Finding Comfort in Traditional Lithuanian Food

14
Dec 2020

Comfort food the world over is having a bit of a renaissance, including traditional Lithuanian food. Around the globe, everyone is seeking ways to sooth psyches and provide that warm, fuzzy and secure feeling. With winter and colder temperatures settling in, these dishes made with appealing tastes might be just what you’re looking for.

cookies on blue counter

While many might not be familiar with the obscure dishes from this unexplored cuisine, the flavors are familiar and rewarding. Feel good dishes with easy to find ingredients are sure to introduce hearty happiness into your kitchen.

Five Regions of Lithuania

Like many countries, Lithuania has five distinct regions where traditional dishes vary according to geography. Local ingredients influence recipes and allow for subtle variations as each kitchen and chef provides their own indigenous products.

Dzūkija

Dzūkija in the south, is known as an area filled with forest abundance. Look for dishes centered around mushrooms, berries (lingonberries, blueberries, cranberries) and buckwheat.

Aukštaitija

Aukštaitija perhaps defines traditional Lithuanian recipes in most people’s minds. This northern region grows potatoes and more potatoes. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a big meal without potatoes, in particular, potato pancakes and dumplings.

Suvalkija

Suvalkija is the land of meat experts. Hams, fillets, sausages and of course, the famous Lithuanian ‘skilands’ smoked in a fireplace!

Minor Lithuania

Minor Lithuania with a coastline along the Baltic Sea is not surprisingly well regarded for tasty fish meals. Expect varieties that are smoked, pickled, baked or dried, all traditional methods of preserving ingredients throughout the winter.

Žemaitija

Žemaitija’s residents are proud of their variety of porridges, crawfish, and ‘kastinys’ – spicy sour cream butter, usually served with boiled, unpeeled potatoes.

Lithuanian Food’s Historical Secret Sauce

The secret sauce of Lithuanian cuisine comes from rich traditions from a variety of nations. This melting pot has always been welcoming and each group leaves their own mark on the food culture. Tatars, Jews, Greeks, Italians, Germans and the French have all passed on a piece of their heritage. Polish, Ukrainian and Russian kitchens each have contributed to the comfort food both locals and tourists alike have come to love and enjoy.

Healthier food took a bit of a back seat to substantial and cheap calorie rich dishes in the post war period. Potatoes and lard made a grand entrance as the population focused on survival. Taking root deep in the culinary landscape, many of the traditional favorites grew from a time of necessity throughout history.

stuffed cabbage on red and white table cloth

Stuffed Cabbage-Andeliai ©Gintare Stakenaite

Home cooks in Lithuanian kitchens have been embracing local ingredients and the farm to table movement long before it became a part of foodie lexicon. The seasons largely determine the popularity of many dishes. I am thinking in particular of the infamous pink cold beetroot soup found all over the country in the heat of the summer.

Cold Borscht in L'viv

Have you ever seen a more beautiful presentation of cold borscht? An ice bowl decorated with herbs and lemon.

A few historic ingredients make their way into many of the recipes: dairy products, herring and rye. Beetroot and potatoes are right up there at the top. While pork is also an important base, Green With Renvy is on a Meatless Monday mission. As always, we will be concentrating on vegetarian and pescatarian entries.

One of my favorite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi, was recently quoted in the New York Times speaking about his recipe for a potato pie:

Hugs in the kitchen come in many forms, I know, but so often, they come in the form of a potato. Yes, the rustic, versatile, approachable, unpretentious, healthy, hearty potato is what, to my mind, saw this pie get so many likes. Now, more than ever – when we have, for months, been denied so much of the hugging we were used to – this is what we need and want.

10 Feel Good Traditional Lithuanian Dishes To Try at Home

Hearty Potato Pie – Kugelis

Those living for potatoes and carbo loading in all shapes and forms, might find themselves wanting to try some of the traditional Lithuanian comfort dishes. As one of the main long established ingredients, potatoes have ruled the Lithuanian cuisine for more than 150 years. As a result, the spud is an integral part of the Lithuanian culinary culture.  I cannot imagine there is a single family in the country that does not have their own take on a potato dish which is passed down from generation to generation.

Potato pie kugelis

Potato Pie-Kugelis ©Beatos Virtuve

Potato pie or pudding (kugelis) is favoured by many for being easy to make, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside-true characteristics of what I deem comfort food. This national dish is traditionally served with applesauce, lingonberry preserves and sour cream. Find it eaten as a main course or side dish.

Ukrainian Borscht

While potato dishes dominate, I always get excited to find variations for my most favorite vegetable: beets. The beetroot soup, hearty and warming during the cold winter months quite possibly came from the Ukrainians.

Borscht in Ukraine

Traditional Borscht

According to research, Lithuanians originally made the most use of the beet leaves. Rich in vitamins and nutrients, it wasn’t until their neighbors showed the benefits of digging the root beneath the earth as well and using the entire vegetable. The lovely soup, flavored with dried ceps, is one of the most popular you’ll find here, in the largest of the Baltic republics.

Hearty Hash Browns – Bulviniai Blynai

Just like the majority of Lithuanian dishes, hash browns or potato pancakes (bulviniai blynai) contain lots of carbs, fat, and salt – all of the ingredients essential for unlocking the feeling of satisfaction in the brain which lies behind comfort food cravings. A delicious version of the recipe can be found here.

