Latvian Veggie/Meatball Soup

“Frikadiļu zupa” My family recipe.


Spring may not seem like soup weather. At least not for hot soup. But spring, being what it is, you can’t count on the weather being warm. At least not in my part of the country. For me, “soup weahter” is whenever I’m in the mood for a particular soup. As is the case with many Latvians, “frikadiļu zupa” is my favorite soup.

Not only does every region of Latvian have its own variation of this soup, every cook does, too. This version is from my mother’s side of the family. My mom didn’t put cauliflower in the soup, but her cousin did. The peas also come from the cousin. I love the cauliflower and peas. My mom ate this version of the soup with gusto whenever I made it.

Because this is a traditional recipe, which was never written down, the measurements of the ingredients aren’t very specific.

The meatballs can be made with beef alone or with two-thirds ground beer and one third ground pork or half pork, half beef. Traditionally, the filler is mad of a slice of day-old bread is soaked in milk, the milk squeezed out and the wet bread torn to shreds and added to the meat. I’ve used commercial dried bread crumbs or quick-cooking oats as binder. One egg is sufficient binder for one pound of meat. A dollop of sour cream. A quarter to a half cup of minced yellow onion. Salt and pepper. A sprinkling of dill–fresh or dry. Or not. According to preference. Mix until everything sticks together in one nice ball.

Handle the meat as little as possible. Too much handling makes the meatballs tough. That’s why my mom never shaped the meat into balls, but just scooped a tablespoon, or so, of the meat into the broth. I shape the meat into balls, which is why my meatballs are never as tender as hers. They still taste good, which is what counts.

My mother had a lot of patience. She cooked the meatballs in the broth, refrigerated them overnight. The next day the fat had coagulated and could be scooped off. Other people baked the meatballs on cookie sheets. I can’t say for how long, since I’ve never done it. I’m impatient. I want to eat my soup as soon as it’s cooked, which is why mine has little bubbles of fat floating in the soup, as in the photo. After I’ve eaten my fill, I do the refrigerating and removing of fat in the morning.

I make big batches of soup, using at least two or two and a half quarts of beef broth. Store bought. I’m too lazy and in too much of a hurry to make it from scratch.

Cousin used cooking onions to help flavor the soup. I tried that, but didn’t like the boiled onions. I dice and sauté the onions. How much you add of the veggies, depends on how much you like each one. Half a big onion or one whole small onion. I’m not that fond of carrots, so add only two sliced ones. If you love carrots, add three.

I love potatoes. I use three big russets, cut into cubes. I’ve seen recipes which recommend using a waxy potato–white, red or yellow potatoes, which stay firm when cooked. I like that russets get a bit mushy around the edges. They add flavor and thickness to the broth. To keep them from turning into a mushy mess, add them to the soup after the carrots have had a chance to cook for a while.

All the veggies go into the soup int the order of length to time it takes them to cook. Carrots first. Peel and cut up potatoes while the carrots are cooking. Cauliflower florets go in next, then the peas, then the meatballs.

Additional flavorings are a couple of bay leaves, a handful of minced dill, salt and pepper to taste. You can also toss in dried thyme or add a dash of Worcestershire sauce or a packet of brown gravy mix. This is an improvised recipe. Add whatever you think you’ll like. If you decide you don’t like a particular flavoring, leave it out next time you make the soup.

To serve add a dollop of sour cream (stir in after you’ve admired the pretty soup) and sprinkle on more fresh dill and/or minced scallions. Minced dill pickle is a tasty, traditional garnish.

I’ve tantalized my taste buds enough. Gotta go make soup.

Latvian Summer Salad

Simple salad

Summer doesn’t officially start for another five weeks when the solstice arrives, but warm weather is here already. It’s time for something cool and refreshing to eat that’s also simple to make.

This salad probably isn’t unique to Latvians. The people of the other countries bordering the Baltic Sea no doubt also enjoy this salad. There are many variations.

There’s not much to it. Under that pile of veggies is a mound of small curd cottage cheese. Thinly slice cucumbers and radishes. Chop scallions. Sprinkle fresh dill on top. For us Latvians there’s no such thing as too much dill. Add salt and pepper to taste. No other dressing is necessary–that would make the salad too goopy.

Variations of this salad are cukes with scallions. Or radishes with scallions. You can also skip the cottage cheese and mix the various veggies in any combination with sour cream. If you like, you can serve this salad on a bed of lettuce of your choice. It looks like that’s what I’ve done here, but it’s just a pile of chopped green onions.

You can also do sandwiches. Black rye bread would be the Latvian choice. Top it with butter, the cottage cheese, put sliced radishes or cukes or both on top, sprinkle with salt, pepper and dill. You can also finely dice the cuke, grate the radishes and mix them with sour cream for a refreshing sandwich spread. And dill, always dill. Actually, dill is not mandatory. If you don’t like it, you can leave it out or substitute minced cilantro or parsley–but then your spread won’t be authentically Latvian.

Labu apetīti!  Bon apetit. Good appetite!

Writer’s Hope

My Hero Saves Me

Not Cameron’s Plane

Today I was going to write another post about food. My little essays about food get me the most attention and followers. With my post about baking Latvian black rye bread, I had more than one hundred hits in one day. Most of my posts get me views counted in one digits. I even got a pretty decent, one hundred word start on my next post about food, but I couldn’t do it. Depression struck. Hard. A food post does not have the power to keep me at the keyboard. Or off my balcony railing.

I’m lucky if I can write at all when I’m depressed because I can’t even go out my front door when I’m depressed. I greet mornings with words that no new day should hear, but at least I get out of bed. So, I abandoned my food post for another day.

What keeps me going when I don’t want to keep going is my novel-in-progress. I am in love with my own words. I am in love with my story. I am in love with my protagonists, especially my hero.

Cameron Quinn, one of the protagonists in Bittersweet Christmas (a.k.a. A Daddy for Christmas), which is set in 1952, is a former flying ace, who flew Mustang P51 fighter planes during World War II. During the timeline of my story he’s a carefree (more-or-less) bachelor, working as an aeronautical engineer and test pilot at Boeing. He’s also a private pilot who owns a two-seater plane. He has a nice house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood where he hopes to raise a family someday.

Cameron falls in love with Līvija Galiņa, a Latvian refugee who fled her country when the Red Army invaded in 1944. She’s the widow of a Latvian soldier and the mother of a seven year-old daughter, who was born months after her father was reported killed in action. In Latvia Līvija was a lawyer. In Seattle, she cleans other women’s houses. Līvija also lives on Capitol Hill, in a big house whose nine Latvian refugee residents include her daughter, mother, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and a single father who wold like to marry Līvija. However, she’s not attracted to him. She’s attracted to Cameron who saved her life. She feels a bit like the rope in a tug of war. Her mother wants her to marry a Latvian. Any Latvian, but preferably the housemate. Līvija’s daughter, and her own heart, tug her toward Cameron. Love of her lost country and her heritage also have a strong hold on her heart.

Latvian Cinderella meets American Prince.

Writing this story gives me joy. It gives me hope. It gives me purpose. There is no high like a creator’s high. No low like the low of those who fear they can no longer create.