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Friday, April 2, 2010

Lithuanian Cuisine

The products featured in Lithuanian cuisine are suited to the country’s cool and moist nothern climate: barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries and mushrooms are locally grown and dairy products are a specialty of the country. The cuisine of Lithuania has much in common with other Eastern European cuisines (Polish, Ukranian and Russian).

Because of their common heritage, Lithuanians, Poles and Ashkenazi Jews share many dishes and beverages. There are similar types of dumplings (koldunai, kreplach or pierogi), doughnuts spurgos or (paczki) and blynai crepes, (bliny or blintzes). German traditions come through in pork and potato dishes such as potato pudding (kugelis or kugel) and potato sausages (vedarai) as well as the baroque tree cake, known as Sakotis.

From Eastern (Karaite) cuisine come exotic dishes such as kibinai and ceburekai which are popular in Lithuania. „Torte Napoleon" was introduced during Napoleon’s passage through Lithuania in the 19th century.

The Soviet occupation put a dent into Lithuanian cuisine but as of the restoration of independence in 1990 traditional cuisine has become one of the ways to celebrate Lithuanian identity.

Lithuanians mostly eat dark rye bread (duona) and it is often eaten buttered or spread with cheese. Sometimes it may be flavored with caraway or some onion. A popular brand of bread is Palangos duona ("Palanga Bread") a mixed rye-wheat bread of grayish color. Some varieties of bread contain whole seeds of rye and wheat often referred to as grudetoij, i.e. "seeded" bread.

The most common vegetable is the potato. Boiled, baked or fried and often garnished with dill. They were introduced in Lithuania in the late 18th century. Cucumbers, dill pickles, radishes and greens are popular. Beets (burokai) are grown a great deal and often used for making borscht and side dishes. Another popular vegetable is cabbage and is used as a basis for soups or wrapped around fillings (balandeliai). Tomatoes are available all year round but those grown in family greenhouses are the best. Herbs and seasonings include dill (krapai), caraway seed (kmynai), garlic, bay leaf, juniper berries and fruit essences.

Lithuanians take pride in their wild berries and mushrooms. Going mushroom picking is a popular pastime from mid-summer to autumn. Mushrooms are usually harvested in the forest, They may be occasionally purchased at roadside markets, especially on the road in the Dzukija region from Druskininkai to Vilnius. Purchasing mushrooms in shops in rare. The mushroom species harvested from the wild include: baravykas – King boletus (boletus edulis), voveraite or voveruska (literally "little squirrel"), lepeska (in Dzūkija region) – yellow chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius), gudukas, vokietukas, kalpokas – Cortinarius caperatus. The most valued species is baravykas which are mainly used for drying and marinating. Dried they are used as a seasoning in soups and sauces. Voveraite as a fresh seasoning in soups or sautéed. Gudukas is the most available locally and is used for marinating.

Wild berried are gathered or purchased at roadside markets or shops. Two of the most abundant species are bilberries (melynes) and red bilberries (bruknes). In boggy areas one may find cranberries (spanguoles). The berries are then made into jams.

The most commonly used fruit are apples, plums and pears which grow well in Lithuania. During the autumn harvest fruit is simmered and spiced to create fruit stews (compotes). Also widely cultivated are gooseberries (agrastai) and currants (serbentai) which are sweetened and made into jams and baked goods.

The most frequently used meat is pork then beef. There are many varieties of smoked pork products available and sausage making has become like an art form.

Locally caught fish like pike or perch is baked whole or stuffed or made into gefilte fish. Herring is marinated, baked, fried, or served in aspic. Smoked fish such as eel or bream are popular.

Dairy products are important in Lithuanian cuisine. Cottage cheese may be sweet, sour or seasoned with caraway. Lithuanian curd snacks called sureliai are popular. Butter and cream is unusually rich.

Some typical Lithuanian dishes:

Appetizers:
Fried Lithuanian Cheese Slices – cheese slices are dipped into a batter of egg, milk, flour and salt – then bread crumbs and fried. These are served with sour cream or sprinkled with sugar. A variation is to omit the sugar then dot each slice with butter and bake and serve immediately on rye bread.
Kugeli – grated potatoes are combined with eggs, milk, onions and flour. Mixed well and baked. May be topped with sour cream.
Varskeciai – flour, cottage cheese, butter and eggs are mixed together. Formed into a ball and refrigerated overnight. Then this dough is separated into 4 balls. Rolled out and cut into squares and cooked in boiling water. Melted butter is poured over them and they’re served hot.

