In My Kitchen

Mancare de Mazare | Romanian Green Pea Stew with Dill & Bacon

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I want to start by saying that this meal was wholly improvised and I’m quite proud not only of the result – a comforting and healthy homeland staple reminiscent of my childhood – but also because of what it represents – the spirit of using pantry and fridge odds and ends that may have otherwise ended up in the bin.

This dish is called mancare de mazare in Romanian, which literally means food of peas. My grandmother made this for me a lot when I summered with her in the Romanian countryside during my childhood. The basic flavours are peas in a tomato base with a lot of fresh dill and sometimes some bacon or other smoked meat for flavour. Besides being the taste of my childhood, what makes this dish extra special to me is that it also embodies the spirit that runs through traditional Romanian cooking and cucina povera – that of making do with what’s available.

It all started on Sunday last weekend when I did a major sweep of the fridge and pantry. I’ve been making a conscious effort to practice the values of cucina povera in my kitchen over the past few months. For me part of this means really considering what I have left in the fridge and pantry, and trying to make a complete meal out of it before I decide to run out to grab “a few more things.”

The way many of us approach grocery shopping in the Western world is very much at odds with the spirit of cucina povera and is also quite unsustainable. Our starting point is what we don’t have. What we need. If we don’t know what to make for dinner, we usually think of something or find a recipe that requires us to buy a lot of new things. So we go out and buy so much that we can’t possibly keep track and use it all, so food gets wasted all the time.

This has been my experience in all 3 Western nations I’ve lived in – Canada, the United States and now the Netherlands. Car culture in Canada and the US really contributes to grocery accumulation and waste. I remember massive grocery hauls in Michigan and Toronto – packing my car with more groceries than could ever fit in my Dutch kitchen. Buying in bulk at Costco.

I thought moving to the Netherlands would change things. Being able to live a more sustainable lifestyle was one of the reasons I was drawn to moving here. Bogdan and I even talked about it beforehand – about the whole thinking around groceries and how it was so much more sustainable in Europe. Well, we live car-free now so everything I buy I have to carry home in my hands or on my bike. It’s also harder to accumulate a ton of stuff because stores are smaller, with less choice and as such less temptation to buy those special discretionary items that we don’t really have an immediate need for but just want.

Although the culture here is a little more conducive to living the cucina povera values, it’s still not automatic like I thought it would be. Case in point, in the short 18 months we’ve been here I’ve already managed to fill our compact 3 shelves of pantry space to the brim with spices, dry goods, cans and jars. So I have to make a very conscious effort now to try to make a meal out of what I have before I buy.

In practice it ends up being a lot of fun – like a puzzle. I’m also lucky to have witnessed cucina povera in action through my grandmother at her rural homestead in Romania. My grandmother, like many rural Romanians, has always grown most of what she eats – vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese and wine. As such, you learn to eat in tune with the seasons and make do with what’s available.

This pea soup is a perfect reflection of making do with what’s available. My grandmother grew and preserved her own green peas and tomatoes, plucked bunches of fresh dill from her garden, and always had a cache of smoked bacon on hand from her own pig farm.

In the present day my pantry and fridge cleanup was decidedly less romantic. At first I just pulled everything out and looked at it to think about the ways I could fit it together into a meal.

My pantry and fridge detritus

To be honest it wasn’t the most inspiring. Some shriveled up carrots, old celery, fresh chives and dill on their last legs, a small package of cut up bacon, some raw sesame seeds, dry chickpeas and barley, a package of very fine orzo, a small can of tomato puree and a large can of green peas.

I paused on the can of green peas, feeling the first hints of inspiration brewing. It’s been kicking around the back cabinet for a very long time. I don’t remember when or why I bought it, only that it came from my Turkish grocer, Mr. Ali.

random pantry items canned green peas and tomato
The beginnings of something good

With the green peas in one hand I scanned the rest of my pile – there was dill, and tomato, and bacon. Mancare de mazare it would be. Though I don’t recall my grandmother or anyone else ever using celery or carrots in mancare de mazare, it was a good addition.

The pea, tomato and vegetable base is very sweet – which is probably why this dish is most associated with children – but the smoky bacon adds depth and bite. The dill, a widely used ingredient in Romanian cooking, pairs especially nicely with the combination of peas and tomato. Since I had flour, yeast, and sesame seeds I also decided to make a quick flatbread to go with the soup.

This is the classic taste of Romanian childhood, I imagine much like grilled cheese and tomato soup is in North America.

For the bread

I started making bread using this recipe by Taste of Artisan. I found it very dependable for a bread novice and ended up with really impressive loafs from the first try. I’ve adapted it into different shapes with different ingredients and types of flour. As time has gone on I’ve also stopped weighing the ingredients all together.

