#EstonianWay of cooking

To celebrate Estonia's 100th birthday, here are traditional dishes in a way that all Estonians know and love while also adding a contemporary touch.

#EstonianWay of cooking

Photo: Johannes Hõimoja

They say that Estonians are the most stationary nation in Europe – thousands of years ago, our forefathers gathered on this land and decided to stay. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of our country, we carry with us traditions and wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation. The roots of our story go way back. On the 100th birthday of our country, we look back and appreciate our old recipes and ancient customs. We want to prepare traditional dishes in a way that all Estonians know and love while also adding a contemporary touch.

You can't separate an Estonian from the sea or the forest. From summer to late autumn, you can find us in the forest, foraging for berries and mushrooms. We have plenty of them! Our land is also perfect for farming. Sometimes we can go crazy over the nasty weather, but the climate here is what really gives our vegetables their flavour and character. The Estonian character was built under foreign rule. We suffered but we also learned from the experiences. Traditions of foreign cuisines have also left their mark on Estonian plates. Sometimes we have even fully adopted new traditions without realising that they may not be entirely our own.

Estonia is such a rich place. There is no way you can call the land of four seasons poor! The seasons bring diversity in nature and food and force us to be inventive when it comes to preparing and preserving food. These recipes use old Estonian methods of food preservation: salting, smoking, marinating and fermentation.

About the chef

Janno Lepik, Head chef of Leib Resto&Aed

I have had the pleasure to spend my childhood on the hilly landscapes of South Estonia, between the fields and the forest. Freshly picked wild strawberries, chanterelle mushrooms, the very first, thin peapods and all the other gifts of Estonian nature sparked my interest in food early on. I have been making sure these gifts of nature are properly valued ever since. Although I've been living in the capital for years now, I continued using local produce when setting up the restaurants Leib Resto ja Aed and Umami. The best we have to offer still comes from our forests, our sea and our own farmers. The changing of the seasons, high quality, fresh produce and the tenacity of the Estonian people will always inspire me.

Photo by: Johannes Hõimoja

Starters
Pearl barley salad with sauerkraut and roasted pumpkin
Pearl barley salad with sauerkraut and roasted pumpkin

Barley has been cultivated in Estonia longer than any other crops and pearl barley has been a staple food for Estonians through the ages

Wild mushroom and egg salad with cottage cheese
Wild mushroom and egg salad with cottage cheese

Mushrooming became a national hobby during Soviet times, when any festivities could not be considered a proper celebration without pickled mushrooms

Beetroot salad with cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos
Beetroot salad with cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos

A lot of beetroot dishes reached us through Slavic cuisine, so dishes like Russian beetroot, potato salad and Borscht were known already in Germany

Battered sprats with dill mayo
Battered sprats with dill mayo

Estonian fishermen have caught sprat from our waters for ages. It is not unlikely that Baltic Germans learned to appreciate sprat from Estonians

Mains
Braised beef pot roast with vegetables
Braised beef pot roast with vegetables

Stewed beef seasoned with spices was a common dish in medieval Livonian towns. Peasants were more used to stewing beefl in a Dutch oven overnight.

Fish cutlets with dill potatoes, cucumber salad and wild garlic mayo
Fish cutlets with dill potatoes, cucumber salad and wild garlic mayo

A recipe for fish cutlets can be found in the first Estonian-language cookbook, which was published in 1781 and was meant for cooks in manors.

Grilled vendace with fire-roasted potatoes, herb butter and green salad
Grilled vendace with fire-roasted potatoes, herb butter and green salad

Vendace is a tasty and highly nutritious river fish, which was dried and salted during the olden days to be eaten daily with some black bread.

Potato and pearl barley porridge with salted mushrooms
Potato and pearl barley porridge with salted mushrooms

People in Southern Estonia started boiling potatoes and pearl barley together in the 19th century as the combination was very filling.

Desserts
Drinks