While there is just one true Mamaliga, made only from boiled salt water and cornmeal (always yellow, period!), there are several other Romanian dishes based it, or that include it in some way.
Historically, Romanians ate this golden bread (made from cornmeal) as a replacement to bread made from wheaten flour. It was inexpensive, easy to do every day, in every season and could be found in every household.
Over time, using their own imagination, housewives added different ingredients. The results were many and varied, some being served as main dishes, others as a side dish.
There are two basic methods used to prepare this dish:
- traditional mamaliga
- you’ll find it at the countryside and in some homes in towns where people love it more than their own time
- you need about an hour to cook it and a little bit of hard work
- it’s made of large ground maize, is hard and can be cut into slices
- quick mamaliga – in fact “hurried” would be the more appropriate translation but it doesn’t sound all that appetizing in English
- this recipe is similar to polenta and can be found in just about every restaurant
- city folks seem to prefer this method, as it’s both easier and faster (about 15 minutes) to prepare
- it’s made from thin ground maize and is soft (think of mashed potatoes)
Fill your favorite cooking pot about half full with cold water. Add about as much salt as you might use for the same quantity of soup.
Place the burner on high and after the water begins to boil add the cornmeal. Using your hands as a scoop, fill them with cornmeal, move them over the pot, then allow the cornmeal to flow out of your hands into the center of the pot where it will take the form of an iceberg. Repeat this process until the top of the “iceberg” reaches to about the ยพ full point.
Turn the burner to “low” for 10 – 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pot. Drain the water and put the pot back on the burner and begin mixing. Mash out any lumps with the side of a wooden spoon. Constantly stir to prevent sticking. When the mixture becomes thick and hard to stir, remove it from the burner. Dip a wooden spoon in cold water and push the cornmeal from the edge to the center of the pot.
Return to low heat for 1-2 minutes, without stirring, to release steam and loosen mixture from the bottom of the pan. Overturn the pot on a wooden platter. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes then cut it in slices with dental floss.
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
7 cups water
Tip: Use 8 cups of water for a softer mamaliga or 6 cups for a harder one.
Bring the water and salt to a boil. Pour a slow stream of cornmeal into the hot water while stirring vigorously to prevent lumps. After adding all the cornmeal stir for several minutes, then cover the pot. After about 10 minutes stir again, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and serve.