If you had asked me to develop a mamaliga recipe (Romanian polenta) 15 years ago, I would have probably laughed. While I loved my mother's food growing up, I never really connected with traditional Romanian dishes. I'm sure it's because I grew up during the internet era when speaking English was far cooler than speaking Romanian and learning how to act "foreign" was my sport of choice.
I never really feel like I belong in Romania. I didn't like the traditions, the language, the history, the cityscape. Yet here I am, at the age of 30 realising there is beauty in all of it. Ask me about my country and I will tell you how people still perform some of the most intriguing cultural activities to welcome Spring or scare away the Winter.
Ask me about the food, and I will tell you how the Roman blood, running through our veins made us put such emphasis on grand family time on Sundays, where there's no table without laughter, grandparents and grandchildren, traditional dishes and, of course, Romanian polenta.
It's easy to want to be different and reject your own identity until one day, when you are an adult, you learn to appreciate the good and the bad about your own heritage. And then, you learn to like it and have this urge to discover it. From annoying and bothering, it becomes a mysterious temptress, luring you in. And where there is curiosity, there will always be a great adventure.
So one day I woke up, determined to learn everything there is to know about my own culture. Besides, I have one incredible advantage: I speak the language, which enables me to mingle with locals and make my way to the most remote mountain villages, some still trapped in a time capsule.
And that's exactly why, I started experimenting with traditional Romanian cuisine, as the first step towards a rediscovery of a lifetime.
I'm a true believer in storytelling. I think this is what brings us together, as humans. In Romania, stories fuel a special flame inside each and every single one of us. Perhaps the most interesting thing to do is to learn, from locals how to cook Romanian dishes. But before you get to that mamaliga recipe, there is a dance you must perform: the dance of stories.
As you go to a remote village, the air is clean and crisp. You will most likely pass a wooden gate and be welcomed by a scruffy mountain dog, harmlessly barking to announce your presence. The old granny will appear on the porch with large chipped frames decorated with braids of garlic, like beautiful amulets against vampires, bad spirits and ghosts.
She's wearing old and raggy clothes, knitted by herself. A wool vest to keep her back warm, as she knows all too well that drafts can make one's waist hurt for days. Or so, it is a common belief there.
She invites you to sit down, in that chair by the traditional fireplace. You've never seen such a thing, as it is a giant block in the room, covered with terracotta tiles. But it's nice and warm. You have questions and before you even start, she sits down into her rocking chair and starts knitting in quiet. And as you wait patiently, the silence creates the first bond, side by side but didn't speak.
And then the stories begin. A frail voice starts telling you about life which you never even though it's possible. A remote existence, self-sufficient in a way, with its own hardships. Mesmerised, you stare at how the knitting needles move to form an intricate pattern. Hours of stories later, you are getting hungry and you cannot wait to learn something authentic, traditional. Romanian polenta is almost always on the menu, as cornmeal is cheap, easy to store and long-lasting. Learning a Romanian recipe from a local feels as if you somehow became part of the stories and you can freely take a piece of history, home, with you.
At least, this is how it always feels like to me, when someone kindly teaches me an old recipe which has been passed down for generations.
Mamaliga (Romanian Polenta)
Mamaliga has almost always been considered a peasant food usually used as a substitute for bread. It was considered a staple food in poor rural areas. Nowadays, you won't find a truly traditional Romanian feast without mamaliga. Usually served as a side next to grilled meat or stuffed cabbage rolls, mamaliga is on all traditional Romanian restaurants' menus. It can be served slightly runnier, on the side, or as a cake (like this mamaliga recipe) or as a ball grilled on fire stuffed with cheese and dairy products.
Eating mamaliga won't just mean indulging in a piece of Romanian history but savouring history for the whole of humanity. Porridge is the oldest form of consumption of grains before bread was ever invented. We used to primarily consume millets or wild wheat.
Before the introduction of maize in Europe in the 16th century, Romanian polenta was made with millet flour or as the Romans called it in Latin: pulmentum.
Maize was introduced into Spain by Hernán Cortés from Mexico in 1530 and spread in Europe in the 16th century. Maize requires a good amount of heat and humidity. The Danube Valley is one of Europe's regions ideal for growing maize. 
In an edition of Larousse, the French dictionary, in the Danubian principalities, the existence of corn-based mămăligă dates from 1873. mamaligma s. f. Boiled cornmeal.
The quick and easy mamaliga recipe (Romanian polenta)
To make this mamaliga recipe you will need cornmeal (polenta), water, oregano, rosemary, paprika, salt, vegan butter (or plant margarine) and nutritional yeast. Traditionally, we use dairy butter and cheese for Romanian polenta, but of course, we are vegan, so it's only natural to make it dairy-free.
The nutritional yeast will give a nutty and cheesy taste, while the salt and paprika will emphasis the beautiful, sweet taste of cornmeal.
I love fresh herby aromas, so I add a little oregano and rosemary to the mixture. The result is a lot more flavoursome and earthy, especially once the polenta sets.
Add the water and salt to a non-stick pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add the polenta, oregano, rosemary, cumin paprika and nutritional yeast. Whisk continuously to prevent any lumps. Turn the heat down and simmer until is thickened for around 3 minutes.
Add the vegan butter and whisk again to ensure it's all smooth and nice. Transfer the polenta to a round casserole dish or to a cast iron skillet. Let it cool then refrigerate for about an hour until it sets and becomes firm.
You can heat it up directly in the skillet (just add a little olive oil to it) or in a different, slightly oiled frying pan. Fry it for about 3 minutes on each side until fully crisp.
That's it. Serve Romanian polenta hot or cold (as per your taste) and store in the fridge for up to 3 days, although it's best consumed while fresh. Enjoy your meal or as we say it in Romanian: Poftă bună!
This recipe has been developed entirely by Yuzu Bakes. Any resemblance with other recipes is purely coincidental.