Category Archives: food-o-rama

Lithuanian Vacation: What We Ate

Let’s take a little break from castles and talk about food. Generally speaking, Lithuanian fare can be divided into the following food groups:

  • Potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Pork/bacon
  • Beet root
  • Cabbage
  • Dumplings (meat, fruit, mushroom, or cheese filled)
  • Crepes with cottage cheese, mushroom, or chicken filling

Take any combination of the above ingredients, boil them, fry them, bake them, sautée them or immerse them in a broth, garnish them with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, dill, fried onions and sour cream, and you have yourself a Lithuanian meal.

Give a Lithuanian a potato, and he will turn it into a square meal faster than you can say, “Nešiok sveikas kol pamesi.” Potatoes are a huge staple of the Lithuanian diet and therefore ubiquitous in our cooking. Pancakes, dumplings, casseroles, sausages – you name it, we can make it out of a potato.

vedarai

Potato Sausage (V?darai)

Kugelis (Potato Casserole)

Kugelis (Potato Casserole). Find my recipe for it here.

One thing Lithuanians love to do is stuff things with meat filling. I have already introduced you to kold?nai  dumplings that are usually filled with either meat or mushrooms and often served with fried onions, bacon and sour cream – but it’s also important to mention kibinai, the larger, baked cousins of kold?nai, which were introduced to us by the Karaim warriors of Crimea who settled in Lithuania during the 1300s to serve as the security detail for Grand Duke Vytautas. We ate meat and mushroom-filled kibinai in the town of Trakai (more on that in another post) and they were delicious.

kibinai_edited-1

Kibinai

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Lithuania’s national food “cepelinai” in the meat-stuffed food category. Cepelinai (literally, “zeppelins”) are gigantic potato dumplings with meat filling, served with  sautéed onions, bacon bits, and sour cream. In my family we call them “gut bombs,” and if you follow this link, you’ll see why.

Lithuanians have a fondness for cold soups, but the favorite of these by far is cold beet soup (“šaltibarš?iai) made with buttermilk, grated beetroot, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, and served with – you got it – fried potatoes. I make this soup at home often in the summertime, but it was really fun to be able to order it in each and every restaurant we visited in Lithuania, like it’s a normal thing.

saltibarsciai forto dvaras

P-Dawg, enjoying cold beet soup al fresco

forto dvaras menu

The Menu

Now let’s talk about pigs. Lithuanians love a fried pork chop just as much as the next guy, and we also have a soft spot for kebobs (another gift from the East). But what really gets our blood flowing is seeing how many different parts of the pork are edible and in what strangely satisfying ways they can be prepared.

To wit, pork bits encased in cold gelatin (“šaltiena” or “košeliena”), served with horseradish, vinegar dill dressing, and potatoes:

saltiena

Šaltiena/Košeliena

You could also throw some diced carrots into this, as my grandmother used to, and make it a square meal. It tastes a lot like what you would expect pork bits encased in salted gelatin to taste like, but some people really love it. My grandmother used to prepare a sanitized version of this with chicken, but I think you’re really supposed to make it with pork and leave some gristle in for good measure.

Next up, pig ears:

pigs ears

Pig ears (on the right) and assorted charcuterie

Can’t say that I loved these. They were . . . kind of crunchy.

We ate a lot of skilandis, which is a sausage made of garlic flavored minced meat and bacon, using pig’s stomach as casement. In the photo below, the skilandis is on the bottom and the item above it is chicken gizzards.

Gizzards and Skilandis

Apparently, chicken gizzards are a popular snack in Lithuania, and they are often eaten while drinking beer. Like bar peanuts, but chewy.

For the most part while in Lithuania, we stuck to restaurants that served traditional Lithuanian fare (and to my aunt’s excellent home cooking.) But Lithuania has come a long, long way since Soviet times and, especially in big cities like Vilnius, you can eat everything from sushi to pizza. One night we went to a trendy little restaurant, Lauro Lapas, where I had Baltic cod with local chanterelles, fennel, and sweet potato. The service there was great and the food was delicious.

lauro lapas

Husband and daughter at Lauro Lapas 

In closing, I must mention fried garlic bread sticks. Made from dark rye bread, rubbed with copious amounts of garlic, and deep fried, they, like gizzards, are traditional bar fare. I don’t have a good photo of pure, unbasterdized garlic breadsticks, but here is a plate of cheese covered ones we had at a Vilnius microbrewery one night:

cesnakine duona

Fried cheese covered breadsticks

One thing I noticed about eating out in Lithuania was how fresh and full of flavor everything was, even the salads we ordered in chain restaurants. All the vegetables were locally grown and the meat locally raised, and you could most definitely tell the difference.