Wild Mushroom Soup -Grybų Sriuba / Firminê Baravikiene

As referenced above, the Dzūkija region is host to a plethora of wild mushrooms.  Made into a hearty soup, they are an essential part of the Lithuanian diet. While Russian harvesting has been responsible for the decline of fungi numbers, foragers still find the ingredient plentiful when they know where to look.

Grybų Sriuba is the generic name for mushroom soup. Firminê Baravikiene refers to the Baravykas or King Bolete Mushroom, a meaty treat found all over the world. In restaurants, the soup can often be found served in a bowl formed from rye bread, perfect for sopping up the deliciousness of this flavorful favorite.

Popular Potato Dumplings – Cepelinai

Lithuanian food dumplings

Potato dumplings-cepelinai © Andrius Aleksandravi

When talking about the Lithuanian fascination with making potato dishes – sky’s the limit. The national celebrity – potato dumplings (cepelinai) – can be made with either usual fillings (meat, curd), or somewhat unexpected ingredients – apples, herring, sauerkraut. The potatoes themselves may be boiled, pan-fried, roasted, or mashed. For those like myself, who believe potatoes are the epitome of comfort food, Lithuanian cuisine is more than inviting. Here is a fairly easy recipe to make potato dumplings at home.

Fried Bread with Cheese – Kepta Duona su Sūriu

Fried bread is without doubt the most popular snack in Lithuanian bars. Visitors fall in love with it instantly and call it great comfort food to pair with a local pint of beer. Lucky for readers, this easy recipe requires only ingredients which can usually be found in just about everyone’s pantries: a loaf of rye bread, 1-2 cloves of garlic, some cooking oil, a pinch of salt, and cheese (optional but extremely recommended).

Fried Bread with Cheese ©Beatos Virtuve

Cut the bread in strips, fry them in oil until crispy, rub garlic onto the bread, sprinkle some salt, add grated cheese on top, and enjoy. Hot, filling, cheesy and garlicky – say hello to your new weekend TV binge watching favorite!

Savoury Pastry Pies – Kibinai 

Although these crescent-shaped pies of butter pastry are often stuffed with meat, Vegetarians can find the tasty hand pies also made with mushrooms,  savory vegetable or fruit combos. Historically, they are one of the dishes brought to Lithuania by another nation – Karaites. Around 400 Karaite families were invited  to Lithuania by Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, from the shores of Black Sea at the end of the 14th century. Those who have made Lithuania their home, added their national dishes to the Lithuanian cuisine, hence – the savory pastry pies.

Trakai Island Castle ©David Iliff  via Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

The dish is best devoured in the historical capital of Lithuania – Trakai – where the variety of both savory pastry pies and restaurants serving them is astounding. But…if you happen to be at home in your own kitchen, this recipe is a great way to pass time while planning a trip to Lithuanian. You’ll be able to taste your own spin on the savory pastry pies in the comfort of your own home.

Traditional Lithuanian Dishes for Desert

Delicious Cocoa Cookie Bar – Tinginys

I’m a fan of any recipe that calls for sweetened condensed milk. Shameful to admit I’ve indulged straight from the can with spoon. Foodies with a sweet tooth can easily make this popular Lithuanian national treat. This uncooked cocoa cookie bar is called “lazy cake” by the locals since the recipe calls for minimal to none cooking skills.

cocoa cookie on blue counter

Cocoa Cookie Bar-Tinginys ©Beatos Virtuve

After crushing a pack of tea biscuits, melt a stick of butter on medium heat, add a can of sweetened condensed milk and cocoa powder. Mix the ingredients, wrap the mixture in a cling film, shape it as a sausage, chill it in the fridge for several hours and cut into slices of deliciousness. Let everyone be impressed before you share how easy tinginys are to make!

Deep-Fried Pastry Strips – Žagarėliai

Lithuanian food zagareliai fried sweet dough

Zagareliai ©Nerijus Paluckas

Finally, twig-shaped and deep-fried pastry strips made with curd or sour milk in a way that resemble twisted bread sticks.  The familiarity makes it the ultimate Lithuanian comfort desert, irresistible for all lovers of crunchy sweet snacks or endings to a meal. This quick and easy recipe shows how to make mouth-watering deep-fried pastry strips.

Familiar and comforting flavors with some unusual twists represent an authentic side of Lithuanian food that is sure to be explored by culinary travelers when they dust off their passports.  Meanwhile, all eager to experience Lithuanian gastronomic dishes can take a look at the Map of Authentic Lithuanian Flavours and make a list for their future explorations. After a little time in the kitchen, these traditional foods will have you craving to learn more!

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  1. Amber Myers says:

    Oh yum, I don’t think I’ve ever had food like this before. It all looks amazing though. I bet I’d love it!

  2. (This comment card is adorable!) I don’t really know anything about Lithuanian culture, so this was a great read!

  3. Marta says:

    We lived in Europe for 6 years and I cannot remember if we had any Lithuanian food. I do remember borscht, but that’s it. I’m looking forward to trying some of these.
    Thank you!

  4. Marisa says:

    These all sounds so delicious! The Potato dishes are my favorite!!! YUM!

  5. Tisha says:

    All of these look and sound so amazing! May have to try some of them!