All Romanians eat ciorba, and it is good. I have a Romanian friend who lives in Korea who makes wonderful ciorba, but she said hers is borsch, so I looked up what the difference is between ciorba and borsch. It is the same thing just as I thought. The only difference is the people in the northern part of Romania call it borsch, and the others call it ciorba. Borsch is a Ukrainian word, and the people in the former Soviet States just north of Romania in the Ukraine and Moldova make this soup too, and call it borsch.
Romanians make up ciorba on a Saturday, and all week, when they are tired and busy, just heat it up when they get home from work. Many of them didn’t have microwaves when I was there, and this soup is easy to just heat up and eat.
Many didn’t have refrigerators either, so they would leave their soup in a covered pot and just put it in the pantry in the winter and open the window, and the pantry was as cool as a refrigerator. The people in the villages often just set their ciorba on the front porch to keep it cold.
As for my kids, ciorba is one of their favorite Romanian dishes. The Romanians often pinch bread up and put it in their ciorba, and my two youngest kids think that is the only way to eat soup. My kids, especially, my two youngest, are thrilled when I make ciorba.
To begin with, the basic ingredients are: meat cut into bite sized pieces, potatoes, carrots, tomato (optional), salt, parsley, and either vinegar or lemon juice. The meat they usually use is pork because it is the easiest meat to get in Romania. However, chicken or beef is sometimes used. Most Romanians have a garden, so the potatoes, carrots, tomato, and parsley usually come fresh out of the garden. In Romania, under Communism, the stores were bare, but it didn’t stop the Romanians from eating well.
Most families have a pig in their back yard, even those living in town. Pigs are easy and cheap to raise. Most families kill a pig the week before Christmas and have meat for the rest of the year. If they live in an apartment and are lucky, they will have a garden spot and a possibly a place for a pig in the country, but if they have a pig, they have to go there everyday to take care of the pig. Pigs have lots of babies, and when the pigs have babies, they keep some to make for meat, soap, lard, etc., sell some for money, and then keep one to have new baby pigs for the next year. They can feed the pigs almost anything. Many pigs in Romania live on left overs and weeds.
I begin by putting the pork into a big pot. The Romanians just automatically add water at this point, but I am an American, and my mother taught me to brown pork and beef before I cook it like this, so I have a tendency to put a little oil in the pan and brown the meat first. After the meat is browned, then I fill the pot with water. I put the pot back on the stove, cover it, and turn the fire on under it. When it begins to boil, I turn the fire down.
The next step is to wash, peel, and cut up the vegetables. The first vegetable I do are the carrots. Carrots are really hard, so take a long time to cook. The Romanians would boil them in a sauce pan on the stove, but I actually have a microwave, so after I cut the carrots up, I put them in a bowl, put a little water in the bottom of the bowl (not to cover them, but to steam them), then cover them with plastic and put them in the microwave until they are soft. I don’t cook the carrots in with the meat because carrots take the taste over, and you wouldn’t taste the pork anymore if you cook the carrots in with the pork. Carrots are sweet, and you aren’t making sweet soup, but sour soup.
While the carrots are cooking in the microwave, I peel and cut up the potatoes. I have actually used four potatoes, but that is only because they are so small here in Korea. If you are in a country where you can get the larger potatoes, you may only want to use two or three potatoes. After the potatoes are peeled and cut up, add them to the soup. They won’t take over the taste. If your fire is low, turn it up so the soup will boil again, and then turn the fire down so it won’t boil over.
While the meat and potatoes are cooking, the carrots will be done, but just leave them in the microwave for now. Cut the tomato up and put it in the soup. When a fork goes into the potatoes easily, add the soft carrots to the soup.
Next, add some salt, and some parsley. My Romanian friend insists on hunting down fresh parsley to put in her ciorba, but I just use the dried parsley out of a bag. I think my friend grew up in the country on a farm, and she is used to the fresh ingredients. The Romanians may not have had much because of Communism, but they had more than many of us had. I never considered looking for fresh parsley. I feel like it is a luxury.
Next, put a few drops of vinegar or lemon in your soup to make it sour. The Romanian lady who taught me to make this soup told me to use vinegar, but my Romanian friend here in Korea uses lemon, so I looked it up. It is common to use either one, but vinegar is easier to get in Romania than lemon because lemons don’t grow in Romania. That is probably why I was originally taught to use vinegar. The Romanians make vinegar too. They can make many things that Americans buy in the stores. Living where there isn’t anything in the stores teaches you a lot.
The ciorba is done. Usually, when I make this soup, I remove a bowl of it before I put the vinegar in it. My Korean son in law likes the soup, but he doesn’t like sour things. He likes to make his into his own creation: oriental ciorba. He adds soy sauce to his instead of vinegar or lemon. Since you are making yours at home, you can make it any way you like, but it is great sour!
The Romanians have really nice bread they eat on the side that is similar to large french bread. We usually eat bakery bread here because it is like the Romanian bread, but sometimes it is sold out, and it has been sold out the last two times we went shopping, but we have some nice bread rolls to eat on the side. If you are like many Romanians and my two youngest kids, you might even want to pinch your bread up and put it in your ciorba. Enjoy! We will, and all Romanians do.