Reason #3,845 why I love Anya von Bremzen's Please to the Table: In addition to recipes for run-of-the-mill Russian food--borsht, etc.--Anya features food from the former Soviet republics. Everyone knows about kasha and blinis, but have you ever heard of a tokana? Neither have I. According to Anya, tokana is a "Moldavian stew suffused with garlic, fresh tomatoes and sweet paprika." I've been eyeing the recipe for mushroom tokana for a while, so I made it for lunch last week.
Pay no mind to the token photo. I've yet to discover how to make stews look attractive in pictures. But the tokana itself was surprisingly good. I was expecting something like a paprika-flavored tomato sauce, but instead I got a chunky, sweet-and-sour veggie stew. The recipe is online and I followed it almost to the letter. All you do is sauté mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes (I used canned) and garlic; flavor with sweet paprika, thyme, fennel seeds (I tossed in some leftover braised fennel) and white wine; and simmer for 15 minutes.
I thought tokana would work well with beef, so a few days later I made a beef stew using the same combination of veggies and spices. I browned some cubed stewing beef, tossed in the sautéed, paprika-and-thyme spiced veggies and simmered for two hours. The sweet and sour, veggie-laded beef was pretty good but I liked the vegetarian version better.
Anya suggests mamaliga, a Moldavian/Romanian corn mush (i.e. polenta), as a side. I've never had polenta so I made a practice version and I'm still split about it. Cooked with water, as suggested, polenta is just blah. Cooked with stock or milk and butter—Anya’s recipe calls for a stick and a half!--polenta isn't bad. I have to grudgingly admit that polenta is pretty good comfort food, but I still think it’s best eaten for breakfast with milk and called by its plain-Jane name: cornmeal porridge.