Varză a la Cluj & Fetească Neagră red wine – The spirit of Romania

Varza a la cluj is a traditional Romanian cabbage dish

When we were in Cluj-Napoca, one of these up-and-coming tech-cities in Western Romania, we visited a restaurant that did not change its style or menu for more than 40 years. So, it was a quite traditional, and heavily socialist experience, to eat the traditional Varză a la Cluj there, a cabbage-meat dish that fits perfectly to the bloody red-wines of Romania. Find the recipe below.

How to make Varză a la Cluj

Ingredients
  • 200 – 300g Sauerkraut / fermented white cabbage (jar, e.g. Føtex)
  • 200 – 300g fresh white cabbage
  • 350g ground beef / soy or sunflower alternative
  • 1 red onion
  • One tablespoon of each: sweet paprika, dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of each: ground cumin, dried dill
  • 150g crème fraiche
  • 100ml tomato paste
  • Optional: 75g – 100g of rice
Preparation
  1. If desired, cook rice in salted water, and set it aside once done.
  2. Turn on the oven and preheat it to 190 degrees C.
  3. Chop the white cabbage into thin strips and cook it in a large pan for about 15-20 minutes, over medium heat, stirring often, until it begins to soften. During that process, mix in the Sauerkraut bit by bit, and season with ground pepper and dill.
  4. Meanwhile, chop the onion and sauté it over medium heat with a pinch of salt.
  5. After the onion has softened, add the ground beef, and mix well with a spoon. Sauté for about 7-8 minutes, until the meat is completely cooked. Season the meat with salt, pepper, thyme, sweet paprika, and ground cumin.
  6. Butter a small- to medium-sized baking form (20x30cm), and put 1/3 of the cabbage mixture in the bottom, followed by a layer of ½ of the rice (if desired) and a layer of ½ of the meat.
  7. Continue in the same way, with single layers of 1/3 of the cabbage mixture, ½ of the rice (if desired), and ½ of the meat. Spread the tomato paste above the second meat layer, and finish with the last layer using the left 1/3 of the cabbage. Put spots of crème fraiche on top of the last cabbage layer.
  8. Bake the dish for about 25 – 30 minutes until lightly browned on the top. Let it cool for 15 minutes in the form before serving it with classic Romanian red wine.

Wine recommendation: Cantus Primus Fetească Neagră 2016

Cantus Primus Feteasca Neagra Romanian red wine dealu mare

I discovered this bold red wine from the Dealu Mare region in a local wine shop in Cluj Napoca. Rarely, I tasted a wine that deserves the description “bloody” more than this wine. Fetească Neagră is one of the indigenous grape varieties. It produces full-bodied wines with high alcohol content. Its aromas include black fruit, forest berries, pepper, and licorice. This wine is oaked for an extended period and provides also clear oak aromas including chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon.

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