Soups:
Duck Soup – Blood from a freshly killed duck is collected in a container and vinegar is added to keep it from coagulating. The duck is cut up and placed into hot water. Onion, spices, celery and carrots are added. Then the soup is cooked for about 2 hours. The tender meat is removed and the broth strained. Crumbled rye bread, vinegar and duck blood are added to the broth.
Fresh Cabbage Soup (Svieziu Kopustu Sriuba) a broth is made from beef with bones and smoked pork. Shredded cabbage is added. When cabbage is tender, cooked and strained tomatoes and peeled and grated sour apples are added. The soup is usually served with boiled potatoes.
Lithuanian Cold Beet Soup – cooked whole beets are grated, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, chopped scallions are mixed together. The buttermilk is poured over them and sour cream is added. Stirred well and chilled. Served with new boiled potatoes sprinkled with dill.
Lithuanian Potato Soup – potatoes, onions, marjoram and beef stock are cooked for 25 min. after which time carrots, celery and leeks are added. All of the ingredients are processed in a food processor until smooth. Then they are returned to the stock pot and heavy cream is added. Seasoned to taste and garnished with parsley.

Main Courses:
Aspics (saltiena or koseliena) are many savory foodstuffs presented in gelatin molds, especially herring.
Balandeliai ("little doves") – cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and braised.
Bigos a long simmering hunter’s stew made of the catch of the day, sausages and vegetables.
Desra – sausages made in many different ways smoked or fresh that include pork, beef, potatoes or barley. In rural areas blood may be added.
Didzkukukai or Cepelinai (zeppelins) are potato dumplings stuffed with meat, mushrooms or cheese and are often garnished with sprigai (small bits of fried pork skins), fried, minced onions and/or sour cream.
Kotletai – soft, minced meat patties, served with potatoes and a sauce.
Saltnosiukai ("cold little noses") – dumplings filled with lingonberries and not found anywhere else outside of Lithuania.
Suktiniai ("beef birds") made of beef or pork pounded very thin, filled and rolled up then braised.
Troskinti rauginti kopustai a stew made with sauerkraut and the cook’s choice of meat and vegetables.

Alus or beer is very popular throughout the country. Arbata (tea) herbal teas and black tea are common. Gira a non-alcoholic beverage made by the natural fermentation of wheat, rye, or barley bread and sometimes flavored with fruit, berries, raisins or birch sap. It is similar to the Russian or Ukranian kvass. There is degtine ("the burn") a Lithuanian version of vodka, made from rye, wheat or potatoes. It is produced domestically and its quality ranges from basic to triple-distilled. Midus is the most ancient Lithuanian alcoholic beverage which is a variety of mead made from honey. Since its popularity has waned, its production is limited. Trauktine is a strong herbal vodka which is also used as a traditional medicine. Trejos devynerios ("999") steeped with 27 different herbs, is one of the best known. Kava (coffee) is brewed in espresso makers at home or with espresso machines in cafes. It’s quite strong and usually sweetened. Coffeehouses (kavine) can be found on every street corner in town, at highway rest stops and other points of interest.

LITHUANIAN LABAS
Ingredients

4 lg. eggs
1/2 sm. Onion
3 (3" long) green pepper slivers
1 lg. Mushroom
salt & pepper to taste
4 slices Bacon
3-6 strips Cheddar Cheese
1-2 tbsp. picante sauce (to taste)
2 lightly toasted rye bread slices
sour cream

Directions

Fry Bacon until crisp. Crumble.
Set aside. Drain or blot dry.
Use large diameter shallow pan. (Melt enough butter to coat bottom and sides thoroughly.)
Saute finely diced onions until ready to brown.
Add diced green pepper for short cooking time.
Mix eggs, diced Mushrooms, picante sauce, salt and pepper.
Pour over onions and peppers, making sure ingredients are evenly distributed. As mixture begins to cook and set, lift edges to allow runny portions to fill and set. Do continuously until just barely set.
Sprinkle Bacon bits over half of one side. Lay Cheese strips over same half. Cover and let cook enough to begin Cheese melting, but not overcook on eggs.
Slide off onto plate while folding one half over on other. Serve portions on rye bread, cover with dollops of sour cream (on the eggs).

Kuldunai Lithuanian Meat Dumplings Recipe
Ingredients for dumplings…

• 3 eggs
• 2 tablespoons water
• 3 cups flour

Ingredients for filling…

• 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
• 1-1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon pepper
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 cup finely chopped onion

Preparation
1. Prepare the filling…
Beat eggs then mix well with salt, pepper, chopped onion and ground beef.
If the beef is coarsely ground, you’ll want to chop or grind it finely as well. You want the filling to have a consistent texture. The more evenly-sized the pieces of onion and meat are, the better.
2. Prepare the dough…
Beat eggs thoroughly. Add salt, water and flour to make a soft, workable dough. Divide into three parts.
Roll out each part 1/8 inch thick.
Cut into circles with a large glass, each circle about 3 inches in diameter.
Fill each dough circle with a tablespoon of filling. Seal the edges and twist over the ends.
3. Cook the dumplings…
Bring three quarts salted water to a boil. Drop in the dumplings and return water to boil. Dumplings are done when they float to the top. By Rasma Raisters

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