Wild at palete
Latvian cuisine could be called ‘multi-layered’ – just like one of our traditional dishes, the dessert known as rupjmaizes kārtojums – crumbed rye-bread, whipped cream and lingonberry jam, layered in a large glass. Polish, Swedish, German and Russian cuisine are seen as the primary influences, but Latvian cuisine maintains its link to nature, preferring to utilise farm - or forest-fresh produce. This holds true to this day.
For gourmets, the year starts in spring with birch sap and maple syrup, whose just-tapped freshness lasts but a brief moment. Just about everyone – not only gourmets – following winter hibernation, crave the first greens that sprout up - aromatic, succulent, crisp and chock full of vitamins.
RHUBARB Latvia’s proclaimer of the new gastronomic year. Every Latvian household has a Rhubarb patch, not only for its useful traits, but also for its good looks. Frequently used in large amounts for gourmandian immoderations – Rhubarb pie, Rhubarb dumplings, Rhubarb jelly, Rhubarb ice-cream, Rhubarb Chutney, Rhubarb jam, Rhubarb salad, Rhubarb wine, candied Rhubarb, etc.
SORREL The first appearance of Sorrel obliges even hardened city-dwellers to go out into the meadows and seek these small, bright-green, vitamin-rich leaves, an unmistakable sign that spring has truly arrived. Latvians use Sorrel in many ways – for salads, soup, for breakfast with cottage cheese and many more ways.
BIRCH AND MAPLE SAP The colder the winter, the sweeter the sap. The sap is used as a fermented or non-fermented drink, to make wine, sorbets, in ice flakes, salad dressings, bouillons, spirits, beauty compresses, and as a detoxing cure – a good thing there’s so much of it. At home, fermented saps are filled into bottles and supplemented with a pinch of sugar, some raisins, a blackcurrant twig, or lemon peel.
WHAT TO TASTE IN SUMMER
Latvian summers are short but nonetheless full of gastronomic goodies that can be savoured in the right place, at the right time. Summertime is when Latvians are earthbound, so to speak, they have the uncanny ability to commune with Mother Nature. Nothing provides more pleasure than tending a garden, venturing deep into a forest for wild strawberries or chanterelle mushrooms, or choosing a spot lake or riverside for fishing.
CATFISH The largest fish in Latvia, it can reach up to 250 kilos in weight. To make catfish more delicate, one should leave a whole gutted catfish for two to three days in cold in order to serve a pinkish fish of light consistency. The fishbone can be used for making a strong bouillon.
SOUR CHERRIES are excellent for one’s health, as, besides vitamins and minerals, the sweet-sour berries contain a lot of melatonin, which helps the human body to fight aging and insomnia. Devoted housekeepers insist that a jam or wine should be made just from the sour ones.
CLOUDBERRIES hide in deep and far marshes. However, if you are lucky to find them, they can be used in making of a honeyed jam which perfectly complements dessert cheeses or fruit salad. Despite everything, cloudberry is the queen of contemporary forest gastronomy.
WHAT TO TRY IN AUTUMN
The Latvian proverb has it that ‘autumn is a rich man’; thereby the populace knows how to ‘reap what it sows’- literally! The beautiful and scrumptious penny-bun mushrooms, just waiting to be picked or the abundant quince, that yellow fruit perfect for syrups or candied peel, or on a plate with game meat.
CYDONIA or more accurately shrub Quince has become known as our lemon, the pride of Latvia and one of contemporary Latvian cuisine’s trademarks. Today Quince is an element of the culinary art, utilized as a marinade for lamb, a component of tangy homemade dessert wines, and for jams perfect for select cheese plates.
VENISON Latvia abounds in deer parks, wide open, impeccably managed, with clean air and water, and lushly forested. Venison is perfect for autumn stews – a scrumptious staple of any family’s Saturday or Sunday dinner and served as tartare or steaks in select restaurants.
BOLETUS MUSHROOM We Latvians are a mushroom-foraging nation, and the boletus (porcini) is considered the pinnacle for modern-day hunter-gatherers. Simply sautéed with butter, braised in cream with new potatoes, marinated, sun-dried, a side dish for seafood, beef, as a paté ... we could continue this delicious list forever! Remember though – the ones you pick yourself taste best.
WHAT TO TASTE IN WINTER
Cold and damp weather in Latvia results in fare that is rich and filling, with character. Simple but sturdy foods from garden vegetables and grains. Potatoes and barley, rye products – through the centuries are a reminder of home fires burning. But what about the rowan berries? Beautiful and mildly tart - for a real taste of life.
RYE BREAD It goes without saying: nowhere on planet Earth the rye bread is more delicious than in Latvia, and it’s taste is a result of our history, memories, dreams, and philosophy on the order of things. It’s not surprising that rye bread is what every Latvian living abroad craves for.
ROWAN Dried and powdered, the red-orange rowan berry is a subtle spice for various sauces and marinades. In jellies and marmelade it is an ideal accent for meat dishes or mild cheese. And as a liquid additive for your cocktail, it is the best that a berry can offer alcohol.
TURNIP Making our noble contribution to the current renaissance in long forgotten herbs and veggies – we give you: the turnip, stupendous in stews! Or simply baked in the oven, but better yet – in a salad with smoked fish and nuts. The turnip – just doing what comes naturally!