Recipes from Estonia

Finland and Estonia share a long history together and their languages are very similar. When the countries selected national anthems around 1850, they both selected the same music.  And, when communism ended in 1991, Finland began to invest in Estonia.  That's why my friend Pekka, a Finn, found himself in Estonia.  And for this reason, most of my social contacts in Estonia were actually from Finland.

I thought that if I was going to find a recipe for eating well in Estonia that I would actually have to find a Finnish dish.  I lost little time grilling Eva about traditional dishes that I could actually make (a very important requirement).  She suggested macaroni and beef.  I never heard of that combination before, but it wasn’t hard to find the recipe in an online search.  And, Eva was right.  It did look simple enough for me to attempt.

Finnish Macaroni Beef Casserole (Lihamakaronilaatikko)
Helsinki, Finland

1 ¾ cup macaroni
¾ lb ground beef
1 onion
2 tbs cooking oil
1 2/3 cup milk
3 eggs
1 tsp salt   
white pepper
1/3 cup grated cheese   
3 tbs butter 

Boil the macaroni in salted water until it is half cooked.  I'm not sure how long that is, but I hope you do.  Drain the macaroni. 

Finely chop the onion.  Then, brown the ground beef and onion in a saucepan with oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Mix the macaroni and beef together.  Then, pour them into a greased oven casserole dish.

Mix together the eggs, milk, and grated cheese.  Pour this over the macaroni and beef mixture.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and add a few pats of butter on the surface.  Cook at 350 F for approximately one hour.

For a bit of variety, instead of using the milk/egg mixture, 1 1/3 cup of bullion can also be used to cook the dish.

As things turned out, I ate a lot of Estonian cooking.  Every day I painted at the school, I had a free lunch in the cafeteria.  There was meat and cabbage with potatoes, carrot and beat salads, and some very savory soups, but no recipes.  Even though the students mumbled that the food wasn’t good, I was happy with the Estonian cooking.  Everyone I talked to said that their mothers cooked better than the school meals.  However, nobody seemed willing to bring me a meal from home.  I did ask.  I was willing to see if they were right.

One evening a group of people from Pekka's office came to paint.  I thought I should take advantage of the situation.  I asked the women if any of them had easy Estonian recipes that I might be able to prepare.  They did something better than I could have imagined.  They gave me an Estonian cookbook in English!  It included some of the things I ate at the school, including my favorite.

Green Cabbage with Ground Meat
Tallinn, Estonia

1 lb or so of meat 
1 Tbs cooking oil
2 onions, chopped
2 pounds cabbage 
2 ½ cups boiling water 
black pepper
According to the recipe book Eesti Köök, when cooking this dish with fresh cabbage, harvested in midsummer, use less water and be sure to not overcook.  When using cabbage harvested in the late fall, double the cooking time to one hour or more and add more water to prevent burning.  I, however, have no idea what overcooked cabbage looks like.  And, I've never, ever, thought about when a cabbage was harvested.  It never entered my mind.

Cut the cabbage into long, thin strips.  In a heavy pot, sauté the onions in hot oil.  Add the ground meat (which should be a mix of pork and beef) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer red.  Add the boiling water, cabbage, and then salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes or until the cabbage is tender.  Add more water, if needed, to prevent the dish from burning.

And, my favorite part of the meal, serve it over boiled potatoes.  I love potatoes any way you make them.  But, this was especially delicious.