Table of contents:
- Eggplant salad
- Vegetable soup
- Potato salad
- Mashed beans
- Baked peppers salad
- Fried zucchini
- Baked pumpkin
- Sauteed cabbage
- Nettle soup
- Green beans with garlic
- Vegan pies
- Vegan cabbage rolls
- Tomato, cucumber and onion salad
This post is part of a wider material about Romanian gastronomy. Learn about the best Romanian food and drinks in our material: The best Romanian food and drinks: An Honest Introduction to Romanian Cuisine from a Local Foodie
1. Eggplant salad
One of the most popular yet simplest vegan dishes, not quite a salad but more of a spread or eggplant puree. Grilled over a wood fire (to get a slightly smoky taste as well) until charred, the eggplants are then peeled and left to drain. Finely chopped with a wooden knife to prevent oxidation, they’re mixed with vegetable oil (unrefined sunflower oil is preferable) and finely diced onion. Some recipes suggest adding mayonnaise, but I’m prefer the light version without it. Similar in consistency to baba ganoush but distinct in taste, this eggplant spread is best served on a slice of grilled homemade bread with diced tomatoes, just like a bruschetta.
Romanians favor baking a substantial quantity of eggplants during their fall season, permeating the neighborhoods of Romanian cities with the enticing aroma of grilled eggplants. These batches are then stored in the freezer, ensuring a ready supply throughout the winter months
A staple in Romanian cuisine and found in various versions across the Balkans, zacusca is traditionally crafted at home in September to stock cellars for winter alongside jams and pickles. Prepared with pre-baked eggplants, onions, peppers (fresh or baked), and tomatoes, these ingredients are chopped and sautéed in oil in a large cauldron. Stored in jars for winter, zacusca has delightful variants featuring beans, mushrooms, or fish. Enjoyed on bread, it serves as a flavorful appetizer or snack
A comfort food from my childhood, ghiveci, prepared by my grandmother with vegetables from her garden, is likely of Ottoman origin (from the Turkish “güvec”). Found across most Balkan countries, it’s a hearty stew incorporating a variety of legumes: potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, onions, carrots, zucchini, green peas, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, and the list goes on. This dish is a celebration of whatever legumes are available, offering diverse textures and a spectrum of tastes from sweet to sour.
4. Vegetable soup
The soupy rendition of ghiveci, crafted with whatever legumes are on hand, preferably fresh from our gardens or directly sourced from local farmers. My grandmother’s version featured an abundance of green beans, and to this day, I find myself adding extra. Depending on the dominant legume, it takes on names like potato, tomato, zucchini, or green bean soup. To impart the characteristic sourness of a ciorba, the acidic element can be tomato juice, bors, or vinegar.
Garnished with freshly chopped parsley, the vegetable soup became the go-to option during the Lenten period, together with the white bean soup ( the free-of-meat version, of course).
5. Polenta (mămăligă)
Building on the discussion of polenta, another beloved comfort food from my childhood, I’d like to share that grilled polenta, made from the previous day’s leftovers, holds a special place in my heart. Served alongside Lapte Covasit, homemade yoghurt, it was a cherished dish. Another nostalgic memory involves boiling fresh milk from our cow in the same pot used for polenta, then scooping the cornflower crust, soaked in hot milk—a simple delight echoing the flavors of the past.
6. Magiun – the plum jam
A culinary gem from my childhood that continues to enrich my daily experiences is magiun, a jam made solely from plums, absent of added sugar. This sweet-sour delight bursts with flavor. The preparation method is simple but time-consuming: pitted plums simmer in a large cauldron on low heat, stirring continuously, until they transform into a luscious paste. In my youth, we enjoyed it on bread with butter, in donuts, or in small croissants. Today, it remains a staple in my daily diet, adding a touch of richness to my yogurt bowl with oatmeal.
The plum magiun from Topoloveni, a town in Arges County, stands proudly as one of Romania’s products acknowledged with a Protected Geographical Indication from the European Union. However, in my experience, any product bearing the name magiun lives up to its reputation. The recipe remains stringent, comprising only plums, without the addition of sugar, preserves, or any other ingredients.
7. Potato salad
The potato salad, known in Romania as the Oriental Salad, carries a name that’s a bit of a mystery. It resembles the Turkish using boiled potatoes and onions, but the connections ends here. Similar variations are found in the Balkans or Germany and Austria. While the ingredients can vary, the key components include boiled potatoes (not overboiled, we want them to maintain their structure), sliced red onions, pickled cucumbers, pickled peppers, and olives. The dressing consists of a vinaigrette made from vegetable oil and vinegar. Some versions may incorporate boiled eggs and dill, but these were not part of our tradition. Notably, mayonnaise is eschewed to distinguish it from another popular holiday salad: the Russian salad.
8. Mashed beans
Another comfort from my childhood and student days, the mashed beans were a favorite during Lent, especially when made by my grandmother with beans from her garden. A pub we frequented in university served a version spread on bread with chopped sauerkraut. Resembling hummus but distinct, it’s made from boiled beans (my grandmother was adding also a boiled potato), mashed with garlic and vegetable oil. Served alongside with a relish made of sautéed onions with paprika or tomato sauce, it pairs exceptionally well with sauerkraut or any other pickles.
