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What's cooking - Chiftelute Marinate

(Photo: Ioana Bour)
(Photo: Ioana Bour)

The first time I met Romanian student, Ioana Bour, it was over a delicious and hearty Romanian dish - Chiftelute Marinate. Peering into her kitchen, I couldn’t help but steal away a few marinates from the plate, not even waiting until the tomato sauce was ready.

In Romania, Chiftelute Marinate is something your mom or grandma would make for you. The moment when they shove you out of the kitchen with a secret smile on their faces, you know they’re going to surprise you with something really nice,” she says, while peeling the potatoes and reaching over the counter for a mysterious package of spices.

See, this is a secret ingredient. Basically it contains salt, pepper, dry tomatoes and paprika. It makes the potatoes, our side dish, taste rich. Unlike the Dutch version….” she says, making a yucky-face as we both laughed.

Chiftelute Marinate is a blend of different cuisines, very much influenced by Romania’s neighbours - the Hungarians, Turkish and Greeks. However, Chiftelute Marinate has its own character,” Ioana says, adding the final touch to the tomato sauce. “You’ll find out when you have a taste of the whole dish later.”

Chiftelute Marinate isn’t as heavy as Sarmale - another traditional Romanian dish of cabbage rolls with minced meat filling - but the feeling of these two dishes is quite similar. It really reminds me of home. I miss our traditional three-course meals, which usually start with soup, followed by a main course and end with dessert.”

During my second or third round of Chiftelute Marinate, I patted my stomach with satisfaction, while also remarking on the saltiness of the dish. Ioana’s face lit up: “Ha! Now you notice the most important thing in Romanian cuisine - salt! In Romanian tradition, we offer salt and bread to our guests, as a symbol of ‘Welcome in our homes’. The Romans conquered the ancient territory of present day Romania for our salt mines. Salt was difficult to find back then and it was very expensive. The Roman soldiers were also paid with salts, and therefore the origin of the words ‘soldier’ and ‘salary’ is salt - a person paid in salt. I just can’t imagine a dish without enough salt!”

And so we raised our glasses in cheers to salt and our new friendship, over Romania’s Chiftelute Marinate, which translated as a simple, salty and hearty welcome.

For those who'd like to welcome friends over with a warm Romanian Chiftelute Marinate according to Ioana Bour’s recipe, just go to for the online version of this article and follow the simple step-by-step instructions. And of course don’t forget the salts.

Chiftelute Marinate
- 2 onions
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 500g minced meat
- 2 eggs
- one teaspoon of flour
- salt, black pepper and peppercorns
- parsley
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 100g tomato puree

The meatballs: cut the garlic and one onion into small pieces and mix them with minced meat, eggs and flour. Salt and pepper could be added according to individual taste. Make meatballs from this mixture, with flour. Now they are ready to be fried.

The sauce: take the other onion, cut it into small pieces and fry it with a spoonful of oil. Add the tomato sauce, the bay leaves, the peppercorns and 1/2 glass of water. One teaspoon of flour can also be added. Wait till the sauce is well-mixed, add the meatballs and leave the pot with small fire until the meatballs became soft. 

The dish can be served with boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes or rice. Pofta buna! (‘Enjoy your lunch’)

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