Assignment 118: Latvia

LAT mapLocation: Eastern Europe on the Baltic Sea
Population: 1.8 million
Capital: Riga
Geography: A heavily forested nation interspersed with farmland and wetland
Language: Latvian
Signature flavours: Dairy, eggs, potato, mushrooms, pork, fish, pickles, rye bread, dill, berries

The Menu

Eric has done quite a few Eastern European assignments, but it had been a while. He started his research on Wikipedia, then went searching for recipes, both online and in our Wooden Spoon Wanderer library. Latvian menus typically feature a lot of meat, and for our pescatarian version, he had to do a bit of tweaking. Ultimately, he created a menu that he felt showcased Latvian flavours. The next challenge would be finding ingredients in rural Ontario.

LAT soup

Sēņu Zupa: A rich, cream-based mushroom and potato soup.

Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Difficulty: 2/5

LAT cheese

Jānu Siers: A mild-flavoured cheese traditionally made in celebration of the summer solstice.

Prep and cooking time: 45 min plus chilling time
Difficulty: 3/5

LAT plate

Rasols: Potato salad loaded with dill pickles, apple, carrot, and peas, in a mayonnaise, smetana, and mustard dressing. 

Prep and cooking time: 45 min plus chilling time
Difficulty: 2/5

Karbonade: A breaded pork cutlet (seitan-based in our case) served with a mayonnaise, sprat, and garlic sauce.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

LAT squares

Alexandertorte: Delicate squares of flaky dough filled with raspberry jam and glazed with a lemon icing.

Prep and cooking time: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: 2/5

LAT kvass

Kvass: A refreshing, sweet, bubbly fermented beverage. This version is made from toasted rye bread and raisins.

Prep and cooking time: 3 days
Difficulty: 2/5

The Shopping List

This summer, a little market opened just down the road from our house. It’s called the 6&10 Euro Market (located at the intersection of highways six and ten), and there, we were thrilled to find our favourite pickles — Tymek’s — which we hadn’t enjoyed since living in Toronto. When Eric drew Latvia as his next assignment, he knew he would be stepping into the 6&10 again, this time with a shopping list in hand. The market supplied him with dried mushrooms, raspberry jam, smetana, sprats, and more Tymek’s pickles. Everything else he sourced from our local supermarket.

LAT ingredients

The Meal

Our kitchen is very cold in the winter, so if we need a dough to rise or some such, we put it in the living room. For two days, a huge tureen of some mysterious brown liquid sat on our coffee table. This, of course, was the kvass, quietly fermenting. We started our Latvian feast with a toast (priekā!) and a gulp of kvass. The beverage was very fizzy, with a toasty flavour and a strong sweetness, both from the raisins and the added sugar (food for the yeast — the drink will become less sweet in days to come). It is very mildly alcoholic — about 1%.

Eric called me into the kitchen the day before our meal to help make the jānu siers cheese. He was overwhelmed by the process, and especially by the cheese cloth, which he had never used. He let me take the lead as he read me the recipe. We were both dismayed when the milk failed to curdle after adding cottage cheese, and I suggested we add vinegar as a cheat. The vinegar made the milk curdle immediately, and we rinsed the curds to get rid of any acidity. They were then mixed with egg, salt, and caraway seed. The resulting jānu siers is mildly salty, and very pleasantly caraway-ish.

LAT fry

We both enjoyed the rasols, which wouldn’t be out of place at a Canadian picnic, and the seitan-based pork cutlet made a good stand-in for its meaty alternative. The sēņu zupa — mushrooms soup — was my favourite dish. It was richly creamy, and deeply warming on a winter night.

LAT soup stuff

We rounded off the meal with Alexandertorte. I love raspberry, and these squares were lovely. They were invented to commemorate Tsar Alexander III’s visit to Latvia in the late 19th century, and what’s good for Alexander was good for us, too.

LAT dough

One week later, Eric opened the last bottle of kvass, intending to pour himself a glass to have with dinner. For the last seven days, the kvass had been fermenting, unopened, at the back of the refrigerator. When Eric unscrewed the cap, our small village was rocked by an explosion unlike any the area had ever seen. The kvass erupted, sending sprays of sticky brown liquid in all directions. A deafening silence followed, as Eric — and I, a couple of steps away — took stock of the situation. Kvass stained the walls and ceiling, dripped off the cupboards, puddled on the floor up to five meters away, and coated the surprised dog. As we cleaned — laughing as we discovered more and more places the kvass had landed — Eric said, “You’ve got to add this to the Latvia blog post.”


Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

One Comment Add yours

  1. vjfreeman says:

    I always enjoy your blog, but this time I really chuckled at the kvass misadventure at the end!

    I hope you never run out of countries….


    Liked by 1 person

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