only the base, so it must be combined with acid ingredients to function (sour milk is the most common). For this reason, in most recipes these two items are not interchangeable. These items can usually be found in small envelopes in stores near other baking ingredients.


Always sort and pick through beans looking for foreign objects, pebbles, rocks or bugs. If you plan on using them or storing them for a long period of time, place them in water; if there are any 'floaters,' discard those beans (floating beans often times means there is a small bug in them). If you plan on storing them, lay them out over a dry towel and let them completely dry before placing them in a bag or jar. To presoak beans before cooking, just put them in the water, throwing away any floaters. They should be covered with at least 3-4 inches of water and soaked for at a minimum of 6 hours, or up to 3 days (if soaked more than 10 hours, change the water every 10 hours). To cook the beans, drain the water completely and follow the recipe directions.

Quick Presoak Method: Wash the beans and place them in a pot, covered with 3-4 inches of water. Throw away any floating beans. Bring the water to a boil over a medium-high flame and cook for 3-5 minutes. Turn off the flame and cover the pot. Soak for one hour. Drain the beans and follow the recipe directions for cooking them.


Bread in Romania is very fresh, and generally doesn't contain preservatives, which means it goes stale very quickly. To retain freshness, freeze it in an airtight plastic bag or place it in the refrigerator wrapped in a plastic bag. Or, buy small fresh loaves every few days at your nearest bakery (these are plentiful in Romania).  For bread that's not quite fresh, try making, bread pudding, bread crumbs or French toast. See YEAST in this section for more information if you plan on making bread.


Making your own will certainly improve the taste of your food (and perhaps put a little swagger in your step), but know that you can substitute real broth for bouillon boiled in hot water (any flavor). 1 cube bouillon + 1 cup water = 1 cup broth. Also be aware that bouillon in Romanian means tomato paste. At most stores there will be small packages of bouillon cubes--gust de gaina (hen), pui (chicken), or vaca (cow). These are found in the section of other spices. For vegetable broth save the scraps (carrot tops, onion bottoms, etc) in a jar or plastic bag stored in the freezer. Most vegetables can be stored with the exception of potatoes. See recipes to make the broth with these scraps.


To see if a cake is done, poke a clean knife or toothpick into the center, if it comes out clean, the cake is done. You may also notice that cakes will begin to pull away from the pan when done. To help cakes come out of a pan, butter and flour the pan before cooking. To do this, first rub the pan with butter, oil or lard. Then, add some flour (a small amount) to the pan and shake it over the bottom and edges, discarding any extra flour. Wait until the cake is completely cool before you turn it over to remove it from the pan.


When buying eggs, most will have a date stamped on them. Try to find the freshest eggs. That said a bad one will still slip into your bag every now and then. To test for this, place all the eggs in a large bowl or pot of water. If the egg sinks, it's good. If the egg floats and is very buoyant, discard it. However, this is not a foolproof test. Whenever breaking more than one egg, it is easier to always practice breaking them one at a time into a small cup before adding it to the pan or a dish. It's no fun to put a bad egg into cookie dough and have to throw the whole batch away and start over. If you wash your eggs (a good idea because salmonella and other diseases can be carried by egg shells) don't do it until you are ready to use the eggs. Washing removes the film that protects the interior of the egg from bacteria.

Fresh eggs often mean that they are fertilized as well. If you crack open an egg and there is a large amount of blood in it, discard it. But if there is just a small fleck, remove it and the egg can still be used. Store the eggs in the refrigerator or a cool, dry area. But remember, eggs absorb odors so store them away from onions or other smelly foods.

Beating egg whites: Make sure the bowl or utensil is free of oil or you will be beating those eggs like mad for nothing. They won't foam properly. A fork or whisk works best when whipping eggs by hand, but a knife will get the job done as well. Don't think about replacing beaten egg whites with non-beaten egg whites...the recipe will not turn out.

Hard-boiled eggs: Place the boiled eggs immediately in cold water so they will be easier to peel later. See EGG recipes for more details on the wonderful, edible egg.


Be aware, very aware, when buying fish; try to find a store that gets fresh fish in often.  Whole fish will have been frozen properly if their eyes still look clear and intact. When the eyes are cloudy, the fish has been frozen and thawed several times during transport. Canned fish like tuna and sardines are plentiful. If you are not a fan of tuna packed in oil, go ahead and buy it anyway and rinse it in a fine strainer, or sieve. Then there will be no more oil to worry about. Then, pat dry with a paper towel or napkin. To remove fish odors from hands, utensils, clothes or dishes, use baking soda. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to one quart of water and wash or soak the items to remove the smell.


