THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Šaltibarščiai – cold beet root soup
Cepelinai – hot potato dumplings
So often we hear something like this from people “I remember Sundays when I was a child. My mom would make cepelinai (potato dumplings filled with meat) and we would all gather around in the kitchen for this special meal”. Sadly what we also hear is “I have no idea how to make these traditional Lithuanian foods”.
So, for those of you wanting to experience “true Lithuania” and wanting to remember the “good old days,” a few culinary musts are CEPELINAI, KUGELIS (potato pudding/cake) and ŠALTIBARŠČIAI (cold beetroot soup), accompanied of course by a glass of cold beer. Preferably Lithuanian beer.
Today we bring you the recipes for the šaltibarščiai and the cepelinai.
Now before I get into the recipes, it may be a good idea to explain why I was chosen to write this and other articles about preparing traditional Lithuanian food. I am not what you would call a great cook. With the exception of some amazing creativity with a barbecue, in the kitchen if I somehow prepare a marvelous meal it’s more a matter of luck rather than any amount of skill.
Some of the recipes may seem to be a little involved but actually they are not. All of the recipes I will give you are for meals I have prepared myself and I don’t mind one single bit telling you that they came out great!!! So the decision was made that if some one like me who needs to be supervised while in the kitchen so I don’t hurt myself can prepare these meals with success then I would be the best person to share these recipes with our dear readers. I’m sure that all of you will also meet with success when you prepare these traditional foods of Lithuania. After all, if I can do it...
Here is what you will need:
2 good sized Beets
2 Cucumbers about 6 inches/15cm long (the smaller ones have more taste)
1 Liter/4 cups Sour Milk or Butter Milk
1 cup Boiled Water
8 sprigs of Fresh Dill – Finely Chopped
250 ml./1 Cup Scallion Greens or Chives - Finely Chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Boil the beets for about 30 minutes.
After the beets cool enough so that they are comfortable to touch, peel off the skin.
Cut the beets into very thin strips – about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch wide and 2 inches long. This can be a little time consuming so some people will coarsely grate them instead.
Hard boil the 2 eggs and allow to cool completely
Boil the 1 cup of water and then chill it (it should be COLD)
Finely slice the cucumbers
Crush the egg yokes
Add everything together. Add the Beets, Cucumbers, Milk, Scallion Greens/Chives, Boiled Water that is now Chilled, 100 gr./6 Tablespoons of Sour Cream, Salt and Pepper to taste and mix well.
Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with the Dill. The Egg Whites can be finely chopped and added to the mixture or you can get a little creative and finely slice them and put on the soup for decoration.
Traditionally ŠALTIBARŠČIAI is served with hot boiled potatoes as a side dish.
And don‘t forget the Lithuanian Black Bread
Recipes for traditional foods for all nationalities will all have their little “twists“ added in based on the region of the country or from one family to another. The recipes for many traditional Lithuanian foods are the same. The recipe for Cepelinai is like this. Based on what region your family is from or how your grandmother preferred to make them, you will find a difference with the amount of raw grated potatoes and boiled potatoes used.
The next question is what kind of potatoes should be used???
It’s best to use what is considered a “white” potato.
OK OK OK – now before some one says – What a moron this guy is, ALL potatoes are WHITE please allow me to elaborate :o)
As an example, don’t use Red potatoes and there is a variety called Yukon Gold which will give you an OK constancy but the color will have a strange yellow tint to it. I’ll need my friends in California to help me out on this one – Hey Sig and Rima, I understand that out on the West Coast there is a variety of potato that’s PURPLE??? Could you shed some light on this please? What works best are U.S. varieties such as Idaho and Maine potatoes. Our good friends in Canada have those wonderful P.E.I spuds and russet potatoes from your Prairie Provinces will work just fine. Here in Lithuania and Eastern Europe I honestly don’t know what the variety of potato is called here. I just use the potatoes that are not the Red potatoes (now you can maybe start to understand why I need supervision while I’m in the kitchen so I don’t hurt myself).
Here is the basic ratio for Grated to Cooked potatoes – For every pound/.5 Kg. of Potatoes use 2 average size Potatoes for the Cooked Potatoes.
Peel 5 Lbs. of potatoes
Boil 8 average size potatoes
Grate the rest of the potatoes (apx. 4 Lbs.). When you grate the potatoes you need to use the side of the hand grater that has the SMALLEST holes if you want to get the correct constancy
In workable portions, place the grated potatoes in a doubled cheese cloth and squeeze dry.
Squeeze the liquid into a pan and let potato starch settle to the bottom. Carefully pour out the potato liquid and add the potato starch back into the grated potatoes.
Once the boiled potatoes have cooled a bit, put them into a ricer and then add to the grated potatoes and mix well. If you don’t have a ricer (I don’t) you can mash the boiled potatoes up with a potato masher and then add them to the grated potatoes and then mix VERY well. During the mixing add salt to taste.
The amount of meat depends on how much you use to fill each Cepelinas. It’s better to have some meat left over than run out so you may want to start with at least 600 gr./1.3 Lbs. of ground Pork.
Fry up a finely chopped onion and then add the ground pork and 2 teaspoons of Marjoram and cook until done. I may add that there is a spice mix called “Maltos Mėsos Prieskoniai” (Ground/Minced Meat Spices) that is sold in Lithuania and can be found in practically every kitchen in the country. It’s a blend of spices traditionally used in ground meat dishes including Celpelinai. It can be purchased at www.BalticValue.com
MAKING THE CEPELINAI
The amount of Potato and the amount of Meat used for each Cepelinas is something you just kind of figure out for yourself but to start with take about a half cup of the Potato mix (baseball/cricket ball size) and flatten it out. When you flatten it out it should be apx. a 6 inch/15 cm. circle ½ inch/1 cm. thick. Place 1-2 spoonfuls of the Meat filling in the center (apx. 1 inch/2 ½ cm. thick) and then roll the Potato mix around it and seal the edges and form into a small football (American football)/rugby ball. For me this is the most difficult part, trying to figure out how much Potato mix, how much Meat and then forming it all together but after 2-3 you get the hang of it.
Carefully put each Cepelinas into a large pot of salted boiling water. Some people put a spoonful of corn starch into the water to help keep the Cepelinai from falling apart. Boil 30 minutes and enjoy.
For toppings, some people enjoy a sauce made of fried bacon pieces and some enjoy Their Cepelinai with sour cream.
If this all sounds a little complex it really isn’t. It’s quite an easy meal to prepare. The most time consuming part is grating all the potatoes. In fact even with the people that are familiar with making dishes like Cepelinai and Kugelis that require A LOT of grated potatoes the reason they say that they don’t make these dishes more often is that it just takes so long to grate the potatoes.
Well a Lithuanian company has come to the rescue! There are a lot of kitchen machines on the market that do a lot of things but none of them actually grate potatoes to the consistency required for dishes like Cepelinai, Kugelis and Potato Pancakes to name a few. It figures that a Lithuanian company would understand what a machine needs to do to grate potatoes to the correct consistency. This machine which is known as the “Electric Potato Grater” has become an extremely popular item here in Lithuania because it is FAST!!! You can grate 10 Lbs/5 kg. of potatoes in minutes. For more information about this Electric Potato Grater you can go to www.BalticValue.com They have the machine in BOTH the 110 Volt and 220 Volt models and they ship all over the world.
Enjoy your Šaltibarščiai and enjoy your Cepelinai.
The next recipe will be for one of my personal favorites KUGELIS!!!
Skanaus – Vin Karnila
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