Varza Cu Carne: European version of a Boil Up.

By Hayley White

As I sit eating the varza cu carne made by Neculai Paveluc, he tells me that he comes from a small village in Northern Romania called Plopana. As a traditional cabbage meal made with pork, he explains that he has never made it without pork before like his family traditionally does, but he still sets aside a portion of the cabbage for me – a vegetarian.

Neculai has been in New Zealand for 24 years after meeting his wife Corina in the Middle East when they were younger. Despite a language barrier that made it hard for them to understand each other, Neculai and Corina fell in love and married each other in Israel. They moved to New Zealand not too long after and have lived here ever since.

“Each family has their own take on [varza cu carne], their own spin,” he says. Cabbage is used in a lot of Romanian meals, and he tells me that it is a good winter food because it just warms you up and is extremely good for you. “If you’re cold - that’s when we use it,” he says, and adds: “It keeps the cold away.”

By Hayley White

As I sit eating the varza cu carne made by Neculai Paveluc, he tells me that he comes from a small village in Northern Romania called Plopana. As a traditional cabbage meal made with pork, he explains that he has never made it without pork before like his family traditionally does, but he still sets aside a portion of the cabbage for me – a vegetarian.

Neculai has been in New Zealand for 24 years after meeting his wife Corina in the Middle East when they were younger. Despite a language barrier that made it hard for them to understand each other, Neculai and Corina fell in love and married each other in Israel. They moved to New Zealand not too long after and have lived here ever since.

“Each family has their own take on [varza cu carne], their own spin,” he says. Cabbage is used in a lot of Romanian meals, and he tells me that it is a good winter food because it just warms you up and is extremely good for you. “If you’re cold – that’s when we use it,” he says, and adds: “It keeps the cold away.”

Cabbage is packed with nutrients and antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory effects, and is hailed by some as a superfood. Neculai says that a lot of foods have medicinal properties you might not expect but growing up in a small Romanian town where they still had horse drawn carriages, they used everything.

“[You can] use potatoes for sprained ankles,” he says, “because the starch can take the swelling away.” But it has always been the older generations who would know what to do.

“If you complain about something, the mother or the grandmother is where you’d go,” Neculai says.

When asked where these recipes came from and how long they’ve been in the family, he shrugs. In a town that is over 1600 years old and with a recipe that has been in Neculai’s family for over 200 years, he says it is the way his dad made it, and his dad before him and so on and that these are recipes which have been in his family forever.

Prepared from a recipe perfected over centuries, and even missing the pork belly that Niculai made it with, it was delicious and left me feeling warm.

 

Varza Cu Carne

RECIPE

 

Ingredients 

1x whole cabbage

1 kg pork belly

3x tins of crushed tomatoes with juice

2x tablespoons of salt

Fresh black pepper to taste

 

Method

Cut the whole cabbage up into small thin slices.

Rub 2 tablespoons of salt into the cabbage and place it into an extra-large cooking pot. Fill pot with water until the cabbage is completely covered.

Cover pot on the stove top for about 1 hr until the cabbage is cooked, always topping up with water, ensuring cabbage retains water content.

Cut pork belly into small, bite size pieces. Panfry pork belly in a little oil in frying pan until thoroughly cooked and crispy.

Combine pork belly pieces with cabbage in the large cooking pot. Open 3x tins of crushed tomatoes and combine with the above mixture.

Cook for a further 40-50 minutes, adding small amounts of water if necessary, to cover mixture throughout cooking.

Grind black pepper to taste at the end.

Ideally served with toast.