If you’re new to baking I recommend following the recipe ratios quite closely until you get a feel for dough. The  ratios are really spot on – very seldom did I follow the method but I still ended up with good bread.

My own method that I’ve developed over 2 or so years is usually just to proof the yeast, mix in the flour by hand, let it rest, mix again, and then form and bake. In this case I formed the dough into flat rounds and covered with raw sesame seeds. I recommend a light egg wash to hold the sesame seeds on – I skipped this step and sadly lost a lot of my seeds.

Of course the longer the dough sits the more time it has to develop more complex flavour, so it’s a trade-off between expediency and quality. If you can do it from the day before it’s even better.

But in a pinch it still makes a great fresh homemade bread that rivals a lot of store-bought variants.

  • 500 g all purpose flour King Arthur brand is recommended
  • 360 g water
  • 10 g salt
  • 3 g instant yeast

Ingredients I used in the stew

  • 1 medium sized yellow onion, diced
  • 2 old carrots, diced
  • 3 or 4 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 large can of green peas
  • 1 fist sized bundle of fresh dill – stalks removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 can of tomato puree
  • 125 grams or a 1/4 lb of diced bacon
  • 1-2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • A pinch of smoked paprika and cimbru (or substitute thyme, oregano, or summer savoury)
  • Vegeta brand seasoning

Method for the stew

Heat oil in a large pot with lid over medium heat. I used my large enameled cast iron Dutch oven. When the oil is hot add the onion and cook it for a few minutes until it starts to soften and turn translucent. Then add the bacon and cook until it renders and even begins to brown a little bit (but before the onion burns.) Once the bacon has rendered add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5 or so minutes.

Once the mirepoix and bacon mix have had a chance to cook a bit, pour in the peas, tomato puree, half of the dill, and any seasonings you’re using including salt. I also used Vegeta brand seasoning – it’s commonly used in Romanian cooking and can be found at a lot of European markets but if you don’t have any you can easily substitute a vegetable bouillon cube or similar.

Pro tip: Use the can from the tomato puree (make use of all the flavour) to top up the liquid so it covers the vegetables and peas by at least 2 or 3 finger lengths. You’re aiming for a thick stew-like consistency but some of the liquid will reduce so a little top up is good. Reduce heat to simmer then cover and cook for at least 20 minutes. I like to add the rest of the dill right before serving so that the flavours are layered. I also keep a little for garnish.

If there’s too much liquid you can continue cooking uncovered until it reduces to a stew-like consistency. Serve hot with crusty bread.

Like most of the recipes I share this isn’t meant to be proscriptive but inspirational. Learning to cook isn’t just about replicating recipes but about learning to improvise, to use what’s available, to engage your creativity and to nourish the body while honoring the planet.

Those of us in the world with plentiful access to food should remember how lucky we are and make every effort to understand the true value of food.

So for me this meal and cooking in the spirit of cucina povera is about honoring the food and not wasting precious sustenance. It’s better for the planet, better for your spirit and better for your budget.

Until next time,

Cristina

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Mancare de Mazare | Romanian Green Pea Soup with Dill & Bacon


  • Author: Cristina Rosu
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Total Time: 35 minutes

Description

This dish is called mancare de mazare in Romanian, which literally means food of peas. My grandmother made this for me a lot when I summered with her in the Romanian countryside during my childhood. The basic flavours are peas in a tomato base with a lot of fresh dill and sometimes some bacon or other smoked meat for flavour. Besides being the taste of my childhood, what makes this dish extra special because it embodies the spirit that runs through traditional Romanian cooking and cucina povera – that of making do with what’s available.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized yellow onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 or 4 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 large can of green peas
  • 1 fist sized bundle of fresh dill – stalks removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 can of tomato puree
  • 125 grams or a 1/4 lb of diced bacon
  • 12 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • A pinch of smoked paprika and cimbru (or substitute thyme, oregano, or summer savoury)
  • Vegeta brand seasoning

Instructions

Heat oil over medium heat in a large heavy bottom pot with a lid.

Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes or until transluscent.

Add bacon and cook until the fat begins to render / the bacon brows a bit.

Add the diced carrots and celery and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the peas, tomato puree, around 2 cans of water (enough to cover the veg and peas by 2-3 finger lengths,) the seasoning and 1/2 of the fresh dill.

Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

Mix in the remaining dill just before serving, reserving a bit for garnish if you like.

Serve with crusty bread.


Notes

If the liquid doesn’t reduce sufficiently to a stew-like consistency then you can increase the heat a bit and cook uncovered for another 5-10 minutes or until it reduces and thickens.

  • Category: Soup/Stew
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Romanian

 

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