Cleaning: Rinse under water, us a soft brush if you need to! Getting rid of the dirt and possible bugs is very important. Water will not wash away pesticides - use soap if this concerns you.

Ripening: To help ripen fruit and vegetables a little faster, place them in a dry paper bag and keep the bag at room temperature. The produce will ripen in just a few days. For fruits, add one ripe banana to the bag with the fruit and this will speed up the process a little more.

Storing: Make sure produce is dry before placing in a cool, dry place - wash before using.

Cooking: Things that grow underground should be started off in cold water before boiling (potatoes, beets, carrots, parsley or celery root, etc); and things that grow above ground cook better if started off in boiling water or in steam (peas, green beans, squashes, etc.). The longer you cook fruits and vegetables the more nutrients break down - keep this in mind.


Extend the shelf life of fresh herbs by putting them in the fridge in a jar of water (much like flowers in a vase) with a plastic bag over the top of them.


Peeling garlic can be a pain. One trick is to place the flat part of a blade over the clove and press down until you hear it crack. Peel away. If you don't have a garlic press, peel and mince the garlic for a similar effect. Use a serrated knife when peeling and chopping garlic-much safer for the fingers! Smashing a clove with the flat side of a knife helps release its healthy properties. While the healthiest way to consume garlic is raw, if you chop garlic and let it sit for five minutes before cooking it its healthy properties will remain more in tact than if you cooked it immediately after chopping.

When buying garlic, press firmly on the outer-most cloves. If they are soft or cave in, then the garlic has aged and will spoil very soon. It is okay if you see purple on the outside of the garlic. Once purchased, do not store your garlic in a window ledge or in the sun. It is better stored in a cool, dry place. Finally, if it is growing green sprouts, remove the sprouts before cooking.


There is great possibility that the meat you find in magazines and supermarkets (or in homes) has been not stored at a proper temperature. A sure sign is if the store has a bad smell. One sniff of a bad smell and it's time to turn around and walk out the door. Or take a look; if the meat is brown and not pink, it is not fresh. Avoid meat that is dry or has dark spots. If the meat looks like it has been defrosted and then refrozen, don't buy it. Once you have defrosted the meat, you have to cook it. To defrost the meat put it in the fridge or sit out in a bucket of cold (does not have to be freezing) water. Don't ever use hot water! It will turn your meat into a feeding ground for bacteria. Cook your meat! Beef (E. coli), pork (trichinosis), and chicken (salmonella) can all carry potentially nasty illnesses. When pork is cooked thoroughly, the meat and meat juices should be white, not red or pink! You know chicken is done when you pierce it with a fork and the juices run clear (it also is pink in the center when not cooked through).

Conning your counterpart into giving you a tour of the local butcher's isn't a bad idea. You usually get what you pay for. So if the meat's cheap, you'll probably get more fat and bone pieces. Pasta de vita is good for hamburgers and mici. Keep your eye out for large white chunks (that would be fat, a.k.a. slanina). As far as pre-prepared meat, look around. Big stores (Carrefour, Kaufland) are easy for finding meat but the smaller ones will take practice. This is a great opportunity to get to know your counterpart. Asking for 200 grams of any lunchmeat will make about five sandwiches. Salami are divided by spice (hot - iute; not hot - normal) and consistency (hard - uscata; wet - ud). Note that pepperoni is salami, not the pepperoni you find in America. When selecting a store from which to buying your lunchmeat, find one with a high turnover rate to ensure a fresh product. See also FISH in this section for more information.


Some Romanian milk is not pasteurized (especially if you receive it in a coke bottle); therefore, it must be slowly brought to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any thing in it. The simple solution, for those without thermometers is to boil it, stirring often. In shops, milk can be found either in a box, which tends to last a little longer, or in a bag, which will go bad after opening quite quickly. After opening it put the milk in a jar to store so it will last longer.

Powdered milk: To make lump free milk from powder, place the powder in a cup or bowl and add just a teaspoon of water. Mix until smooth. Add another teaspoon and mix until smooth. If you have a shaker or blender, they will work well also. Shake vigorously.


