International Cooking: Food from Lithuania

I was glad to cook food from Lithuania this week! It was a great excuse to bake more rye bread and eat lots of potatoes, one of my favorite foods.

Lithuania is located in the Baltic region of Europe on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, north of Poland.

The shores of the Baltic Sea in the region were inhabited by various Baltic tribes for thousands of years. It wasn’t until 1253 that the land making up Lithuania was united as the Kingdom of Lithuania. The kingdom expanded and became the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which was the largest country in Europe during the 14th century.

The Grand Duchy entered a union with Poland in 1386, which eventually became known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This lasted more than two centuries, until it was gradually dismantled by neighboring countries in the late 1700s. Russia annexed most of Lithuania’s territory.

Lithuania as it’s known today declared independence in 1918 but was occupied by the Soviet Union, followed by Nazi Germany and then the Soviets again during World War II. Lithuania put up an armed resistance to the Soviets until the early 1950s, and became the first Soviet republic to break away in 1990, when it proclaimed the restoration of its independence.

Lithuania today is a developed country with high income and an advanced economy.

What Do People Eat in Lithuania?

Lithuanian cuisine focuses heavily on ingredients suited to growing in the cool climate, such as barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries, and mushrooms. Produce was historically pickled to preserve it for winter, and some pickled products are still common today. Various types of soup are some of the most popular dishes in Lithuania.

There is some German influence, most notably with the introduction of pork and potato dishes which Lithuania readily adopted. There are also French influences stemming from the fact that Lithuanian nobles usually hired French chefs.

Pork is the most commonly used meat, followed by beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, and duck. Meat was often preserved by brining, salting, drying, and smoking. Although this isn’t such a necessity these days, smoked pork such as ham and sausage is still popular today.

The most popular fish in Lithuania are freshwater fish and herrings. Salmon is also pretty common. Herrings are marinated, baked, fried, or served in aspic, while larger fish are often baked whole or stuffed.

Lithuania has a strong dairy industry, and includes curd cheese (similar to cottage cheese), butter, and cream in many dishes. Sour cream is eaten with just about everything.

Rye bread is one of the oldest staples and, historically, was eaten every day with all meals. Each family would have their own sourdough starter that they would use to make their bread. Bread, especially rye bread, is still a common part of modern Lithuanian cuisine.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Lithuanian dishes I didn’t make!

Varškėčiai (Cottage Cheese Pancakes)

Varškėčiai (Cottage Cheese Pancakes)

These pancakes are popular in many countries in the region and go by various different names. They are typically made from quark, which is a curd cheese often compared to cottage cheese. However, I would say they are not quite interchangeable. The recipe video I watched called for cottage cheese, but I think quark was actually used, and it’s much drier than the cottage cheese I buy at the supermarket. I decided that it would be fine and I’d just add more flour!

I made the pancake dough—here it’s really a dough rather than a batter—from cottage cheese, sugar, egg, vanilla, a little salt, and flour. In the recipe, the ‘cottage cheese’ (which I think is quark) is first broken up with a potato masher. My cottage cheese was already in small pieces so I skipped this step.

I had to add more flour than I had originally anticipated because my cottage cheese was so wet. If I were to try this again, I would try draining off some of the liquid first.

Finally, I got a dough that I could shape as shown in the recipe. First, I pressed it into a cylinder, then I cut that into pieces. I formed each piece into a thick pancake-like circle and used a bowl to make them more round (watch the recipe video to see this; I think it’s a neat trick and I’m surprised I hadn’t seen it before).

Next, I cooked the pancakes in butter and oil. I kept the heat fairly low since I was worried they would burn before they cooked through otherwise.

Once they were done, I served my varškėčiai with powdered sugar and sour cherry jam, which I had leftover from Latvia week and felt appropriate. I thought it was a great combination. The pancakes were a little underdone in the middle, but I think that the dough was perhaps denser than intended because of all the extra flour I had to add. They did taste really good!

This is something I would make again, but with a few changes to account for the difference between quark and the cottage cheese I can get here.

The recipe I used is from Delicious with Rasa on YouTube.

Šaltibarščiai (Cold Beet Soup)

Šaltibarščiai (Cold Beet Soup)

Here I am, making cold beetroot soup again! I’ve made it a few times now because it’s really popular in so many countries. This time, someone on the Lithuanian subreddit suggested I grate the cucumber instead of chopping it, and I liked that idea so decided to use it.

I only loosely followed a recipe here. I first roasted some beets, then I grated them and added them to a bowl with grated cucumber, chopped green onions, chopped dill, and plain kefir. I added some milk to get the consistency I wanted and stirred everything together. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and then added some horseradish. The horseradish comes from the Latvian version I made and I find that for me, it is what really makes the dish delicious.

To finish, I topped the soup with some boiled egg, dill, and green onion. I served it with some crispy roasted potatoes, which is a common side dish for this soup (boiled potatoes may also show up here).

