Posts Tagged ‘lithuanian’

The warm weather has finally arrived here in New England, and that means it’s time to break out a classic summer recipe.

It’s interesting that an Eastern European country that is as far north as Newfoundland has one of the most refreshing cold summer soups of any country in Europe. It’s a cold beet soup called Šaltibarščiai (pronounced shul-tih barsh-chay) and it’s classic Lithuanian cooking at its best.

No summer was complete without my Mom’s Šaltibarščiai on the table, and my Dad always insisted on eating it with boiled potatoes on the side. Now residing in an assisted living facility, my Mom has not had this soup in many years, so I made her a batch when she came to visit recently.

There are many different variations of this soup. For example, many Lithuanians today use keffir instead of buttermilk. My Mom insists buttermilk tastes better.

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1 quart buttermilk
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 beets, cooked, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1 scallion, finely chopped, greens only
salt
a pile of boiled potatoes (optional)

 

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. If it’s very thick, you can dilute it a bit with fresh water.

Peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl. Peel, seed and chop the cukes…then into the bowl.

I love Love Beets, hermetically sealed cooked and peeled beets, ready to use, available in most supermarkets. (In the old days, my Mom would simply use canned beets.) I open a couple of packs of Love Beets, pouring the beet juice into the bowl. I chop the beets and add them as well.

Grab some fresh dill and chop it finely. Add it to the bowl. Finely chop the greens of one or two scallions and sprinkle some salt on them. Rub the salt into the scallions, mashing them a bit, softening them. Then add the to the bowl.

Stir everything together, put a lid on the bowl, and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Remove from fridge, stir, and season with more salt if needed.

 

When I first told my friends that I grew up in a Lithuanian family, that we only spoke Lithuanian at the dinner table, that I went to Lithuanian Saturday school for 8 years, that I was a Lithuanian boy scout…they looked at me with a bit of disbelief. On the surface, I looked just like any other American-born kid that grew up in the suburbs. But the home life was vastly different.

Few things were stranger to my friends than the food we ate. While all my “American” friends had PB&J’s for lunch, I had a liverwurst sandwich on dark Lithuanian bread. While my friends struggled with broccoli, I was force-fed beets. And while my friends ate macaroni with jarred tomato sauce, my Mom served macaroni with sour cream and butter. (Nobody called it pasta back then.)

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Few things prove you are a true Lithuanian more than an appetite for herring. (Silke (sil-keh) in Lithuanian.) I loved it at an early age. Didn’t matter if it was in a cream sauce with onions, in a tomato casserole with chopped boletes, or perhaps my favorite: an appetizer my Mom prepared only twice a year when my Dad’s buddies came over to play rounds of bridge all night.

There are a few basic ingredients that make this appetizer work…

First and foremost, you need a bottle of good vodka in the freezer. Despite their lack of love for anything Russian, Lithuanians knew a good vodka when they saw one, and Stolichnaya has been the favorite for many years. Even now, with hundreds of vodkas to choose from, I still go to the red labeled Stoli bottle for this dish. I get a plastic juice pitcher, place the bottle of Stoli inside it, and fill with water just below the brand name on the label. I have a deep freezer that allows me to keep the pitcher right-side up until frozen.

Obviously, good quality herring is essential. Though I can get fresh when I’m back home on Long Island, the usual choice is from a jar. For me, there’s no better quality than Acme products out of Brooklyn, NY. (If you saw the episode of “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern where he visited a salmon processing plant in Brooklyn, that was Acme Smoked Fish.) You can find them in many supermarkets. Blue Hill Bay herring in dill marinade (an Acme product) is wonderful and can be found at Whole Foods.

Next: hard-boiled eggs that have cooled in the fridge. Get out the old egg slicer that’s been sitting in the kitchen  drawer for the last decade and use it for this appetizer.

Red onion, sliced thin. How much you use is up to you. But it’s gotta be red and it’s gotta be raw.

And finally, Lithuanian bread. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s easy to find in most Polish or German food stores in the New York area. I buy a loaf when I’m home and then keep it in the freezer to enjoy throughout the year. Lithuanian bread is like the lovechild of rye bread and pumpernickel.

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To make the appetizer, simply place a small piece of Lithuanian bread, about 1 1/2″ square, on a plate. Place a slice of hard-boiled egg on top of it. On top of that, some red onion. Then finally, a piece of herring.

 

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Pop the whole thing in your mouth, and wash it down with a small amount of frozen vodka. No shots–this isn’t a frat house. Besides, you won’t make it to the end of dinner. Then again, you may not care at that point!

I never learned how to play bridge, but I’m sure my Dad would be proud that I remembered this treat.

