The Baltic region encompasses three Northern European countries to the East of the Baltic Sea. These are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and each has a varying range of dishes showcasing the region’s coastline and rugged mountainous terrain. From herring cakes to hearty beef stew, here are nine Northern recipes from Simon Bajada’s cookbook, Baltic, to highlight the region.
Historically in Latvia, bringing piragi to the table around celebrations and holidays would arguably be seen as similar to bringing whole lobsters to a barbecue – they served as a form of bragging rights, particularly at Jāņi, or midsummer, when the Latvian pagan god Jānis would traditionally be celebrated with (among other events) a feast.
This recipe makes a great starter if you are entertaining but is equally good to have to hand as a snack in the refrigerator – if well covered it will keep for days and the flavours will come together even better over time (just remember to give it a good mix through before serving). It’s also excellent on crispbread.
The cured egg yolks take a little time to prepare, but they are delicious and well worth your while. They are extremely versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes – tossed into salads, or served over pasta, for example – so it’s worth making up a larger batch if you do attempt them.
This is the ultimate comfort food and an iconic Lithuanian dish. Very similar to the Ashkenazi Jewish dish kugel, from which it is almost certainly derived, it is also typically made from potato.
Known to the people of the Aukštaitija region in Lithuania as bulbona, these potato pillows are more commonly called Švilpikai, which literally translates as ‘whistles’ due to the noise they sometimes make while they cook away in the oven.
Myth has it that this recipe was accidentally created in the sixties by a woman who was trying to make chocolate but added too much sugar, which turned her mixture into a syrup. To remedy this she tried to make it less liquid by adding some broken-up biscuits (cookies); she stirred them into the syrup and when it cooled, the first tinginys was created.
This is the ultimate in comfort food. It’s essentially a meaty gravy served over boiled potatoes, but don’t let this dish’s simplicity deter you from taking the time to cook it. The chef of recipe author Simon Bajada’s favourite Tallinn restaurant, Leib, passionately proclaimed his love of this dish to Bajada, recalling his fond childhood memories of experiencing it at his grandmother’s house.
Pure bee pollen, as well as wax mixed with bee pollen, is sold at markets in all three Baltic countries, with a hefty price tag that reflects the value placed on its many health benefits. You can also find it in health food stores or online.
This impressive-looking layer cake is surprisingly easy to make. Its best feature (besides look and taste) is that with time it will only improve. The baked biscuit-like layers are softened by sour cream frosting meaning it's a make-ahead dream.
Recipes and photography from Baltic by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant, RRP $50).
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Crispy pierogi are not a common dumpling, but they are a great alternative to uszka with clear red borscht and also work well with zurek. You should eat these on the side of soups, so that they retain their crunchy consistency. Baked pierogi require a slightly different dough, similar to that of the famous Russian kulebiak, which is just one massive ornately decorated dumpling.
Beef stroganoff to a Russian is like a carbonara to an Italian. Something we just whip up without a recipe in little time using very few ingredients.
Pouzy, a large steamed dumpling comes from the Russian Cossack community of Sydney’s Kemps Creek. Filled with a mixture of minced meats and cabbage, these dumplings are characterised by their large size and thick casings.
The Russian version of Chinese dumplings, this recipe is said to have been spread through Siberia via Mongol invaders. Other theories suggest pelemeni are of Persian origin, from the Persian name pel’n’an’.
This recipe for hugubsha comes from the Russian Cossack community in Sydney’s west. It makes 12 bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, for which you will need 12 toothpicks.