I loosely followed a recipe from Sunberry Jam, which also tells you how to make the dish vegan if you prefer.

Cepelinai (Pork-Stuffed Potato Dumplings)

Cepelinai (Pork-Stuffed Potato Dumplings)

I knew I had to at least attempt cepelinai, because it’s Lithuania’s national dish and it sounded delicious. A combination of cooked and raw potato forms the dumpling dough, which is then wrapped around ground pork before being boiled. Finally, the dumplings are served with bacon and onion.

I knew this was probably going to be hard to get right, but I thought I would try anyway.

I started by boiling some potatoes, then I mashed them and let them cool a bit. Next, I put some raw potatoes in my food processor and processed until they were finely chopped. The recipe said this was an acceptable option; otherwise, you can grate them on the zesting side of a box grater. I think grating would have produced better results but I hated the idea of grating so many potatoes so I went with the food processor instead. There were some larger pieces of potato even after processing and moving the mixture around multiple times.

I squeezed the water out of the raw potato. Then I combined it with the cooked potato, as well as some salt and potato starch. I ended up adding a little extra potato starch since the dough seemed too wet, probably because I didn’t squeeze out enough water from the potatoes.

Next, I combined ground pork with salt, garlic powder, and a little water. Then I was ready to assemble!

I found the recipe instructions worked pretty well: I lay my potato dough on my hand, added some pork, then folded the dough over it. The aim was to form football shapes with ends that were a little more tapered. I could already tell at this point that the dough in the recipe photos was much smoother than mine! Looking back, my dough was probably also too wet still.

Next, I put the dumplings in boiling water, and reduced the heat to a simmer. I covered the pot which was probably a mistake since the water ended up at a bit more than a simmer and I think this contributed to my dumplings falling apart. Though I have to say, I was checking them often and it was only towards the end that they no longer seemed intact!

I managed to salvage some cepelinai for the photo by pressing the potato mixture back around the pork. They still don’t look too pretty!

I cooked some bacon and onion, which I used to top my cepelinai. I also added some sour cream, which is a common accompaniment here—I forgot about it initially so it’s not in the photo.

The flavors here were really simple, but I thought these tasted great! They just didn’t look pretty. I’d be up for trying this again one day since I think I have some idea where I went wrong.

The recipe I used is from My Food Odyssey.

Kugelis (Potato and Bacon Pie)

Kugelis (Potato and Bacon Pie)

I love potatoes and this looked similar to the potato babka I made for Belarus, which I loved, so I knew I had to try this. It’s a mixture of potato, onion, bacon, and eggs, baked in the oven to form a kind of pie. It’s commonly served with sour cream and green onions, which is how I served it.

This was pretty simple to make. I grated some potato and squeezed out the water. Then I combined them with cooked bacon and onion, as well as eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. I added the mixture to a baking dish and let it cook until it was done. That’s it!

This was really delicious! It probably would have been more crispy but I had to use a mixture of russet and gold potatoes as I didn’t have enough russet.

The recipe I used is from Serious Eats.

Kepta Duona (Fried Bread)

Kepta Duona (Fried Bread)

In Lithuania, kepta duona is a common bar snack. It’s made by frying pieces of bread (usually rye) and rubbing them with garlic. It’s typically served with a sauce made from cheese and mayonnaise.

I made my rye bread from scratch, but I wasn’t a big fan of the recipe I used this time so I won’t link it here. It didn’t rise as much as it should have, and there were a few things I would do differently if I made it again. Still, it did taste really good and was great for making this dish.

I cut the bread into batons, which I fried in a little oil until they were crisp. Then I rubbed them with garlic that I had microplaned. I thought I might get more garlic flavor that way, rather than just rubbing garlic cloves on the bread, and I also thought it would be quicker. I really like the way this worked out.

The sauce was hard; I did find a Reddit post saying to just warm up some mayo and cheese but I think there has to be an additional ingredient to keep the components from splitting. Instead, I chose an option that probably isn’t very authentic.

I melted some butter, then stirred in flour and poured in some milk to make a béchamel sauce. Off heat, I added shredded Gruyère cheese, salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg—I really like nutmeg in béchamel. I stirred in some mayo too, and that was my sauce.

This was a simple dish but I really enjoyed it. I think the cheese sauce came out great, but I didn’t really taste the mayonnaise. I didn’t use a recipe here; I just pieced this together from what I read online.

  • Tinginys – no-bake cookies made from biscuits/cookies, cocoa, butter, sugar, and condensed milk.
  • Šakotis – a cake that is cooked on a rotating spit; it is also known as ‘tree cake’ since it ends up looking a bit like a Christmas tree.
  • Vėdarai – sausages made from potato; they can be meatless or have cooked bacon added.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week! All the food from Lithuania was delicious but my favorite was the kugelis, followed pretty closely by the kepta duona—simple but delicious.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Luxembourg.

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