I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga,” and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call “impletata.”
-from Chapter 1 of Dracula by Bram Stoker: Jonathan Harker’s Journal, kept in shorthand
This year, before reading the first chapter of Dracula, I asked my students to think about whether or not they like Jonathan Harker as a person. It turns out, not very many of them did. They thought he acts too superior. Harker is the worst kind of tourist, the kind of tourist who describes both the mountain landscape and the humans who live in it as “picturesque.” Also, he’s always collecting recipes for his absent fiance, Mina, to cook for him in his memoranda, which rubs some of the girls the wrong way.
Jonathan Harker is British, and Count Dracula is Romanian. Harker is a representative of one of the most successful colonial empires at the height of its power, and Count Dracula is based off of the Romanian folk hero, Vlad Tepes, a fierce Wallachian fighter who struggled to stave off the threat of Turkish invaders as they tried to assimilate Transylvania into the Ottoman Empire. Long before Bram Stoker actually demonized him, the West was already vilifying Vlad Tepes. We call him Vlad the Impaler because he stuck human bodies on stakes and allowed gravity to slowly kill them. The Romanians call him a hero because those bodies belonged to Ottoman Turks.
Gothic literature typically wrestles with the idea of power– who has it, who wants it, and the power hidden within vulnerability. On one hand, Dracula has power. He is a predator who can control nature, live forever, and come into women’s bedrooms at night to slowly suck them dry. On the other hand, Dracula has no power. He is an outsider, and he isn’t just attacking Jonathan Harker, he is attacking the British empire and invading London. And he fails.
But, it’s hard to completely condemn Jonathan Harker, possibly because I am too much like him. I go to other countries and get excited about the food. I conscientiously try to not be the worst kind of tourist- the invading, condescending, dehumanizing kind of tourist, but I have no idea how successful I am at the end of the day. I crawl around the globe like a fly on an orange, and my world is enlarged and my mind is opened to the diversity of this strange and beautiful world, but I am never really sure what kind of effect I have on the places that I’m whirling through. Maybe a good effect, maybe no effect, maybe a bad effect.
I don’t think Jonathan Harker was trying to be horrible as he marched East, but the clarifying passage of time has revealed him to be so. Sometimes I wonder what the passage of time will reveal about my own generation’s globetrotting shenanigans. My wonderings don’t mean I’m not going to travel the world- I’m taking a troop a students to Japan in March. But my wonderings do mean that I’m going to be thinking, thinking about the implications of my actions and the effect that I have on the world around me as I move through it. And I’m going to teach my students to think. Which was always the goal all along, after all.
Also, whatever recipes I stumble along in my travels, I will make myself. In the meantime, I’m going to attempt Jonathan’s impletata and give poor Mina a break. Unlike paprika hendl, impletata is not a real name for a dish. Bram Stoker was a researcher who took advantage of the British Library, not a tourist, so most of his sources are pretty transparent, and, as I learned from Colonel Mustard, most of his facts came from The Land Beyond the Forest by E. Gerard. But no one really knows what Stoker was talking about with “impletata.” Colonel Mustard has his interpretation, and Leonard Wolf, the Transylvanian annotator of the best edition of Dracula ever, decided it was possibly “patlagele impulute,” and gives a recipe for that. After googling forcemeat, and discovering that it is a mixture of ground meat and vegetables, I just decided to take it from there and give myself a little freedom. So the following is my recipe for impletata, inspired by Harker, Stoker, Mustard, Wolf, and Romania, but created by me.
- 2 eggplants
- 2 onions, chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef or lamb
- 4 tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup of spinach
- The leaves of 10 or so sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup of Hungarian paprika
- A few tablespoons of pinenuts
- feta for crumbling, Bulgarian if you can find it
- Several tablespoons of olive oil
- A couple of pats of butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and slice the eggplant in half and brush the sides in olive oil. Salt and pepper the eggplant flesh, and place face down on a baking sheet. Bake until done, about 20 minutes or so depending on the size of the eggplant. Meanwhile, saute the onions in half butter, half olive oil. Add the garlic, saute a little longer. Then add the ground beef, and cook until the meat is browned. Add the tomatoes, thyme, paprika, and cook until the liquid from the tomatoes has reduced and thickened. When the eggplants are cooked, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Cut out the flesh from the eggplant halves with a paring knife, chop up the flesh and add it, along with the spinach and pinenuts to the beef mixture. Fill the four empty eggplant shells with the beef mixture and sprinkle a good amount of feta over the top. Cook in the 400 degree oven for ten minutes or so. Remove the shells from the oven, let them cool, and them serve.