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The Depth of my Depravity

The problem with having young children is you just can’t devour a chocolate bar without being noticed.

The other day, I gave my kids a healthy after school snack of apples and wheat germ. Then I planted them in front of an educational television program and scurried back to the kitchen, whereupon I opened the pantry and proceeded to stare inside.

I noticed a chocolate bar.

I took that chocolate bar and began to unwrap it with the stealth of a sniper. I even paused my breathing. The first velvet bite was mere inches away from my mouth when two small humans, about yea big, materialized behind me.

“WHAT ARE YOU EATING MAMA?”

Lickety-split, I tucked that chocolate bar into the elastic waistband of my yoga pants.

“Oh, just some raw almonds. Would you like one?”

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The First Shall Be First

A steady rain was falling and the turkey dealer was late.

I had arrived at the designated spot a good fifteen minutes ahead of time so I could be first in line to stake out my locally raised bird, but now the high school parking lot was filling up with other customers and the turkey dealer was nowhere in sight.

I had his digits with me, so I waited until fifteen past the hour before calling him up.

“Chuck, this is Rima Rama. I am at the location, but there are no turkeys in sight.”

“Oh, hey Mrs. Rama! Are you on the eastside or westside pickup route?”

“I’m at the northwest corner of the Beachland High School parking lot. I am wearing a black trench coat.”

“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that, Mrs. Rama,” Chuck told me. “My guys got held up because of the weather, but they’ll be there any minute, so just hold tight.”

“Should I stay inside my vehicle?”

“Excuse me?”

“Should I stay inside my vehicle, or stand in the designated pick-up spot?”

“You can stay inside your car, Mrs. Rama. We’ll be there in a sec.”

Armed with this knowledge, I secured my purse strap over my shoulder, put my umbrella in launch mode, and sat tight. When the Turkey Truck arrived thirty minutes later, there was a whole parking lot full of impatient customers ready to descend upon it, but I was first out of the gate.

I ran across the lot with the Chariots of Fire theme song playing in my head, splashing puddled water in my wake. People who had arrived much later than I had and who had not sprinted across the parking lot in three-inch heels were all jockeying for position underneath the tiny makeshift tent the turkey dealer set up around me, but I was able to create an impenetrable force field around my place in line (first) with the spiky points of my open umbrella.

“Alright, people, whose first?” the turkey dealer hollered.

I was up in his grill in two seconds flat.

And I was handily rewarded for my tenacity by being given a twenty-pound tom for the price of the scrawny sixteen pounder I had actually ordered, which just proves that the first will actually be first. Of course, I got a hernia hoisting that turkey into the trunk of my car*, but at least I can rest safe in the knowledge that tomorrow there will be enough turkey meat to go around.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone, and may your juices run clear!

*Self-diagnosed

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Nobody Puts Rima at the Kids’ Table

You won’t find me knocking around frozen turkeys by the Butterball display this year. That’s because we’re ordering from our CSA, so there’s a turkey with my name on it still pecking around somewhere in the southern Ohio dirt.

I got to worrying about that turkey. Not about its impending death, but rather, “Did I order a big enough bird?” I asked the P-Dawg if he was sure we’d have enough turkey meat for each person at the table, he said yes.

According to my husband’s calculations, here is how the turkey rations break down:

Adults – 2 pounds each

Kids – 1/2 pound each

Rima – 1 pound of turkey

I have my own special category. “Kid and a Half.”

Well, I immediately turned around and posted this all over Facebook. I was hoping for some righteous indignation in the comments, but what I got instead was a lot of “Bwahahaha LOL that’s hilarious!” instead.

I guess I know now who my friends are.

When I told the P-Dawg that I had aired my grievance, he took offense.

“That’s not entirely accurate,” he answered, “I never said you weren’t an adult.”

“It’s not that I really want it, P-Dawg,” I explained to my husband. “It’s just that I’d like to be given the opportunity, if I so desired, to eat two pounds of turkey meat.”

“I guarantee you won’t leave hungry.”

“Well. I’m not sitting at the kids’ table, I’ll tell you that much.”

What’s more, I’m making it my own personal mission to eat 2 pounds of turkey, at the very least.

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