I’m proud of my Polish and Lithuanian heritage, particularly when it comes to food. I’m lucky to have a family that, despite having been in American for a few generations, still maintains a few food traditions from the “old world.”
Now, Eastern European cuisine isn’t typically associated with vegan friendliness, never mind healthy eating. But there’s more to Lithuanian and Polish cuisine than meat and potatoes. For example, Lithuania is rich in barley, greens, berries and mushrooms. And Poland rocks the cabbage.
So last week I put together a whole vegan spread inspired by my roots:
- Potato Pancakes with tofu “sour cream” and applesauce
- Roasted Beet Borscht with dill
- Sauteed cabbage with onions and caraway seeds
Every bit of this meal took me back to a little Lithuanian restaurant in Chicago my folks used to take me to when I was a kid – especially the potato pancakes. Typically made with eggs, these potato “latkes” from Veganomicon used corn starch as the binder. I made large pancakes instead of the little latkes detailed in the recipe (that’s the way I remember them) and served them with a tofu dip made with firm silken tofu, chives, dill, lemon and salt, plus homemade applesauce made with the apples from the orchard.
The Roasted Beet Borscht was another Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian that tasted even better the next day, chilled, with a bit of boiled potato and tofu dip dunked in the soup (sounds weird, tastes good). I’d like to try his other borscht variations, particularly the one with mushrooms.
The cabbage is one of my creations and it’s pretty simple: thinly slice an onion and saute it with some olive oil and caraway seeds until the onion starts to caramelize. Add the cabbage and continue to cook on a low heat. Add a small pinch of sugar and salt, and a bit of water if necessary (or if you want to really go out, add more oil). Cook until the cabbage starts to brown a little. You can achieve a similar effect by roasting everything in the oven for a good long time.
Surprise – Eastern European food can be both healthy and vegan. Who knew?
The star of this meal was the potato pancakes. The nostalgia I experienced was like nothing else – delightful! It makes me want to cook more Polish and Lithuanian foods, which is just as well – the weather’s getting colder and there’s nothing like hearty soups and roasted root vegetables to warm the soul. Here are a few things I hope to try soon:
- Rye bread with caraway seeds
- Sauerkraut soup
- Beet soup with mushrooms
- Pierogi, either stuffed with potato, cabbage or mushrooms (or a mix)
- Blintzes, made with buckwheat crepes
Lastly, this website has some inspiring recipes, many of which are vegan: Lithuanian Traditional Foods.