For all kinds of reasons transport systems in eastern Europe are not very joined up. There are no train connections between the Baltic states, for example, and so it is that I found myself on a bus, hurtling through torrential rain in a broadly Russia direction away from Riga on my way to Vilnius.
I got talking to the lady in the seat beside me (we were in that companionable position right at the front of the bus) and she turned out to be a Lithuanian married to a Liverpudlian lorry driver.
She eyed me with concern. “Why are you going to Vilnius? Are you on your own?.” I explained that I was researching for my food blog, and after a bit more chat she suddenly commanded, “give me your phone!”, and then proceeded to open my ‘notes’ folder and type the following words:
- Vedarai, sausage
- Šaltibarščiai, soup
She said that she’d looked on the internet and noticed that the following day would be hot and sunny. That being the case, she particularly recommended the Šaltibarščiai which she told me was a cold beetroot soup.
Reader, I was brought up by nuns who pretty much force-fed me with vinegary pickled beetroot resulting in a lifelong, passionate hatred of that vegetable. But dedication to the investigative processes is fundamental to this blog. And I also had a feeling that, if one was fortunate enough to catch a hot, sunny day in Vilnius, one was almost honour-bound to try a dish specifically developed to enhance the enjoyment of said day.
So I decided to give it a go. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to track down this soup, but after the helpful directions and suggestions of many, I finally found it on the menu at Amatininkų užeiga, on the main square.
In fact I needn’t have worried. It turned out to be very good: an outrageous colour and a light, sunny taste. Particularly successful was the addition of the hard-boiled egg. If you want to make it a bit brighter you can either use pickled cucumbers, and/or a bit of lemon juice.
It was served with hot plain, boiled potatoes on a separate plate.
Recipe for shocking pink, Lithuanian, summer Šaltibarščiai soup
- 3 medium beets, boiled (save 120 ml/½cup of the liquid) and cooled in the fridge for at least an hour
- 2 large cucumbers
- 7 spring onions
- 3 hard-boiled eggs
- 5 litres/6 cups kefir (go here to find out all about kefir) or 2 cups of Greek yoghurt and 4 cups of buttermilk (go here to find out a super-simple way to make this with lemon juice and mill)
- Salt and pepper
- Dill and/or chives to garnish
- Finely snip six of the spring onions into a large mixing bowl.
- Chop the beetroot and cucumber into small dice, or grate it. Add to bowl.
- Chop the boiled eggs, add to bowl.
- Add the kefir, or whatever you are using (yoghurt, buttermilk, sour cream….it needs to be a kefir liquidity). Add the beetroot liquid.
- Season to taste and chill for 24 hours if possible
- Garnish with the remaining snipped spring onion, and the dill and/or chives.