Food-wise, Latvia has many things in common with its neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania. Potatoes, wheat, barley, and rye are staples. Meat is the centerpiece of many meals. Latvia is a huge producer of dairy products, and you can see this in the cuisine. Sauerkraut is a favorite, each family preparing sautéed sauerkraut its own way. Cranberries and other wild berries are turned into deserts. Foraging is a common way to gather food, and foraged mushrooms are pickled or prepared as a sauce, as they are here.
I wanted cook a traditional Latvian food for this project. This mushroom sauce is very simple, but it’s also a celebration of Latvia’s foraged mushrooms. If I were making the most authentic, Latvian version of it, I might make it with boletus mushrooms, which are abundant in Latvian forests and one of the most popular varieties for cooking. I didn’t have access to any boletus mushrooms, so I used locally grown shiitake mushrooms from my CSA share. You can use your favorite locally grown or foraged mushrooms in this sauce.
I first came across this sauce in this 1984 archived New York Times article on Latvian cuisine. I also saw it mentioned as a favorite in this blog post about foraging in the Gaujas National Forest, and this blog post on common varieties of Latvian mushrooms. Some versions of the sauce include bacon or ham, and others don’t. I have chosen a bacon-free version to suit my own preferences.
I served the sauce spooned over peeled and boiled potatoes, topped with parsley, for a hearty lunch.
Those of you who want to delve deeper into Latvian food, and are a bit more adventurous with cooking projects, give Jāņu Siers a try. Jāņu Siers is “John’s Cheese,” a homemade caraway cheese served during the midsummer celebration. Jāņu Siers was my first attempt at a Latvian recipe, but the cheese didn’t come out quite right for me– it stayed crumbly and rough in texture, instead of melting and stretching to form a smooth cheese. If you’re going to attempt this cheese, use real farmer’s cheese (not American cottage cheese) and full-fat dairy. Recipes can be found here, here, and here.
Here’s a picture of my failed attempt:
Latvia – # 93 of 193
Wild Mushroom Sauce
A Latvian mushroom and sour cream sauce to be served with boiled potatoes or meats.
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tsp flour
- 1/2 cup water, more as needed
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- salt & pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over low heat.
- Add the diced onions. Season with a few pinches of salt. Increase the heat to medium, and stir until the onions are softened and beginning to turn golden.
- Add the mushrooms and garlic to the pan. Continue to saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are beginning to brown. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan as the mushrooms cook if needed, to prevent them from sticking to the pan and scorching.
- Add the 2 tsp flour and 1/2 cup water. Stir the water and flour evenly into the mushrooms. Simmer for an additional five minutes, to create a thick gravy. If the sauce begins to clump or scorch, stir in additional water by the spoonful to maintain consistency.
- Remove the saucepan from heat, then stir in the 1/4 cup sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. At this point the sauce should be a little bit thinner. It can be spooned over seared meats, boiled potatoes, or served as a side.