A foray into Dalnic, a Covasna municipality located halfway between Sfântu Gheorghe and Târgu Secuiesc, is the surefire way to learn about Szekler’s culinary crafts.
The place became known after several journalists wrote a book about Dalnic, the birthplace of Gheorghe Doja and the childhood place of Miklos Barabás, the most important painter of the Biedermeier movement. The whole area began to be searched with the “awakening” of more and more Szekler buildings.
People here learn from their parents and grandparents to cook typical Central European dishes, tasty and slightly fatty dishes that dieticians would not recommend, but which many say they would appreciate.
Katica Boér is one of the cooks who delights guests of a local manor house with Szekler dishes. It is already snowing in Dalnic, winter has arrived and Christmas will be welcomed as it should.
Katica néni knows the difference in sarmalas
Katica assures that on the Christmas table there will be, as everywhere in Romania, the pork sausages, a little spicier than the “regățeni” ones, the caltaboş, which is stewed and fried on them, the lebăr which must be creamy, that’s why in rough translation it is called “pateu de uns” and the sangerete prepared with or without rice, but with specific spices such as Marjoram.
Katica néni, Aunt Katica as the world calls her, explains why Szekler sarmales are otherwise: “We put a lot of paprika, pepper, bay leaf, we make sure there is also a lot of smoked coriander, to give it flavor. We make big pendants, not the size of a finger like in Moldova. The difference with Romanian sarmales is that there the thyme is feels dominant “.
The cake is the same as everything else, the flour must be good, of good quality, otherwise it won’t rise. But typical of the area, as well as of all Transylvania and Banat, is the “beigli” or “baigli”, that is a roll of soft dough with lots of nuts or poppies.
The “Kürtös” crossed the mountains
A rather neglected region under all the post-December Romanian governments, which directed locals to Hungary, the area is prized for the potato and onion crops in which the Szeklers excel. In season, at each gate you can see a stall selling potatoes, onions, garlic, potato bread and “kürtös kalács”.
This tubular yeast dough cake, rolled hot in walnuts or sugar, with a sprinkling of cinnamon, is now indispensable in Christmas markets all over Romania. Its name combines the words “kürtö” which means “oven” and “kalács” which means “stove”. The sweet specialty has been prepared for hundreds of years in Secuime, but even the Saxons claim the recipe.
“Kürtös” has its secrets that we “got” from Katica néni:
Put 2 kg of flour in a bowl, in the center put 50 g of yeast dissolved in warm sweetened milk. Add 5 eggs, 5 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt and 50 g of butter. Mix everything by gradually adding the milk until it is homogeneous and detach from the hand. Cover the bowl with a napkin and let it rise for an hour. The leavened dough is rolled out, cut into strips and spirally wound on a tubular shape greased with butter or oil.
A special form of wood is recommended, but a well-greased aluminum foil-coated beer can can also be used. The secret is to grill the “kürtös”, which is tender and good.
Before cooking, the spiral of dough is covered with sugar and cinnamon and only after it is cooked until golden brown. While the cake is still hot, spread the caramelized sugar dissolved in a little water to create a glue, then sprinkle the cake with sugar or walnuts and vanilla, to taste.
Dalnic lentil soup and wellness between the two wars
Dalnicul was once famous for the production of lentils sold throughout Europe through Banca Albina. Farmers were making good money when lentils became a sought-after product in wartime as food for soldiers.
The house at no. 85 keeps an inscription on the gate post of the glory days of lentils, recorded by the journalist Ruxandra Hurezean: “Erected by Szász János and his wife in 1922 when a quintal of lentils was sold for 2000 lei”, an impressive sum at the time.
From those times a culinary tradition was born for the first days of the year: the lentil soup, prepared with carrots, parsley, celery, smoked ham cubes and tarragon. Like all soups, lentil soup also contains rântaş, that is flour browned in oil, to give consistency and satiety to the soup.
Clean as you like: Krautsuppe or korhely leves
Although not exclusively Szekler, but a Transylvanian and, more generally, Central European recipe, found in Austria, Hungary and throughout Transylvania, sour cabbage soup is the recommended therapy after the inevitable New Year’s cravings. It is called “Krautsuppe” in German and “korhely leves” in Hungarian.
It is considered “manly” because it contains 2-3 types of meat – turkey, pork, veal – smoked bacon and pork ribs, red onion, carrot, parsley, celery and slices of smoked sausage. Also, put the chilli. Sauerkraut is cut into strips like noodles and cabbage juice, “morea” as it is commonly called among Romanians, is added in abundance, as well as sour cream mixed with egg yolk.
In Muntenia something similar is prepared under the name of “potroec soup”, also with sauerkraut juice, chicken and turkey guts, with vegetables, cream, but without sausage and smoked meat.
Let’s learn the etymology of the strange plural “potroace” from a book by the late Radu Anton Roman:
“Potroaca means salt, nothing else, a restorative juice that enhances
traditionally the poison of the drunks, the hangover of the godparents and the butter of the cooks. It is the soup of tired and frozen mornings from excesses, the Wallachian panacea, detoxifying the dark rivers of wine “.