9. Baked peppers
The baked (or grilled) pepper salad is an irresistible dish that I find myself indulging in endlessly. Simple yet incredibly flavorful, it requires only good peppers, preferably red ones, baked or grilled until the skin chars. After cooling with the lid on (facilitating skin removal), peel and arrange them in a bowl, then drizzle with oil and vinegar. While some add garlic or parsley, I prefer it without. Letting it marinate in the fridge for an hour intensifies the flavors, and then it’s ready to be savored. I particularly enjoy soaking up the flavorful liquid with a slice of homemade bread.
10. Fried zuchinni
As a child, I wasn’t a fan, but now the fried breaded zucchini holds a special place in my preferences. They can be both vegan (with a flour batter) or not (when using egg). Sliced zucchini is dipped in batter, fried, and then cooled on a napkin to absorb excess oil. Simple and delicious, this method enhances the natural sweetness of the zucchini. A more intricate, flavorful version, though not vegan, includes zucchini meatballs with egg, cheese and grated zucchini in the mix.
11. Baked pumpkin
Baked pumpkin, another cherished childhood dish that I continue to enjoy today. The key to its preparation lies in selecting the right type of pumpkin, like the one in the photo, that we call the “Turkish Pumpkin” . The sweetness varies depending on sunlight exposure during the summer, and a good indicator is its thickness when sectioned: thicker is better. For faster baking can be cut in wedges or cubes and skined. After baking, it should have a texture akin to a baked potato, with minimal liquid. It’s enjoyed simply, without the addition of sugar, honey, or spices.
12. Sautéed cabbage
Sautéed cabbage serves as a hearty main dish on fasting days or a flavorful side dish on other occasions, pairing wonderfully with pork knuckles. It can be a main course, often accompanied by smoked pork ribs, sausages, or, as in my childhood, served with duck. While fresh cabbage is commonly used, pickled cabbage can also impart a distinct flavor. The preparation is straightforward: finely chop the cabbage, sauté it in vegetable oil with onions and peppers. Add paprika or tomato sauce, season with salt, pepper, and bay leaves, and let it simmer until the cabbage is soft. As a vegan main course, it pairs excellently with mamaliga.
Coliva is an unexpected dessert, reserved for funerals or commemorations of the departed, offering a sweet solace in times of loss. Not exclusive to Romania, it’s also present in Ukraine and the Balkans. This shelled wheat pudding, cooked whole, is blended with sugar, walnuts, and raisins, often adorned with cocoa. Due to its exclusive association with these events, it’s rare to find in stores or on restaurant menus.
14. Nettle soup
It appears that many of these vegan dishes are also from my childhood. I spent numerous years with my grandmother, who observed religious fasting, leading her to cook vegan meals for us. Nettle soup is crafted from young nettles, freshly grown in spring when the rest of the vegetation has yet to begin its growth process. Nettle shoots are thoroughly washed, blanched, and then boiled together with onions and carrots. To add heartiness, rice is included in the soup, and vinegar is added at the end. This soup is considered one of the healthiest and most delicious in Romanian cuisine. In place of nettles, spinach or orache can be used similarly.
Pilaf is another dish with Ottoman influence, with versions found from the Balkans to Central Asia. It can be prepared with almost any type of rice, but I prefer using the round-grain variety, the same one I use for sarmale. The preparation method is straightforward: sauté vegetables (onions, carrots, peppers), then add the rice and cover with water or soup, simmering on low heat for almost 30 minutes. The vegan version includes mushrooms and peas, while the meat version typically features chicken.
16. Green beans with garlic
Green bean soup can also double as a salad, depending on the amount of liquid used. The slightly wider variety of green beans is preferred, boiled with onions and carrots. Once softened, crushed garlic and vinegar are added. If the excess liquid is removed, it resembles a salad, but that would be a shame because the broth is truly delicious. My grandmother had a winter version of this dish. Without a refrigerator, she would blanch the bean pods in the summer, dry them in the sun, and rehydrate them in the winter to create this super-delicious and healthy dish.
17. Vegan pies
Pies are among the best and most diverse snacks in Romanian cuisine. Essentially, a dough akin to that of bread is shaped into a round form, filled with a variety of ingredients, folded over, and then cooked in a pan. In certain areas of the Apuseni Mountains, instead of a pan, a flat stone is used, heated over a fire.
The pie filling varies greatly. It can consist of sautéed cabbage, sautéed onions, or boiled potatoes for the savory vegan version, while jams like blueberry or raspberry are popular in the Apuseni Mountains. The vegetarian version often features salty cheese.
Mucenici (martyrs in English) are a treat served only once a year, during a religious holiday in March. Due to their deliciousness, they can be found in stores throughout the rest of the year, and those interested can even prepare them at home. There are two types of mucenici: those from Wallachia, smaller and drier like the ones in the picture, and those from Moldova, larger, fluffier, and sweet, resembling pretzels. Wallachian mucenici are boiled in a sweet syrup infused with cinnamon, walnuts, rum, or vanilla. Moldovan mucenici are made from sweet bread dough, shaped into the figure of the number 8, baked, then soaked in honey syrup and topped with walnuts. Whichever version you choose, I can assure you that you will love the delightful combination of flavors and textures
19. Vegan cabbage rolls
Vegan sarmale (cabbage rolls) are typically prepared during fasting periods, as the non-vegan version with meat is favored otherwise. The preparation is similar to the meat-filled variety, but, of course, the meat or lard is omitted. Instead, for the filling, mushrooms or vegetable soy meat are used, in addition to rice, which is a common ingredient in all versions. They are usually served with polenta and hot pepper.