 

I think half my childhood was spent in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-DOO-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand at lightning speed. Some Lithuanian cooks make the dough, roll it out into a large flat sheet with a rolling-pin, then cut circles out with a glass or a cookie cutter. But my Mom and grandmother used a different method: they’d roll the dough into a log, cut it into 1″ pieces, and then twirl each piece in their hands to make a flat pancake that they would then fill with a spoonful of meat or mushrooms. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these perfectly shaped dumplings in no time, placing them on a sheet pan and freezing them until it was time to cook.

One of the main reasons koldūnai beat pierogis every time is the filling. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then take a spoonful of the raw meat mixture and plop it in my mouth. “Enough salt?” she’d ask. I loved the taste of the raw beef like that…probably why I always order beef tartare when I see it on a restaurant menu.

The mushroom filling was usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas and Easter. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. They’re called baravykai (buh-ruh-VEE-kayh), and when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of cheaper button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year…the real deal. (They’d even have a radiation-free certification sticker on the bag, thanks to Chernobyl!) Mom would place a handful of the dried mushrooms in some boiling water and they would rehydrate, nice and plump, and could then easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

Basic Polish pierogi fillings include sauerkraut or potatoes with cheese. There’s no question the Lithuanians got this round.

koldunas-dough

It was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. My challenge was a bit more daunting: I needed to make them gluten-free as well. My sister, whose family lives the GF lifestyle, told me that they simply exchange all-purpose flour for gluten-free flour and it works fine. I had my doubts and first tried a recipe I found online that used a slurry of cottage cheese, eggs, and milk with the flour, but I found that it was overkill. The dough was very sticky and hard to work with. So I tried the simple recipe of water and flour (a half-cup of water for every cup of gluten-free flour) and it worked well.

Wearing disposable nitryl gloves was a stroke of genius. Not only were my hands protected from the sticky dough, it seemed that the dough didn’t stick to the gloves. I poured a cup of GF flour into a stainless steel bowl, added a half-cup of water to it, and mixed it around with my hands until it formed a ball of dough that pulled away from the sides of the bowl cleanly. (Sometimes a little more water or flour would be needed.)

I dusted a board with more flour, and moved the flour from the bowl onto the board. I kneaded it into a long log, about a foot long and 1 1/2″ thick. I cut it into 12 equal pieces, about 1″ wide.

Taking one cut piece, and using my thumbs, I twirled the dough around, flattening it into a small pancake, the way I remember my Mom and grandmother used to do it.  I placed a teaspoon of filling in the center of the pancake, then folded one side over so that it met the edges of the other side. I pressed with my fingers to make the two halves stick together and formed a seal.

 

The beef filling. I decided to wear gloves soon after this photo.

The beef filling. I decided to wear gloves soon after this photo.

The biggest challenges I had with making koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. But once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make a couple of dozen. I placed them on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil (you can also use parchment paper) and placed them in the freezer to harden. Once hard, they go in freezer bags until ready to boil.

I made 3 types of koldūnai: mushroom, beef, and mac-and-cheese (by my daughter’s request.)

koldunai

The mushroom filling was nothing more than chopped button mushrooms combined with chopped porcinis that had been rehydrated, all sautéed in butter. The mac-and-cheese filling was a gluten-free mac-and-cheese dinner out of a box.

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For the beef filling…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten-free)
1/4 cup milk

 

To make the breadcrumbs, I took a couple of slices of whole grain gluten-free bread and toasted them. Then I ground them up in a blender or food processor. The taste is far better than store-bought GF breadcrumbs, which usually are rock-hard rice nuggets.

I finely chopped the onion and sautéed it in a little butter until translucent. I let it cool, then added it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. I added the egg, the breadcrumbs, and the milk. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and I mixed everything thoroughly, keeping the meat mixture in the fridge until I needed it.

 

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

No Lithuanian koldūnas recipe is complete without spirgučiai…

1 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. I don’t drain the fat, but you can if you’re a wuss. Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside. These are called spirgučiai, (spir-guh-chay) and they are sprinkled on top of the finished koldūnai, just before serving. (My Mom always kept a stash of spirgučiai in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

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Once you’ve made the koldūnai, it’s up to you if you want to cook them right away or freeze them for later. Either way, when you’re ready, get a large pot of salted water boiling. Salt, just like when boiling pasta, is essential in giving the dough flavor.) Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them. If the dough is thin, they will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and a taste!)

You can serve them straight out of the boiling water, but dropping them in a pan with a little butter to lightly sauté them a bit before serving is really the way to go.

When plating, sprinkle generously with spirgučiai, and serve with sour cream.

Enjoying each variety of koldūnai on a cold winter's night with friends.

Enjoying each variety of koldūnai on a cold winter’s night with friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think half my childhood was spent in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-doo-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand at lightning speed. Some Lithuanian cooks would make the dough, roll it out into a large flat sheet with a rolling-pin, then cut circles out with a glass or a cookie cutter. But my Mom and grandmother used a different method: they’d roll the dough into a log, cut it into 1″ pieces, and then twirl each piece in their hands to make a flat pancake that they would then fill with a spoonful of meat or mushrooms. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these perfectly shaped dumplings in no time, placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing them until it was time to cook them.

