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Russian, Eastern European and international cuisine brought to you by a mother and a daughter

Sea Buckthorn Juice

Sea Buckthorn Juice in a small jar

Yesterday Ivanka finally allowed me to go veggie-shopping to the farmers’ market. She is learning to walk and she refuses to stay in her stroller for more than 15 minutes. The farmers’ market, however, is located in a 25 minutes walk from our home. She can make a few steps on her own or walk for a longer time holding my hand, but this distance is still too long for her. Besides, where would I put all my bags if not into a stroller? I missed the splendid farmers’ market so much. The small market we have across the street just doesn’t compare with it - giant carrots, stinky garlic (last year’s leftovers?) and wrinkled blueberries are some of my anti-favourites.  So I was extremely happy when Ivanka graciously allowed me to take her to that further market! We bought as much fruit and berries as I could squeeze into the baby-stroller bags.

It’s pretty amusing actually that our daughter already has her own opinion on a lot of things. She thinks, for example, that food crumbs that fall on the floor are the best delicacies ever. I just can’t stand the sight of her digging a tiny clot of yesterday’s omelet from under the stove and trying to eat it. I even started to mop the floor every other day: Sisyphean efforts, as a true foodcrumb connoisseur will always find something delicious even on a freshly cleaned floor :)

Some other things Ivanka thinks are cool include eating toilet paper, destroying flower pots and chewing shoe sponges. But of course there’re also a lot of good, and beautiful, and exciting things she likes. We were surprised to note that she prefers cats to dogs. She does like dogs, but when she sees a cat… she sings serenades, she’s in love! She loves to listen to music and dance and sing along. She loves flowers. Her favourite colour is yellow. I just think that’s so tremendous to discover her new preferences, likes and dislikes!

Sea Buckthorn

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Rabarberu Rausis (Rhubarb Cake With Streusel Topping)

Rhubarb Cake with Streusel Topping

Rhubarb is one of the foods that I can eat every day once their season arrives. And it seems like all of our family is sitting on a rhubarb diet. Ivanka in enjoying her daily rhubarb drink, Stano’s asking for more rhubarb cordial, my Mom is making a rhubarb crumble, and I have three different rhubarb cakes plus preserves in my plan. We’re a kind of a rhubarb family, aren’t we! :) Maybe this is just an effect of rhubarb being the first spring fruit plant that can be eaten as a fruit. I guess most of you are already enjoying fresh strawberries and other gifts of summer, but here up North, we’re still stuck in the rhubarb season (imported strawberries don’t count). And I love it! The tart stalks that turn so tender when baked or simmered, the bold play of green and red colour that turn amber and translucent when heated, the glossy skins and the firm, watery flesh. Oh, rhubarb!

This cake, topped with streusel, is my attempt to recreate the most common Latvian rhubarb cake - a simple, lovely, habitual cake. I’ve compared about half a dozen recipes (that sometimes were pretty controversial) and compiled them into one recipe with my own amendments included. First, I used 1/4 whole wheat flour, as I frequently do these days. It’s healthier, it gives extra taste, it provides pleasant moistness. Second, I used a mix of white and brown sugar for the filling, and I think I could have used brown sugar only. The original recipes called for plain sugar of course, but I thought brown sugar was a better match for the tart rhubarb. Third, I incorporated a little starch into the filling, just to prevent it from leaking. And that’s it. I thought of playing with walnuts in the streusel, but then I decided to keep it simple and traditional. Sometimes I succeed in holding back from too much tweaking ;-)
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Cottage Cheese Bars

Cottage Cheese Bars

I can barely live without these chocolate-glazed cottage cheese bars that are sold in every supermarket in Riga. They make a perfect lunchtime snack, or you can grab one in the morning while you’re making your breakfast (personally I always wake up super-hungry!). They are not a diet food though, with their 12 to 26% fat and 24 to 32% carbohydrates.

Cottage Cheese bars (Tvorozhnie Syrki in Russian, Biezpiena Sieriņi in Latvian) have a dense texture and are normally coated in dark chocolate. They may as well be coated in colourful fruit glaze, but to my mind this looks and tastes way too artificial. The “forefather” of cottage cheese bars is the vanilla-flavoured, chocolate-glazed cottage cheese bar produced under the “Kārums” brand since 1994. In fact, cottage cheese snacks have been produced in Riga since 1949, and until 70’s, they were handcrafted!

Chocolate Glazed Cottage Cheese Bars

The choice of cottage cheese bars in Latvia is huge nowadays. The best are still produced under the “Kārums” brand name. They also boast a nice thick chocolate glaze that doesn’t crack or melt. My absolute favourite is triple chocolate - chocolate-glazed, chocolate-flavoured, with chocolate chips. Another flavour I love is coconut. I like it straight from the fridge, it tastes almost like ice-cream when chilled! Some other Kārums flavours include candied orange, blueberry, hazelnut, as well as larger, round-shaped cottage cheese snacks: Tiramisu/Cherry/Orange Marmalade/Cranberry Marmalade with biscuit. Other manufacturers offer cottage cheese bars with berry jam filling, caramel, or even ground rye bread:

Rybe Bread Cottage Cheese Bar

My favourite cottage cheese bars

Cherry Cottage Cheese bar

And, as usual, I’m curious to know if you have anything similar in your countries? Or can you buy some cottage cheese bars in your Eastern European supermarkets?

