Latvia, The land of flowers

by tableofcolors

It has been some time since my last In My Kitchen post. Some months actually. This time I will tell you a bit about one adventure this past summer and the inspiration it gave me once I made it home. Our garden has been producing nicely and so the Carrot Top Pesto potato salad below is made with mostly fresh produce from our own little patch. A few things I had to buy, the potatoes and beans. The end result was delicious. Currently Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings currently hosts IMK. Thanks for hosting! Check out her blog for links to kitchens around the world.

The past year has had so many ups and downs, many opportunities to learn. Definitely a year full of life. And one of my largest dreams is to travel and to try experience what others experience in their homelands. We were on a budget, so our trip could not be too long or too far away. Latvia was the perfect option. My husband had been at an international seminar and some fellow participants from Latvia told him the places that we should visit. We took the ferry over the Baltic Sea into Tallinn. Estonia has many lovely places to offer but this time our goal was see Latvia. We left Friday evening with another couple, one of our best friends. Most of the summer we had spent with our families and so a little adults-only get-away felt wonderful. My words lack to describe the sense of freedom we had for a few days. No baby schedules to follow, and no one asking are-we-there-yet in the back seat. I do love my kids, mind you. But I realized once again how funny my husband was. We DO have a sense of humor afterall! Often in the everyday scramble, life is carried out and finding the moments to stop takes a bit of effort.

Turaidas pils

 

I know that as a tourist, only the tip of the iceberg is often uncovered. But there are many ways to travel, and perhaps we had a chance to uncover some of the true Latvian spirit, as we drove through the countryside and visited places that the locals visit as well. It truly was the Land of flowers. It seems as if every yard was shown so much love. Even the tall, concrete apartment buildings driving into Riga, from the era of Stalin had flowers generously decorating many of the balconies. Every once in a while, along the roadside there would be a table with flowers for sale. And they were always arranged so nice. If we didn’t have such a long way to go home, I would have brought home a large bouquet. Someday it would be nice to linger a bit longer and maybe get into a conversation with a local. There independence is still quite fresh and the political scientist in me would like to find out how life has changed in the past thirty years. Did they care for their gardens with the same intensity during the era of the Iron Curtain. Was that the thing they held onto and showed their national pride even if their independence was taken away, similar to how the as the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians held onto their tradition of singing and formed the Singing Revolution with the remarkable Baltic Way human chain a peaceful political demonstration that involved about 2 million people that stood hand in hand spanning 675.5 km. (419.7 miles) all the way from the Old town of Tallinn to Riga and then on to Vilnius, singing songs spontaneously.

Riga

 

The countryside was full of gently rolling hills, more so than Estonia. And the season was farther along than in Finland as the grain had taken on a golden hue. In the middle of the fields a few large oaks had been left standing, majestic and strong. As we drove amongst the fields we would occasionally spot a few roe deer. Latvia has wild boars, but those we did not spot them in the wild. But we did spot several pairs of glowing eyes in the dark as we drove back to our hotel after dinner.

Since we were just the four of us, we were able to make random stops. We didn’t make it to the famous beaches, Jurmala or Liepaja, this time but next time they will be places to go to. We did stop by some smaller beaches and even if there was a strong wind, there was still a bit of summer in the air. Next time we will have to play in the waves.

Our intention was to spend our second night in Kuldiga which is a small medieval city in the western part of Latvia. It has the River Venta  running right through the town, which actually is Europe’s broadest waterfall although it is not very high. But we had accidently reserved rooms at the quaint little bed and breakfast, Kursu Krogs which was about 50 km from Kuldiga. It turned out to be the best mistake ever. It was such a lovely place with the most attentive service.

Kursu Krogs, a lovely B&B with friendly service. It used to be part of the old postal route.

 

We decided to drive to Kuldiga for the evening. We found the loveliest restaurant there, Bangert’s. The food was delicious and service was perfect. It seemed like we met so many friendly people in Latvia. The thing I really like about Bangert’s was they had many locally sourced options.

 

The story goes that Captain Bangert brought the house from Paris as a wedding present for his fiancée. The building standing there today is the replica of the original. It sits among large trees, next to a parkway and overlooks the River Venta.

 

Today I will share a recipe for a potato salad that has just the right amount of tartness to it and uses plenty of in-season produce. This dish is perfect to share at a party or get together. And because my garden is full of fresh carrots and I’m in love with the tart pesto the carrot greens make, the potatoes themselves are dressed with Carrot top pesto. The recipe can be found here.

Carrot Top Pesto potato salad

 

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

1 kg/ 2 lbs waxy potatoes, cooked and cooled
Carrot top pesto (recipe in the previous post and can be found here.)
A mix of fresh lettuce and kale
A generous bunch of string beans
3 large kale leaves, stem removed and roughly chopped
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sea salt
chili flakes
black pepper

Boil the potatoes until tender but be careful to not overcook. Pour the water out of the pot and place the lid back on. Allow to cool for a few hours at room temperature. Make the Carrot Top Pesto (recipe here) and set aside until potatoes are cool. If the potatoes used are new potatoes, leave the skins on and cut into quarters or sixths depending on the size desired. Gently fold the carrot top pesto with the potatoes and set aside to marinate in the refrigerator.

Before serving. Spread the cleaned string beans or haricot vert onto a parchment lined oven sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle sea salt and black pepper. Bake at 160 C/ 320 F until they have a few brown spots and are nicely sizzling. (about 12-15 minutes). On another parchment lined baking sheet place the roughly chopped kale that has the stem removed. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and a few chili flakes. After the string beans are done bake the kale chips at 150 C/ 300 F for about 15-20 minutes or until they are dried but not too dark in color.

To serve the salad. Finely chop the remaining kale and mix in with the roughly chopped lettuce mix. Place the greens on a large platter. Next remove the potatoes from the refrigerator and layer them on top of the greens. Next place the roasted green beans on top of the potatoes and right before serving garnish with the kale chips.

blogging reality

As I was making the salad in the kitchen, our Hugo had parked his cars right in the midst of my photoshoot. First I started to move them, but then I thought to leave them. It is real life afterall.

The story of Latvia continues in the next post. I have posted pictures and moments from our trip on Instagram, feel free to check it out.

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

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