I read an article about Lithuania a few years ago, about a small town on the coast called Palanga, which has an 18km long sandy beach. According to legend there is a pagan shrine in Palanga where a beautiful priestess named Birute used to tend. Hearing of her beauty, Kestutis, the Grand Duke of Lithuania wanted her to become his wife but she did not consent as she had promised the gods to remain a virgin. He forced her to marry him in a lavish wedding in his home town of Trakai. Kestutis was later murdered and Birute returned to Palanga serving the shrine until she died. Legend claims that she was buried in the hill which is now named after her. I’ve not managed to visit Palanga as yet but it’s still on my bucket list.

Lithuania or Lietuva to the locals is one of the three Baltic states. In the 14th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest state in Europe, including most of present day Belarus and Ukraine along with parts of Poland and Russia. On 1 January 2015, Lithuania adopted the euro as the official currency and became the 19th member of the Eurozone.

Vilnius is the capital with a population of 543,000 is well known for it’s Unesco inscribed medieval old town, the largest in Eastern Europe. Other highlights include Vilnius Cathedral, Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Museum of Genocide victims (dedicated to thousands of Lithuanians who were murdered, imprisoned or deported by the Soviet Union from WWII until the 1960s). Another highlight is The Curonian spit, a 98km curved sand dune spit separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea which was formed about 3rd millennium BC.

Lithuanian dishes feature pork, potato, berries, mushrooms and dairy products among other ingredients. The cuisine takes influence from its Baltic neighbours as well as Polish and Ukrainian food. I came across recipes for Kugelis (potato pudding), Cepelinai (potato-based dumplings), Blynai (crepes), Pyragas (Lithuanian style cakes) and Šaltibarščiai (cold borscht soup). I decided to make Suktiniai or Zrazai (stuffed beef rolls) which we had with mash potato. It took a little bit of effort bashing out and rolling up the beef, but the result was really tasty, especially the sauce that accompanies it.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 40 mins
Cook time: 50 mins

1⁄2 cup dried mushroom, porcini preferred
1 tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 oz button mushrooms, chopped
1⁄4 cup fresh rye breadcrumbs
1⁄4 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp freshly ground pepper
350 – 400g steak (I used 2 bavette steaks)
freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp sour cream

Rinse the dry mushrooms and place in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water and let stand for a few hours
Preheat oven to 175 c
Remove the dried mushrooms with a slotted spoon. Chop the mushrooms. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and both types of mushrooms and fry over medium high heat, until the liquid released by the mushrooms start to evaporate, about 10 minutes.
Remove to a bowl, add the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, and mix well. Set aside. (You can prepare to this point, and refrigerate until you are ready to complete the dish).
Cut the steaks into 6 pieces and place them individually in between clingfilm and bash to 1cm thick. Salt and pepper both sides.
Place a spoonful of the filling at one end, and roll it up, tucking in the sides. Use toothpicks to secure the rolls
Heat the remaining butter and oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the rolls in flour, tapping off the excess, and brown on all sides in the skillet for 5 mins
As the rolls finish browning, remove them to a Dutch oven or similar covered casserole dish, keeping them in a single layer.
Reduce the heat to medium, add 1/2 cup chicken stock to the skillet and heat, scraping and mixing in with the pan juices. Add the mushroom soaking liquid and cook for 5 mins
Pour the juices over the rolls, add the bay leaf, cover tightly and place in oven, for about 45 minutes. Test with a knife – the roll should pierce with no resistance.
Remove the rolls to a serving dish, removing the toothpicks and place in the oven to keep warm
Put the juices into a saucepan and heat for a few mins, then take off the heat and add the sour cream, mixing well
Serve with mash

Ingredients for Zrazai (Beef rolls)
Bashing out the Zrazai (Beef rolls)
Making the filling for Zrazai (Beef rolls)
Zrazai (Beef rolls)
Zrazai (Beef rolls)
Zrazai (Beef rolls) with mash
Curonian Spit Lithuania
Vilnius Cathedral
Vilnius Cathedral
Baltic Sea Lithuania
Baltic Sea, Lithuania

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