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.

4 thoughts on “Latvian Veggie/Meatball Soup”

  1. Again my mouth is watering. Soup, yum! You have a standing invitation to share your food with us at any time. Just kidding. Cooking ain’t my thing, but eating is (:


    1. I’m glad the description of my soup makes your mouth water. It’s a hard life, if you love to eat, but not to cook. You can always change that. Recruit assistants, if necessary. I once made this soup for my writing critique group when we were on a beach retreat. Everyone pitched in. In this case, we had many cooks, but not so many that they spoiled the broth. We had fun and the soup turned out delicious.


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