Purchasing mushrooms on the street or in the farmers market is not recommended unless you are very knowledgeable about the different varieties. If buying fresh mushrooms, it is better to purchase them from supermarkets. Canned and dried mushrooms, however, are the safest bet.


Vegetable, sunflower, and olive oil are all available in Romania. For recipes in this book you can use whatever you (or your budget) prefer unless otherwise stipulated. To reuse frying oil, cover or rebottle it once it has completely cooled. However, you can only re-use oil for frying a few times. That's two to three times, no more! Also, oil can be healthy, so don't shun it forever! Olive oil is flavorful and believed to help lower cholesterol. It is a great substitute for any recipe calling for vegetable oil.


To reduce the irritants in onions that cause tearing store the onions in the refrigerator or the cold balcony in winter.  Or, cut off the stem, leaving the root end. Slice the onion toward the root first in one direction then the other (but not all the way through). Then slice cross-wise. This reduces surface area while cutting. Also, try washing the onion while cutting, peeling, or slicing and moistening your hands in the process. The irritants will predominantly stick to the onion and your hands. If you have a pair of swimming goggles - this is the best (and silliest) way to keep your eyes dry when cutting onions.


In Romania, dry peas and lentils tend to have small pebbles or rocks in the bag with them. Sort before cooking to pick out unwanted dinner items. It is not usually necessary, but it doesn't hurt to soak peas and lentils before cooking (the same way you do with beans). It will reduce cooking time, and some sources say it's healthier for you.


Keep in mind these three key tips for the perfect pie crust. 1) Handle the dough as little as possible to prevent the flour from forming too much gluten and therefore toughening the dough. 2) Using cold ingredients will make for a flakier, tenderer crust. 3) Finally, roll the dough on a floured surface so it will be easier to pick up once rolled out. Fold the piecrust in half or quarters before trying to lift it into the pan, and then unfold it in the pan.


Rice in Romania tends to have small pebbles or rocks in with the grains. Sort the rice before cooking. A visit to the dentist for a cracked tooth is no fun. You will obtain the best results by rinsing your rice before cooking until the water runs clear (even if this means 10 or 20 rinses). Brown rice is healthier for you than white rice, and becoming more common in Romania. Check out healthfood stores, pharmacies or the diabetic section of supermarkets.


Wash and peel all root vegetables before using, especially if bought in the local market. Natural fertilizers tend to be used in local crops, great for the environment but that could also mean worms! Not the big, cute earthworms used for fishing...but little nasty ones that play in your intestines giving you a free trip to Bucharest for medical. If skins are desired make sure to wash in hot water and scrub vigorously.


Salt is a flavor enhancer - this is its role in most recipes for example: desserts. Yes, desserts are not salty, but do use the full amount suggested in your dessert. Salt can make fruit or desserts even sweeter. You will find that salt in Romania takes many colors and forms - all are fine, but note that not all contain iodine (very common in the US). Choose the salt that suits your taste or budget best.


Using cornstarch or flour to thicken a soup or sauce can be a little tricky. Once the soup or sauce is hot, but not thick enough, pull a bit aside in a small bowl or dish (about 1 or 2 tablespoons only). Begin adding flour or cornstarch just one spoonful at a time and mixing until all the clumps have dissolved. If you need to thicken the soup or sauce quite a bit, keep adding spoonfuls of soup and then flour or cornstarch until you have about ½ cup of the thickener. Then, add the thickened liquid back into the soup or sauce. Leftover mashed potatoes or grated potatoes also make a great thickener to soups.


Yeast comes in two forms: dry yeast that comes in smaller envelopes that you can find near the baking powder (drojdie uscata); and soft, wet yeast that comes in cube form in the refrigerated section of the store (drojdie proaspata). Both the cubes and the dry yeast come in standard 10-gram packages, or 1 Tablespoon. Yeast should be stored in the refrigerator. If you don't use it often, purchase dry yeast if possible, it keeps longer (wet yeast molds easily).

Always try to proof the yeast before using it. When proofing yeast, you're testing it for activeness - if it is not active, your baked goods will not rise. To proof yeast: first heat ¼ c milk or water until 110-115 degrees F, or until pleasantly warm (count this against the amount of liquid called for in the recipe). Dissolve a bit of sugar (1 tsp) in the liquid. Sprinkle or crumble the yeast on top and swirl it around. Let it sit in a warm place - after 5 min it should have a frothy/creamy surface and smell like bread. If not, the yeast is no good.