One of the main reasons koldūnai beat pierogis every time is the filling. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then take a spoonful of the raw meat mixture and plop it in my mouth. “Enough salt?” she’d ask. My sisters and I loved the taste of the raw beef like that…probably why I always order beef tartare when I see it on a restaurant menu.

The other stuffing, usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas and Easter, was made from mushrooms. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. And when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of cheaper button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year…the real deal. Mom would place a handful in some boiling water and let them steep until they swelled up and could easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d then pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

Common pierogi fillings are potatoes or sauerkraut. I think the Lithuanians got this round.

Not perfect, but not bad for a first attempt. I made sure the exposed meat was covered by dough before placing in the freezer. otherwise, they would open up in the boiling water and make a mess.

Not perfect, but not bad for a first attempt. And the GF dough was tough to deal with at first. I made sure the exposed meat was covered by dough before placing in the freezer. Otherwise, they would open up in the boiling water and make a mess.

 

So this past Christmas Eve, I decided it was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour and a little salt to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. My challenge was a bit more daunting: I needed to make them gluten-free as well. My sister, whose family lives the GF lifestyle, told me that they simply exchange all-purpose flour for gluten-free flour and it works fine. But my experience in trying to bake bread or make pizza dough with gluten-free flour told me that the dough would be tough to work with and would lack the elasticity found in dough made with gluten, so I wanted another option. I found an old recipe on-line that still used the individual GF ingredients (rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, etc.) before the advent of Cup 4 Cup, the all-purpose gluten-free flour I now use religiously. I decided I’d substitute my go-to flour for those ingredients and add it to the rest of the recipe. What I got was a soft dough that was relatively easy to work with, just a little sticky.

The biggest challenges I had with making my koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. Once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make 24 gluten-free koldūnai–not all perfect, but not bad for a first try.

Since my wife is allergic to mushrooms, I had to skip them this time around and used a ground beef filling instead. And, by my daughter’s special request, I also made 4 mac-and-cheese koldūnai, also gluten-free using GF mac-and-cheese.

The ground beef filling was easy…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten-free)
1/4 cup milk

 

Finely chop the onion and saute it in a little butter until translucent. Let it cool, then add it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. Add the egg, the breadcrumbs, and the milk. Season with salt and pepper. Mix ingredients thoroughly and keep the meat in the fridge until ready to use.

 

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

 

1 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. I don’t drain the fat, but you can if you’re a wuss. Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside. These are called spirgučiai, (spir-guh-chay) and they are sprinkled on top of the finished koldūnai, just before serving. (My Mom always kept a stash in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

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1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 large egg
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil (I don’t ever use canola or vegetable oils)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)

Place the flour in a bowl. In a blender, combine the cottage cheese, egg, milk olive oil and salt. Blend until smooth. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl with the flour and knead by hand, forming a dough.

Dust a board with more flour, and move the flour from the bowl onto the board. Knead it into a long log, about a foot long and 1 1/2″ thick. Cut it into 12 equal pieces, about 1″ wide.

Take one cut piece, and using your thumbs, twirl the dough around, flattening it into a small pancake. (Feel free to use a small rolling-pin, if that’s easier.) Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of the pancake, then fold one side over so that it meets the edges of the other side. Press with your fingers to make the two halves stick together and form a seal. (You may need to dab a little water on one edge with a small pastry brush to help make it sticky enough to seal it.)

Place the koldūnai on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and when you’re done, place the sheet pan in the freezer.

Get a large pot of salted water boiling. Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them…about 6 at a time. If the dough is thin, the koldūnai will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and taste!)

When plating, sprinkle generously with spirgučiai, and serve with sour cream.

Mac-and-cheese koldūnai!

Mac-and-cheese koldūnai!

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s interesting that an Eastern European country that is as far north as Newfoundland has one of the most refreshing cold summer soups of any country in Europe. It’s a cold beet soup called Šaltibarščiai (pronounced shul-tih barsh-chay) and it’s classic Lithuanian cooking at its best.

No summer was complete without my Mom’s Šaltibarščiai on the table, and my Dad always insisted on eating it with boiled potatoes on the side. Now residing in an assisted living facility, my Mom has not had this soup in many years, so I made her a batch when she came to visit recently.

There are many different variations of this soup. For example, many Lithuanians today use keffir instead of buttermilk. My Mom insists this is a “Russian influence” and not a good thing. I just think buttermilk tastes better.

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1 quart buttermilk
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 beets, cooked, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1 scallion, finely chopped, greens only
salt
a pile of boiled potatoes (optional)

 

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. If it’s very thick, you can dilute it a bit with fresh water.

Peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl. Peel, seed and chop the cukes…then into the bowl.

I love Love Beets, hermetically sealed cooked and peeled beets, ready to use, available in most supermarkets. (In the old days, my Mom would simply use canned beets.) I open a couple of packs of Love Beets, pouring the beet juice into the bowl. I chop the beets and add them as well.

Grab some fresh dill and chop it finely. Add it to the bowl. Finely chop the greens of one or two scallions and sprinkle some salt on them. Rub the salt into the scallions, mashing them a bit, softening them. Then add the to the bowl.

Stir everything together, put a lid on the bowl, and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Remove from fridge, stir, and season with more salt if needed.

 

As a kid, I always knew my grandmother loved me. After all, she told me that every time I visited her on Saturday afternoons. She lived in Queens, NY, and we’d visit after sitting through 5 long hours of Lithuanian school in Brooklyn every Saturday morning.

By the time we got to my grandmother’s house, it was mid-afternoon, and I was starving. She’d greet me with a smile and a kiss on the forehead, and she’d proudly put a plate full of koldūnai (Lithuanian pierogis, usually stuffed with meat instead of potatoes or sauerkraut, and way better) in front of me, steam rising off the freshly-boiled koldūnai, with spirgučiai (fried bacon and onion bits) generously sprinkled on top, and a dollop of sour cream on the side.

There were times when I could eat 20 of them. However many I had, it seemed that she still had more, and I never thought for a moment about where they came from. I guess I knew that she made them, but I never really thought about what that meant.

Now I cook for my 8-year-old daughter, and the other day, she asked for one of her favorite dishes: ham and cheese croquettes. It’s a long and messy process to make them: boiling and mashing potatoes, chopping up slabs of ham, grating piles of cheddar cheese, mincing onions. Then rolling the croquette filling in flour, egg and breadcrumbs before frying them.

Whether I make six or sixty, the kitchen is trashed afterwards, so I went with the larger number…62, to be exact. (They freeze well.)

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It’s not hard work, but it’s tedious. After making 30 croquettes, my back was aching from standing hunched over the kitchen counter. And I was only half done. I tried pulling up a stool, but that didn’t help, so I popped a few ibuprofen and kept going, finally frying that last croquette, turning the heat off the oil, and standing back to see a kitchen counter covered in egg, flour, breadcrumbs, and mashed potatoes. The cooking was done but the cleanup was just beginning.

My daughter stepped off the school bus at the end of the driveway, and I greeted her with a kiss on the forehead, telling her I loved her. We walked back to the house, and I asked her about her day, all the time knowing that I had a special treat waiting for her that I couldn’t wait to show her.

We walked into the house and she saw the trays of croquettes. I placed a couple of them on a plate and she sat down, eyes wide open, and took her first crunchy bite. The heartfelt “Mmmmm” that came from deep inside her gave me a real sense of satisfaction. My hours of work had paid off with one simple bite. Few things could’ve made me happier at that moment than the smile on her face.

And then I thought of my grandmother.

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What I did that day, she did for me every Saturday without fail. And she was a lot older than I am now.

She loved me, alright. Funny how it took almost 40 more years for me to realize just how much.

It’s interesting that an Eastern European country that is as far north as Newfoundland has one of the most refreshing cold summer soups of any country in Europe. It’s a cold beet soup called Šaltibarščiai (pronounced shul-tih barsh-chay) and it’s classic Lithuanian cooking at its best.

No summer was complete without my Mom’s Šaltibarščiai on the table, and my Dad always insisted on eating it with boiled potatoes on the side. Now residing in an assisted living facility, my Mom has not had this soup in many years, so I made her a batch when she came to visit recently.

There are many different variations of this soup. For example, many Lithuanians today use keffir instead of buttermilk. My Mom insists this is a Russian influence and therefore not a good thing. I just think buttermilk tastes better.

securedownload

 

Ingredients:

1 quart buttermilk

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

8 beets, cooked, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1 scallion, finely chopped, greens only

salt

a pile of boiled potatoes (optional)

 

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. If it’s very thick, you can dilute it a bit with fresh water.

Peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl. Peel, seed and chop the cukes…then into the bowl.

I love Love Beets, hermetically sealed cooked and peeled beets, ready to use, available in most supermarkets. (In the old days, my Mom would simply use canned beets.) I open a couple of packs of Love Beets, pouring the beet juice into the bowl. I chop the beets and add them as well.

Grab some dill and chop it finely. Add it to the bowl. Finely chop the greens of one or two scallions and sprinkle some salt on them. Rub the salt into the scallions, mashing them a bit, softening them. Then add the to the bowl.

Stir everything together, put a lid on the bowl, and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Remove from fridge, stir, and season with more salt if needed. Serve with boiled potatoes, if you like.