Latvia is a country that fits in very nicely with my way of living, or at least the way I would like to live. Farming practices take nature into account and still uses a lot of the old traditions. Wildlife and Conservation are an important part of this country and is a haven for anyone who is into nature. Foraging for wild food such as berries, nuts and mushrooms is still very much part of the Latvian culture. The wide variety of natural spaces with thousands of rivers and lakes for kayaking and rafting is heaven on earth for me.
Gauja National Park is definitely my number one place to visit. This park has so much to offer the nature lover and outdoor enthusiast. It is so big that while there are short hikes that are only a couple of kilometres long there are longer hikes that can take 5-7 days. The park is home to many of the Latvian species of wildlife which are higher in numbers than many other European countries but as there is no need for wildlife to cross paths with humans sightings may be few and far between. Having said that if you do want to get up close to wildlife and learn more about the individual species Gauja National Park also plays host to the Ligatne Nature Trails. This is an educational resource within the main park. It is home to native wildlife which has been rescued and for one reason or another cannot be returned to the wild. These animals have a certain amount of freedom but cannot survive without human help. They are protected from human interference by fencing. This trail is 5km long and I highly reccomend it as an introduction to the native wildlife before you head out on a trail. Education as far as I’m concerned is the key to protecting both wildlife and humans.
Riga is the capital city of Latvia. It was the European Capital of Culture 2014. As you would expect this city has a lot to offer in the way of museums, architecture, cuisine and cultural events such as the Eurovison Song Contest in 2003. If like me you just have to visit the markets then Riga Central Market will keep you occupied for many hours. These markets are held inside some old WW1 Zeppelin hangars as well as old warehouses. This area is also home to the Arts and Entertainment Quarter.
When it comes to food there is a huge emphasis on fish and dairy. The coastline is along the Baltic Sea which supplies fish but inland agriculture focuses on grains, potatoes and livestock. Smaller farms or smallholdings usually have at least one cow and you can see this reflected in the cooking.
I would have liked to have done a fish dish but good quality fresh fish is not easy to get where I live so I decided to try Kotletes instead. Kotletes are a pork pattie or meatball depending on the shape or particular recipe. As always there was many variations of recipes to choose from and also some variations from other Eastern European countries.
Kotletes with potato and cabbage
500g minced pork
2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
1 egg whisked
2 heaped tablespoons of sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of mixed herbs
1 teaspoon of garlic granules
For the Cabbage:
Half a head of white cabbage
Half a cup of buttermilk
2 tablespoons of sour cream
Salt to taste
Combine the mince, breadcrumbs, egg, sour cream, oil, garlic granules, mixed herbs and salt and pepper then either shape into patties or meatballs. I covered mine in extra breadcrumbs but I think they would have been better without. Cook on a medium heat for about 5-6 minutes each side or until cooked through.
Finely cut or shred the cabbage and bring to the boil. Turn down heat and cook according to taste. I like mine cooked so that there is still plenty of bite to it but I know that a lot of people prefer it cooked until soft. Once cooked to taste drain and then mix with the salt, sour cream and buttermilk.
Serve the Kotletes with the cabbage and boiled potatoes and enjoy.
Join me next time for the Netherlands