Garlic or Cheese Crescent Rolls for Midsummer (Slovak-Latvian fusion, sort of)

Garlic/Cheese Crescent Rolls for Midsummer

Midsummer (Līgo/Jāņi) is probably the most favourite and significant holiday for Latvians. It’s celebrated on 23/24th June when the night is so short that there’re only a couple of really dark hours. It’s not as evident as the famous Saint Petersburg’s “white nights”, but still enough for birds to confuse day and night: sometimes you can hear them sing or make noise after midnight. I’d say it’s even a little bit disturbing that the sky almost never turns black in June – I keep waking up at night because of that eerie blue glow coming through the curtains.

On the shortest night of the year, everyone heads out to the countryside, drinks gallons of beer, barbecues, eats traditional caraway cheese (Jāņu siers, see picture), makes (or tries to make) bonfires and almost certainly soaks in the rain, because it typically rains on Midsummer. The cities become absolutely deserted! All guys named Jānis wear heavy oak leaf wreaths and all ladies named Līga wear wreaths of flowers/oak leaves. If you see an oak leaf wreath on a car – there’s certainly a Jānis in it! Oh and there’s also that ancient tradition of searching for the mythical fern blossom, which is believed to have magical powers. Actually the fern blossom quest means more than just that – to give you a hint, a lot of children are born 9 months after Midsummer night :)

Latvian Midsummer Cheese

Even though I don’t celebrate Midsummer, I couldn’t miss the chance to buy some of that special caraway cheese and use it for some crescent rolls. I first saw garlic crescent rolls on a Slovak Christmas table and copied the recipe from Stano’s Mother. With some tweaking and the addition of some fresh dill this could make a lovely Midsummer snack, I figured. And with caraway cheese these rolls turn into a truest Midsummer treat! They pair perfectly with beer, cider, and fresh vegetables, and they’re easily transportable, in case you’re going to have a picnic. For the garlic version, there’s a lot of garlic odour while baking, but ready crescent rolls are just slightly garlicky. And they look so plump and appetizing!

Slovak Garlic/Cheese Crescent Rolls

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Rūpjmaizes kārtojums (layered Latvian rye bread dessert)

Rūpjmaizes kārtojums

As I already wrote, Latvians have some incredibly delicious desserts, a lot of them are made with rye bread, which is an essential part of traditional Latvian cuisine. There’s even rye breadcrumb ice-cream over here and yogurt with rye breadcrumbs – very tasty. Not to mention cream of bread, bread soup, etc etc. Even nowadays, as bread is losing its popularity (a lot of people are on a diet and think it’s too fattening), public opinion polls say an average Latvian eats up to 50 kg bread per year. And coarse rye bread is the sort which remains favourite throughout the years.

The dessert we will be talking about today is originally called Rūpjmaizes kārtojums, which means layers of bread. The most common method is to layer rye breadcrumbs, whipped cream, and cranberry or cowberry jam. Sometimes cream of cottage cheese is used instead. The dessert can be made in small individual ice-cream bowls or in a larger bowl and then cut in portions. We made it in a larger container for four and used mascarpone instead of whipped cream. Mascarpone has a richer taste than whipped cream; the only shortcoming is that it’s thicker and you’ll probably need to let sit your Rūpjmaizes kārtojums for at least 5 hours until the breadcrumbs saturate in jam and mascarpone. At least that’s what we did – and the result was very pleasing! Imagine rye breadcrumbs toasted with sugar and cinnamon, layered with tangy mashed cranberries, and topped with soft, vanilla-flavoured mascarpone; repeat once and top with those crunchy breadcrumbs. Sounds good, uh? And those fresh forest cranberries that Mom pureed with sugar came up really handy here: we store them in refrigerator and use for time-saving baking and dessert-making. Fresh cranberries can be replaced with cranberry jam, if you prefer.

Rūpjmaizes kārtojums

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Fluffy Vanilla Custard with Cranberry Kisel

Fluffy Vanilla Custard

Whipped vanilla custard is yet another dessert which I find quite healthy – especially when it’s served with kisel (speaking about kisel, it’s one of the oldest Russian dishes and it is even known to have saved a city!). It doesn’t contain a lot of fat, and whipped egg whites* that are added in the end make it even more airy and light.
Mom says that in Soviet times, whipped custard was a popular dessert also here in Latvia. In the Latvian language, it’s called Buberts and can be made with semolina. Nowadays the variety of packaged desserts is huge in supermarkets, and I’d say Buberts has become more of a make-at-home type of dish, but I’m sure a lot of families like to have it for dessert every now and then.

*Since raw eggs are used here, please please wash them properly before cooking!

Vanilla Custard with Cranberry Kisel


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Are you curious to learn more about Eastern European cuisine?
RussianSeason.net is a food blog run by two Russian-speaking women - a mother (Natalia) and a daughter (Alina) - living in Latvia. Natalia is a professional artist and Alina is the co-owner of a web directory of Russian-speaking businesses in Europe. We both cook and Alina writes posts and takes photos.
In our blog you'll find a range of (mostly tweaked&adapted) recipes from Russia, Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and former USSR. But we can't restrain ourselves from experimenting with other cuisines too :)
Stano is the guy behind the Slovak version of this blog. He is currently living and working in Latvia and is also known as the Man Who Makes Alina Eat A Lot Of Cakes, because he hardly ever eats cakes or pies she bakes. He doesn't have a sweet tooth, you see. Stano also provides us with traditional Slovak recipes - such as Halušky that he's been promising to make for 7 months now :) Just be patient - we're sure he will eventually do it!
Ivanka is the largest cross-cultural project Alina and Stano have been ever involved in:) We hope she will be a foodie too when she grows up!
Our email address is: russianseason@gmail.com

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