Lithuanian cuisine with Deivydas Praspaliauskas
and his recipe for Šaltibarščiai

Lithuania

Lithuania

Deivydas Praspaliauskas is the award-winning chef patron of Amandus in Vilnius old town. His philosophy is to take commonly available, seasonal ingredients and transform them into amazing, unexpected dishes. He rejects the idea that ingredients should be so obscure or hard to find that he needs Google Translate to inform his guests what they will be eating. So, what does he consider the most important ingredient in the cuisine of this Baltic country? With Deivydas’ nickname being ‘the beetroot guy’ it’s anyone’s guess...

You use many local ingredients to cook haute cuisine dishes with a Lithuanian twist. Did you grow up with fine dining?
“Not at all. I grew up in the countryside and the food that my mum used to cook was usually quite simple. Smoked sausages were often on the menu, and other dishes would have no more than one ingredient; just potato, for example. It might’ve had different textures, but it was still only one ingredient. The passion for food arose when I left Lithuania for Cyprus when I was 15.

“I worked as a waiter in a few restaurants, but that wasn’t really my thing so I moved to Denmark and started working as a dishwasher. Before I knew it, I was helping out in the kitchen, and I was in culinary school two months later! This period in Denmark was really important for me. I named my restaurant Amandus after the family that hosted me while I was there.”

Where do you get your inspiration?
“I don’t really need to look hard to find inspiration when we have so many guests from all over the world. The stories they tell inspire me. I once had a Sicilian guy in our restaurant, who told me about granita. It’s a semi-frozen dessert that works brilliantly as a palate cleanser between the main course and the dessert.

“But the seasons inspire me too! Ninety-five percent of the ingredients we use are local. It’s mostly the spices that come from other countries, many of which I brought home myself.”

Speaking of local ingredients, I think you and I share the same favourite vegetable.
“Beetroot is one of the things that’s almost always on our menu. Our main course has a beetroot garnish, we have beetroot pickles and I even used to make desserts from beetroot! Some people were a bit frightened at first, but beetroot, dark chocolate and cherries work very well together!”

Beetroot dish in Deivydas' restaurant Amandus

Instagram.com/amandus.restaurant

"Beetroot is almost always on our menu"

Deivydas Praspaliauskas

You even use it in your signature bread, right?
“Yes! The traditional Lithuanian rye bread is called rugine duona. This version has milk, but we use beer and buttermilk. The beer and buttermilk already give it enough rising power, so we hardly have to add any yeast at all. Then it has ten different types of seeds, and beetroot in two versions: raw and finely grated, and cooked, in small cubes.”

I’m an avid hobby sourdough bread baker myself, and I love rye and beetroot. I have to try it! Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union between 1944 and 1990. Did that have an influence on the cuisine as well?
“Unfortunately, yes. There’s a restaurant further down the street serving ‘traditional Lithuanian meals’, but it’s just Soviet food. It’s sad, because Lithuanian cuisine is so much more than that. We had a rich culinary tradition in which game, wild birds and special local ingredients were very important. We had a type of potato for every type of dish! One for soup, one for mash, one for potato pancakes, one for overnight baked potatoes…much of this knowledge was forgotten during the Soviet occupation.”

Having lived in Denmark, you draw influence from Scandinavia as well. Are there similarities between Scandinavian and Lithuanian cuisine?
“We tend to go by the seasons here in the Baltics, and that’s something you see in Scandinavia as well. Many of the products you get in Scandinavia can also be found here – and in the same season too. Many preparations are similar as well: smoked fish and meat are abundant both here and there, as is the use of salt for curing meat and vegetables.”

Šaltibarščiai

The Dish

Vibrantly pink, incredibly refreshing and easy to make, this beetroot soup is perfect for lunch or a light summer dinner. Winter is over once this cold beetroot soup sees its first preparation of the season.

“It uses a couple of very common ingredients: buttermilk, beetroot and potatoes. These are staple products in Lithuania, and nothing feels more natural than to combine these into this dish. When spring arrives, there’s no better way to celebrate the end of the cold season by meeting friends and having šaltibarščiai together.”

So these potatoes, do they go in the soup?
“No, it’s a very common side dish. You can omit the potatoes, but most Lithuanians would eat it with boiled potatoes on the side. This actually makes it a meal rather than an appetiser as well.”

Is it popular across the country?
“Definitely! There are a few regional differences. The buttermilk may be mixed with crème fraiche in one region, and you might find some different herbs in another. But the essence will always be the same.”

Who taught you to make it?
“This is in our blood. We don’t need to learn much about it. We just get the ingredients and know what to do.”

The Ingredients

300 ml
buttermilk
1
beetroot (raw, or cooked - in which case you can skip step 1)
a half cucumber, peeled and deseeded
3
small potatoes
2
free range eggs
fresh dill, chopped
1.25 cup
buttermilk
1
beetroot (raw, or cooked - in which case you can skip step 1)
a half cucumber, peeled and deseeded
3
small potatoes
2
free range eggs
fresh dill, chopped

The Recipe

Total preparation time: 1 hour (raw beetroot) or 30 minutes (cooked beetroot) | Yield: 4 servings | Category: starter

  1. Cook the beetroot in boiling salted water until tender - around 40 minutes, depending on size. Cool the beetroot under running water. 
  2. Grate the beetroot and set aside.
  3. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for around 15-20 minutes, depending on size.
  4. Peel the eggs and slice in half. Finely chop the cucumber.
  5. Combine the cooked beetroot with the buttermilk and chives and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Divide the cucumber in two bowls and pour over the beetroot mixture. Add the egg halves on top, yolk side facing up.
  7. Serve the potatoes on a side plate, sprinkled with the dill.
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