Aside from being super fun to say, mamaliga is a very delicious, very popular Romanian cornmeal porridge. I have many distinct memories of my dad’s mom, Baba Lida, making mamaliga for me and my twin sister. She’d do it up with tvorog (farmer’s cheese) and LOTS of sugar which was a super kid-friendly way of forcing us to eat porridge but it seems to me that the more popular mamaliga preparation for adults is with feta cheese!
In the spirit of me being me and always wanting to put the Emily Fedner spin on shit, I decided to make mamaliga, roll it into balls, stuff it with feta, raw garlic (fave ingredient alert) and dill (fave/most underrated herb alert), coat it in MORE cornmeal and pan-fry it. And if that wasn’t enough of a mamaliga perversion, I also decided to serve it with a sweet & spicy sour cream dipping sauce. Because why not?
Let’s do this.
PAN-FRIED MAMALIGA BALLS WITH FETA, GARLIC & DILL
*makes about 2 dozen balls
What you need
- 1 cup cornmeal (I like the stone-ground large kind) + extra for dredging
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1-2 tsp sugar
- 1 cup feta cheese
- 2-3 garlic cloves, grated
- 2 tbsp kefir or milk
- Fresh chopped dill to taste
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 tsp honey
- 1-2 tsp Bomba calabrese or chili oil of choice
- Salt to taste
What you do
First up, let’s make the mamaliga. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a large pot and slowly add the cornmeal. I like to employ a little shaking/sifting action when I’m adding the cornmeal to the pot to avoid clumps from forming but don’t worry, they’ll form anyways. So you do you.
Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot with a lid, keeping it cracked so steam can escape. Add salt + sugar at some point and cook the porridge until it’s nice and thick, about 45 min-1 hr. Remember to stir it every few minutes.
Set the porridge aside and allow it to cool completely (the fridge comes in handy here if you’re impatient AF like me).
While the mamaliga cools and congeals (yes! today congealing is a good thing!), mix up the filling by literally combining the ingredients I listed above in a bowl. Not that you asked, but the reason I recommend adding some sort of liquid dairy product (kefir, milk, cream) to the filling is to add some wetness and to help the grated garlic distribute more evenly.
During this point, you can also mix up the dipping sauce by literally mixing together the ingredients I listed above. Keep the sauce in the fridge until you’re ready for it.
Once the mamaliga has cooled completely, it’s time to form the balls:
Spoon about 2 tbsp worth of mamaliga into your greased palm. Use your other hand to flatten the porridge into a disc and create a little nest in the middle where you’ll place the filling. Add about a tsp worth of feta filling to the center of the flattened disc and work the edges around it, slowly enveloping the filling and creating a sphere. Roll/pat the ball a little to make sure the filling is fully trapped and place on a bowl or tray. Repeat the process until you run out of filling or cornmeal.
Next, prep your work station for frying: add dried cornmeal to a shallow bowl or plate (for dredging), and prepare another plate with paper towels where you’ll be placing the finished fried balls.
Heat about 1 inch of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet.
Roll each ball around in the cornmeal until it’s fully coated. It should be sticky enough so that the dried cornmeal sticks to it effortlessly but if you’re having trouble, feel free to first dunk the balls into a couple beaten eggs.
Test the heat of the oil by adding a tiny bit of mamaliga to it. If the porridge sizzles, it’s go time! Drop the coated balls into the skillet and fry on each side until they turn golden-brown. Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove them from the oil and place them on the paper towel plate to cool.
Plate up the pan-fried mamaliga balls, garnish with more dill if you’d like, and serve with your sour cream dipping sauce.