I’m not going to pretend that I don’t eat at fast food restaurants. I’m definitely guilty. People order a Big Mac because it’s easy. No surprises, no asking someone to help identify the food on your plate. You know exactly what you’re getting (as long as you don’t think too hard about it). Sometimes, being adventurous seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. The operative word being “seems.”
I spent the last two years on an adventure, so a cheeseburger from McDonald’s was exotic—temporarily. But it still doesn’t taste like real food to me.
I’d served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Moldova, teaching health education and trying to promote sustainable development. (Moldova is a tiny country in between Romania and Ukraine. And yes, I had to use Google when I found out that’s where I was going.)
Moldova is primarily an agrarian society. They have amazing soil, and grow some of the most delicious fresh fruits and vegetables I’ve ever tasted. Like many under-developed countries, Moldovans (particularly in the villages) eat seasonally because they don’t have the option not to.
To everything there is a season
What really surprised me was how much I enjoyed eating seasonally. We’d grown most of our own food while I was growing up and doing it again was nostalgic. The majority of the vegetables were actually grown behind my house. While I was living with my host family, I could walk out to the garden, pick a tomato, slice it up and put it between slices of fresh bread, made from flour ground and grown in the village. While I missed certain things (out of season fruits, mostly) I learned to savor the food in a way I never did before.
One cold, dark evening in January, my host mother, Natasha had prepared the usual potatoes and pork, but she also set an intriguing salad on the table. I had eaten the same salad during the summer- cabbage is a common vegetable in Moldova year-round- but that evening, I fell in love with it.
Natasha had tossed the cabbage with a little sunflower seed oil and added just a dash of salt and pepper. I remember the crispness of the cabbage and the crunch of the onions. I’ve never really enjoyed eating raw onion (to be honest, I kind of hate it), but that evening, it was delicious.
Moldovan Cabbage and Onion Salad
1 small cabbage head (or half a head)
2 white onions
3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil (If you can get sunflower seed oil, give it a shot.)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Shred the cabbage and onion into thin slices (much like preparing coleslaw). Toss the slices with the oil, then season with salt and pepper. Serve.
*Dill is an extremely popular condiment in Moldova. If you have access to fresh dill (not that dried stuff), mince it and toss it in.
Cabbage is one of the most underrated vegetables. It’s incredibly versatile and can taste absolutely fantastic when prepared well. It’s in season during the cold months, making it a welcome addition to the table.
One of the staples in my family while I was growing up was Cabbage and Noodles. It doesn’t take very long to make and it’s incredibly easy to prepare. My sister still asks me to make it for dinner from time to time.
Cabbage and Noodles
Half a head of cabbage
2 yellow onions
3 cloves of fresh garlic (Buy fresh garlic. It just tastes better.)
1 package of egg noodles
Salt and Pepper
Slice the cabbage into thin strips and set aside. Dice the onions and the garlic. Don’t use a garlic press. Cut it with a knife. It takes more time, but the flavor is better. In a large pot, begin boiling the water for the pasta. In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute the garlic. Add the onion, followed by the cabbage. Add a little salt and pepper, and saute until the cabbage has softened, but still has some crunch to it. Boil the noodles, remove from heat, drain and return to the large pot. Add the saute to the noodles and toss well. Season with salt and a lot of pepper. Serve.
*My dad would sometimes cook some sausage and mix it in with the cabbage and noodles. It’s a tasty way to add protein.