Interesting Fact: the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree began in Riga, Latvia in 1510
Often, it’s the countries I least expect that provide me with endless recipes I want to make. Which is what happened with the small Baltic country of Latvia. After much deliberation I curated a menu of meat, carbs and dill (what else do you want really?)
First up, piragi. These are baked dumplings similar to many other dumplings under similar names across Europe. These piragi are filled with bacon and onion (traditional in Latvia) though there are many other possible fillings.
For mains we had Karbonāde, which is pork cutlets with a chanterelle mushroom sauce. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find chanterelle mushrooms so we just used button mushrooms. Crumbing the pork cutlets in just flour then egg (no breadcrumbs) brings them up in a gorgeous brown crust. That paired with a creamy mushroom sauce and you have some excellent pork on your fork.
As sides we served boiled potatoes with dill and cauliflower in brown butter. The dill in the potatoes with sour cream gives off the most enticing smell and you can’t help but serving yourself an extra potato. The cauliflower in brown butter is elevated to new heights with the crunchy bread crumb and parmesan mixture sprinkled on top.
Dessert was possibly our most unusual meal of the night, rye bread pudding. Other sources call it more of a soup, so I guess it’s a pudding cross soup. Along with the rye bread is dried apricots, prunes, cinnamon and cloves so it takes like Christmas. Well, more specifically Christmas Cake, if it was a cold pudding. I almost didn’t make this pudding and I’m glad I did because it took me by surprise with how much I liked it and that’s what this journey is all about.
Piragi – recipe by SBS
250 g (9 oz) smoked bacon, cut into 1 cm (½ in) cubes
⅛ tsp ground cardamom
150 g (5½ oz) onion, finely chopped
vegetable oil, for frying (optional)
1 egg, whisked
50 ml (1¾ fl oz) full-cream (whole) milk
sour cream, to serve (optional)
280 ml (9½ fl oz) full-cream (whole) milk
70 g (2½ oz) butter
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
7 g (¼ oz) yeast
500 g (1 lb 2 oz/3⅓ cups) strong flour
1 large egg, whisked
- Add the bacon, cardamom and onion to a frying pan over a medium heat and sauté for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and the bacon fat has rendered (if the bacon is lean you may need to add a little vegetable oil). Set aside.
- To make the dough, heat the milk in a saucepan over a low heat until steaming. Stir in the butter, sugar and salt, then remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature (it’s important you do this, otherwise the heat can kill off the yeast).
- Combine the yeast and flour in a separate bowl, then stir through the cooled milk mixture. Add the egg to the bowl and, using your hand, bring the ingredients together to form a dough. Knead the dough in the bowl or on a floured work surface for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Roll the dough into a ball, return it to the bowl and cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel), then leave it to rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a baking tray with baking paper.
- When the dough is ready, roll it out on a floured work surface to a thickness of just over 5 mm (¼ in). Using a drinking glass or cookie cutter around 7 cm (2¾ in) in diameter, cut out as many circles as possible, re-rolling any trimmings.
- Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the centre of one of the pastry circles and fold it over to make a half-moon shape. Press and tuck the seam underneath the pastry, then transfer to the prepared baking tray. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, allowing 8 cm (3¼ in) space between the piragi when arranging them on the tray, then leave them in a warm place for 15 minutes to rise slightly.
- Whisk the egg and milk together in a small bowl to make a glaze and use it to brush the surface of the piragi generously. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with sour cream, if you like.
These freeze well, so it’s worth making up a double batch and freezing the extras for cooking later. Other filling combinations work well too – I tried smoked cod mashed with some boiled potato and dill and it was delicious! The possibilities are endless.
Karbonāde (Pork Cutlets With Chanterelle Cream Sauce) – recipe by Saveur
1⁄4 cup canola oil, plus more as needed
1 cup flour
10 (3–4-oz.) pork cutlets, pounded to 1/4″-thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, minced
4 cups roughly chopped chanterelle mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Place flour in a medium bowl, and whisk together eggs and 1⁄4 cup water in another medium bowl; set both aside. Season cutlets with salt and pepper, then dredge 3 cutlets in flour. Dip in egg mixture until evenly coated, then place in skillet; cook, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to serving platter and repeat with remaining cutlets, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
Add butter to skillet, then onion; cook, stirring often, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until they release their liquid and begin to caramelize, about 3 minutes. Add cream and cook, stirring, until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. To serve, pour sauce over cutlets, and sprinkle with parsley.
Puķu kāposti ar brūnu sviestu (Cauliflower with Brown Butter) – recipe by Latvian Eats
- 1 cauliflower
- 2 tbsp grated parmesan
- 1/4 lbs butter
- 4 tbsp breadcrumbs
- Break cauliflower in florets.
- Place cauliflower in a saucepan, add salt, cover with boiling water and simmer for 4-5 minutes until cauliflower is soft, but not mushy. Cooking time will depend on the size of florets.
- Drain the cauliflower and place on a serving plate, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat. Continue to simmer for couple more minutes, until butter turns light brown. Add breadcrumbs and cook for additional minute.
- Spoon the butter and crumb mixture over the cauliflower.
Kartupeli ar Dillēm (Boiled Potatoes With Dill) – recipe by Saveur
Kosher salt, to taste
2 lb. small Yukon Gold or new potatoes, unpeeled
1⁄3 cup sour cream
6 tbsp. minced fresh dill
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring an 8-qt. saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to pot with sour cream, dill, butter, salt, and pepper. Cover pan with lid and shake until potatoes are well coated. Transfer to large serving bowl, and season with additional salt and pepper.
Maizes Zupa (Rye Bread Pudding) – recipe by Saveur
10 oz. Latvian or dark rye bread, cut into 1″ cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 cup minced dried apricots
3⁄4 cup minced dried prunes
1⁄4 cup sugar, plus more to taste
2 tbsp. packed dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp. ground cloves
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
Sweetened whipped cream, to garnish
Heat oven to 350°. Place bread on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted and dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and pour over 4 cups boiling water; let sit for 20 minutes. Pass bread mixture through a food mill or coarse strainer into a 4-qt. saucepan; add apricots, prunes, sugars, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced and fruit softens, about 15 minutes; season with more sugar, if you like. Let cool to room temperature; garnish with whipped cream.