Sunday, January 6, 2013

Estonia

Estonia-4
Photo Courtesy of User didkovskaya on Flickr 
Background: Gained independence in 1918 before being forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940.
Currency: Adopted the Euro in January 2011.  Bad timing...
Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea
Area: Over 45,000 sq km; 133rd biggest in the world
         Slightly smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined
Official Language: Estonian
Population: Almost 1.3 million; 156th biggest in the world
Capital: Tallinn
Economy: Very pro-business, free market government
National Anthem: My Native Land, My Pride and Joy; same melody but different lyrics from the Finnish national anthem
Source: CIA Factbook

I did not e-mail the Estonian embassy for an Estonian recipe.  I didn't even look in my international cookbooks.  Instead, I turned to the one and only Boris.  He is a friend from Madison, aspiring comedian, and his family was from Estonia (videos may not be appropriate for young audiences...or old audiences).  I knew I could trust him to give me something authentic.  His response:

I have one word for you.
Mulgikapsad.
Good luck

My confidence wavered a bit when I looked up the recipe and one of the main ingredients was sauerkraut, but I knew I couldn't back down.  I had to conquer the fear that had plagued me since childhood.  I would learn about Estonian food and embrace some of my Polish heritage at the same time.

I found multiple options for mulgikapsad, some of which were side dishes, some of which were entrees.  Boris suggested I may want to go the route of a side dish given my trepidations, so I went with this recipe.  I also tasked Kevin with prepping some pork chops so we could do this right.

Do you know what sauerkraut it?  Fermented cabbage.  Fermented foods tend to be very good for you, but often take a little bit of getting used to.  Kimchi.  Yogurt.  Beer.  Mmmm beer...
The recipe called for 1 kg (a bit over 2 lbs) of sauerkraut and 0.5 gallons of barley, so I 1/8th'd it, I believe.  And that still used all of the rest of my barley.

The most confusing part of this recipe was the lack of times.  I was supposed to heat with water until it gets hot, but before it boils.  Then I was supposed to add some amount of salt and sugar, then serve after mixing in some fried onions.  Simple, and yet open to a lot of issues.
Unbeknownst to me, Kevin had done a little bit of experiementing when he prepped the pork chops.  He coated them in flour, Adobo seasoning, and chipotle chili powder.  Very...southwestern.  By the way, the chipotle chili spice is our new favorite - we use it in almost everything.  I did the frying, but he did all of the seasoning.
Brendan was asleep for most of this, so he didn't get to make an appearance.

And that was really about it.  Pretty simple ingredients and pretty simple prep.

Kevin and I had different reactions.  Kevin said "inoffensive, but kinda bland."  Did I not put in enough salt and sugar?  I had been smelling the sauerkraut the entire time, so I had a hard time getting past that.  It just doesn't smell good if you aren't used to it.  I wanted to ignore that and move on, but I couldn't.

Even worse, the barley was undercooked and still a bit hard.  I think that comes from the "no time specified" part of the recipe.

Also, is this really what the recipe meant by bacon, or should it have been something thicker that would lend flavors better to the rest of the ingredients?

So what did I do wrong, Boris?  Is there something else should I try.  Was my technique wrong?  Perhaps I could give Estonia a second chance.

The southwest pork chops, however, were amazing.  Put some flour, adobo seasoning, and chipotle chili powder in a bag, then add the pork chops.  Once coated, fry them.  Delicious.

Next time: Ethiopia

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