Thursday, April 25, 2013

Recipes from Estonia

OK, to start off this week's entry, here's a little poll for you:

When I think of beets, the first thing that pops into my head is:
  1. A healthy super-food
  2. Those purple things at the salad bar that I usually try to avoid
  3. Dwight Schrute
Did you say "Dwight Schrute?" Yeah, me too. If you didn't say "Dwight Schrute," you need to go watch a few episodes of The Office. It's in syndication.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, this week's menu features beets. I have never actually cooked beets before, because why would I. They grow in cans, don't they? They don't??

 Not one of my better photos, no.

Before we get into that let's talk about our destination: Estonia.

Estonia is one of those places that doesn't get a lot of air-time, because it doesn't really get itself into trouble and it tends to exist somewhat in the shadow of its other more glamorous European neighbors. Once a part of the USSR, Estonia is now one of the most prosperous of those former Soviet republics. In fact it's really quite the opposite of a communist nation; it ranks third in the world for press freedom and also ranks highly for economic and political freedom. It has a pretty cool history too; Estonia was once the home of the Oeselian pirates, who were much-lauded in the Old Norse Icelandic Sagas. Because, you know, there really aren't many things cooler than pirates.

Sibulakula, Tallinn, Estonia. Photo Credit: Mariusz Kluzniak.
Don't worry, though, the cuisine of Estonia goes beyond hard tack sea biscuits and salted meat (I'm actually fairly sure there haven't been pirates in Estonia for a few hundred years). In fact the cuisine of Estonia is pretty typically European, with lots of fresh ingredients and much variety.

For this entry I relied entirely on a single blog, the fabulous NAMI-NAMI, written by Estonian blogger Pille. Her blog is full of really tasty looking Estonian recipes, and it was hard to narrow them down. When I finally did, I came up with this menu:
Sealihast Ahjustrooganov Majoneesiga 
(Oven-baked pork stroganoff with mayonnaise)
  • 1 lb lean pork, cut into thin strips
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
    9 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced (white, button or cremini)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Finely chopped chives
On the side:
Suitsulõhega Kasukas
(Layered Smoked Salmon and Vegetable Salad)
  • 7 oz smoked salmon 
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 large beets, steamed or boiled (I steamed mine)
  • 3 medium carrots, unpeeled
  • 1 1/2 cups good-quality mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs
With some bread:

(Estonian Soda Bread)
  • 7 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 3/4 cup + 4 1/2 tsp milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/8 cup barley flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
And for dessert:

Paks puuviljakissell
(Dried fruit soup)
  • 18 oz mixed dried fruit
  • 6 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/3 cup caster (baker's) sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 to 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • Cold water
I started with the bread. Here's how it's done:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix the ricotta cheese and sour cream with the milk, egg, salt and sugar.

Sift the barley flour and all purpose flour together with the baking soda. Fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Now add the oil and combine gently.

Grease a spring-form cake pan with butter and pour in the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Now for the stroganoff:

First preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a medium-sized casserole dish.

Heat the oil over a medium flame and lightly brown the pork strips on both sides. Add salt and pepper and transfer to the casserole dish.

In the same pan, fry the onions (adding oil as needed) until just soft. Scatter the onions and the sliced mushrooms over the pork and spread the mayo on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the meat and mushrooms are cooked through. Sprinkle the chives on top and serve with boiled or mashed potatoes.

 Now on to the salad:

Boil the carrots and potatoes until just soft. Don't over boil them! Drain and cool, then peel and set aside.

Meanwhile, boil the eggs. Cool and peel.

Roughly chop the smoked salmon and then scatter over the bottom of a large glass serving bowl. Grate the potatoes over the salmon, and then scatter the onion over that.

Spread about half of the mayo over the onions, then grate the beets over the mayo. Top with the grated carrots, then with the last layer of mayonnaise. Now grate the boiled eggs over the mayo.
And finally, the dessert:

Rinse the dried fruit and roughly chop. Transfer to a large saucepan and soak for two or three hours.

Put the pot on the stove and add the cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the fruit is soft. Now add the sugar and lemon juice to taste.
In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with water and whisk into the soup. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until the soup thickens. Sprinkle sugar on top and serve.

This was a good, hearty meal that came together easily. The stroganoff was creamy and simple, but very rich. I couldn't eat a whole lot of it, but the potatoes padded it out nicely. I really, really liked the salad. The salmon in it was very subtle and the vegetables were a nice compliment, even the beets, which I didn't expect to like so much. I was actually surprised that the mayo was enough as far as a dressing was concerned—generally I like some extra interest in a dressing, but in this case it wasn't needed. The mayo was plenty.

Now the soda bread I wasn't too crazy about (neither were the kids). It couldn't have been because of the ricotta, so I guess I'll have to blame that on the barley flour. It just made the bread taste a little bit too bitter for me.

We really liked the fruit soup, too. It's always great to find a dessert that isn't also full of fat. Three year old Henry was actually the biggest fan of the fruit soup—I think he had thirds. He asked me to make it again, too.

I bookmarked NAMI-NAMI and I'm pretty sure I'm going to go back there for more recipes, especially when winter comes back around. There's a lot of comfort-type food there and I can't wait to try some more of it. Thanks Pille!

Next week: Ethiopia

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. Becki, glad you enjoyed the menu!!! I would never-ever combine the salmon-beet salad with that stroganoff, but here you go :)

  2. Yeah, they were a bit from opposite ends of the calendar, but you know, the mouth wants what it wants. :) Out of curiosity what would you have done with the stroganoff (or the salad?) I was having a hard time making up my mind when I was on your site!

  3. Becki, I would have served a simple "raw salad" alongside the stroganoff (perhaps a shredded carrot salad or sth similar).

    The salmon and beet salad is good as it is, or with some (rye) bread.


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