tarragon lamb - back to my roots

One of the things that is eating me from inside is whether I´m on the right place or not. I have been hasitating posting this, as I know a few people might take offence... Coming from Ceausescu´s Romania I was pretty narrow minded, naive but full of hopes and dreams. I have always liked to believe in Santa and in fairy tales.

wild mallow, we used to eat these as kids

After a few years here I started to change. I didn´t want to be "the crazy Hungarian"anymore, I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be "normal". I wanted to belong. Unfortunately, I didn´t fully succeed. I became a stanger in my old country while I remained a stranger in my new country. I am somewhere in between. In limbo land. This is not poor me, poor me. I am only trying to figure out who I have become and where I would fit in as I am. It is a bit scary to think like this at the age of 39, one would expect that I have come to terms with these issues by now.

I´ve always considered myself as a world citizen but I realize that I yet have to conquer the safety that knowledge about my people, their culture, the country and it´s history gives - to be able to fly. To be able to lift, I have to know and nourish my roots. And what better way could I find to nourish my roots, if not cooking? Couldn´t you guess that all roads lead to Rome? ;P

Székely cooking is part of Transylvanian cooking and has been impregnated by the Hungarian, Jewish, Armenian, Romanian and Saxon people and their cuisines. Székelys have always been living close to nature and being poor inspired them to use ingredients they could find in the forest and on the fields. Dill, tarragon, rosmary, basil, marjoram, caravay, lovage, "wild"thyme and juniper are some herbs that are frequently used and are found in every flower-bed on the countryside or hanging from kitchen ceilings in dried bunches.

my father´s kitchen garden with spring onions, beans and dill

Székely people are famous for their hospitality but I find it more of a burden than something overly positive. From time to time it can be very tiresome to turn down all the food you are being urged to try. I own a few Hungarian recipe books and a Transylvanian one, but I wanted to learn more about the history of food and cooking, so I ordered (read: asked my father to buy and post) two books on the subject. One of them is called Erdélyi lakoma (Transylvanian feast) written by a former owner of Four Seasons (London) Pal Kövi. The other one is called Székely ízek (Székely flavours) and written by János Pataki whom I´ve never heard of, but I´m looking forward to recieve the books anyway.

traditional székely porch in Csíkszentgyörgy

So, what I started with was lamb. The tarragon lamb soup is a famous Transylvanian dish, but in wintertime I prefer something thicker, something more filling. I pulled my old cookbook out and found within minutes a recipe for tarragon lamb stew with vegetables. It reminded me a bit of irish stews with the carrot, parsnip and cellery but there are a few differences :) But let´s start with the recipe:
Tarragon lamb with vegetables
serves 4

800g lambsteak in cubes
200g carrots, thickly sliced
200g parsnip, sliced
1 larger celleriac in cubes 2-3 tbs flour
lard (or sunflower seed oil)
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
tarragon*+tarragon vinegar*
salt, pepper
sour cream
*Tarragon is not dried for winter usage as other herbs, but vinegared (is there such a word?) Pack tightly a little jar with fresh tarragon and pour pure vinegar over so you fill the jar. Put a lid on and keep it in a cool, dry place and use it during the winter. You can actually use it for up to two years, then the flavour starts to fade away... (If you don´t want to make this, I´m sure you could use fresh tarragon and then add some ready made tarragon vinegar)

Roll the meat in the flour, then brown it in the heated lard until it gets a nice color. Pour 200ml of water on it and cook under a lid for 30-45 minutes. You have to check every 10-15 minutes, stir and add more water if needed, but don´t start with too much water because that´s the trick here. You don´t want to cook a soup, you want a stew, a kind of pörkölt. When the meat starts to get tender add the vegetables, lemon juice and zest and the chopped tarragon and cook for 20-30 more minutes until both lamb and vegetables are cooked.

When ready, add sourcream, stir, bring it quickly to boil and taste. If you think it´s tart enough, then that´s it. If you would like to add more tartness and tarragony flavour, add some tarragon vinegar. Traditionally this dish is served with mashed potatoes.


Of course, I have a long way to go...and this is just the beginning.
the plank leading to my father´s house


Linda F said…
That looks lovely Eva, and your posts are always so interesting, I look forward to them! I will be 39 this year and am still figuring many things out about myself and life. I have however stopped anguishing over these things and started enjoying the process of learning instead! It makes life a lot more fun I have found!
vonsachsen said…
Thanks you Linda for your kind words.Most of the time I take it much cooler and then sometimes I just can´t ignore them ;)
Very interesting post Eva.

The lamb looks wonderful, but I'll have to adapt and not use tarragon for some reason it doesn't like me :)

I think we all have times when we question ourselves and our life, I know I certainly do.

George xx
Kelly-Jane said…
I think finding out what we are here to do takes a lifetime, I've certainly not worked it out atall yet!

Your pictures from bedise your Father's house are beautiful.

I also love your cupcakes from your previous post, the heart sprinkles are a great touch =)
smul said…
I believe it is quite common that people who have moved or fled to other contries than the ones where they are born, feel this way. Hopefully you can put your pieces together like you put a recepie together eventually. But Like you said You need to know a lot about the bascis first. Interesting to read anyhow :)
pistachio said…
Eva, nobody seems to stay in the same place any more ... we straddle cultures and belong nowhere and everywhere. Traditional ways and knowledge are being lost at an incredible speed all over the planet and it's only natural to have a hankering after what we only dimly remember when young. Our experiences make us who we are and we can only go forward.

Your father's vegetable garden looks like the vegetable gardens here. I wish I had more time and energy to have something like that.

pi xxx
Anna said…
Another thought provoking thread Eva. I know what you mean by 'limbo land' and sometimes not feeling that you quite belong anywhere....I do try though and look positively, that I belong in two countries.
Tina said…
Wow Eva, what a interesting post. Amazing pictures as ever too!

Tina xx
julie said…
I enjoy reading your musings on life. I don't know many people who truly belong where they are, or that means they have never left to get a new perspective...

The pics are beautiful and your stew looks mouth-watering.
Rhyleysgranny said…
I often think how hard it must be not just moving from one country to another but to a different culture. The world is so small now and as Pi says everyone is on the move.
Your Father's vegetable patch looks so tidy and healthy. Seems a shame to disturb it.
The lamb looks heavenly.
Lisa said…
This is a very beautiful, and profound, entry. You are not alone in your feelings, and yet I know that the position you describe can often feel lonesome.
It is really lovely to read about the cooking of your homeland, and I look forward to your continuing adventures.
L. xoxo

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