On a recent trip to the Baltic states, I was fortunate to spend a day in Riga, Latvia. This northern European city is called the “Jewel of the Baltic,” and it certainly lives up to its name. It has splendid architecture, manicured gardens and exquisite parks.
Yet Riga is also associated with horror, death and mass murder during the Nazi occupation. I visited the site of the old synagogue, once the biggest in Riga, deliberately burned down in 1941 with many people in it. The Jewish population has gone from about 50,000 pre-Holocaust to 5,000 today.
After a tour of the only active synagogue in Riga, I was given a Jewish calendar that contained page after page of mouthwatering pictures and recipes of traditional Eastern European favorites. I delighted in reading the recipes, realizing that perhaps they were conceived in Riga and passed down through the generations. How amazing that not only did a people survive but the cuisine and culture did, as well. Here are some recipes I have modified for an American kitchen.
Taiglach is a traditional confection for the new year.
Makes 36-48 pieces
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
11⁄2 cups flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
3⁄4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup honey
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 cup nuts, coarsely broken
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat eggs lightly, add the oil and mix. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Stir in the egg and oil mixture to make a soft but not sticky dough. Add more flour if necessary.
Place dough on a board lightly sprinkled with flour and twist into a rope shape about 1⁄3-inch thick. Dip a knife into flour and cut the rope of dough into small pieces about 1⁄3-inch long. Place pieces on a well-greased, shallow pan and bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Shake the pan occasionally to keep the pieces separated and evenly browned.
Prepare honey syrup by mixing honey, sugar and ginger in a saucepan. Stir until sugar is completely melted, then cook gently, stirring constantly so the honey does not burn. Add the baked pieces of dough and the nuts. Stir gently over low heat until the pieces are well coated with syrup. Pour onto a wooden board that has been wetted with cold water. Use a wooden spoon to separate the pieces and break up large clumps. Cool. To store, wrap in waxed paper.
Chicken Kneidlach (Chicken Matzah Balls)
11⁄2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked
1⁄2 small onion
2 slices white bread, softened in broth or water
2 Tbs. chopped dill weed
1 quart water or chicken broth
salt to taste
Chop first 6 ingredients finely in food processor. Place in refrigerator until firm enough to roll.
Bring water or broth to a boil. Roll chicken mixture into balls about 11⁄2 inches across. Drop into boiling water, cover and simmer about 45 minutes. Taste for salt.
2 lbs. carrots
1 large onion, chopped
5 Tbs. flour
5 Tbs. sugar
2 cups raisins
12 oz. pitted prunes
Peel the carrots and chop. Fry onion until golden. Combine flour, sugar and 2 cups water in a large saucepan. Add carrots, onions, raisins and prunes. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. If too liquidy, cook uncovered until thickened.
Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to firstname.lastname@example.org.