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Eric Akis: Make your own version of Latvian meatball soup

Basically, Frikadelle requires stock or water, vegetable and meat, so you can vary the ingredient list to suit your taste
Latvian-Style Frikadelle (Meatball) Soup Latvian-style Frikadelle soup, rich with meatballs and vegetables, served with dark rye bread. ERIK AKIS

For those of you who have followed my column over the years, you’ll know that my late father was Latvian. He immigrated to Canada after the Second World War and brought his taste for the foods of his former homeland with him.

My French Canadian mother would prepare those foods for him, initially with some guidance from my Latvian grandmother. There were various dishes, but one thing my father was really fond of was a hearty bowl of soup.

The soup my mother most frequently made for him was Latvian-style cabbage soup. But on some occasions she would also make a type of vegetable soup that had meatballs, frikadelles in Latvian, cooked right in it.

This frikadelle (meatball) soup has been made for eons in Latvia, so it’s not a surprise there are variations, from household to household, on how it’s prepared. But, in its simplest form, many sources suggest it’s a soup made with stock or water, onion, carrots and potatoes where small, coin-sized meatballs, made from ground beef or pork, or a combination of them, are submerged, simmered and cooked in it.

Seasonings and binders, such as herbs, spices, egg and breadcrumbs, can also be added to the soup and meatballs. Other vegetables, such as leeks, celery, turnip and/or parsnip, can also be simmered in. In other words, it’s a soup you can play around with when making it and adjust more to your liking when deciding, for example, what, how much and what types of seasonings and vegetables to use.

In my version of the soup, I used seven different types of vegetables, made beef meatballs, and once it was cooked and ladled into bowls, the soup was further enriched by topping each serving with a dollop of sour cream.

My father always had a slice or two of bread with his soup, often dark rye bread bought from a bakery or grocery store. You can also do that or, if you’re feeling keen, make your own dark rye bread using my recipe that follows the one for the soup.

It’s dense and aromatic rye bread with two ingredients that further enhance its colour and flavour, molasses and cocoa powder. The cocoa powder may sound odd to some, but only a modest amount of this unsweetened product is added and it really deepens the flavour and colour of the bread.

You’ll find the dark rye flour needed for the bread at most grocery stores and at bulk food stores. The recipe makes a large loaf and, if that is too much for you, you could slice, bag and freeze some of the bread for another time. The soup is also something that will freeze well.

Latvian-Style Frikadelle (Meatball) Soup

A mixed vegetable soup made hearty and filling by simmering flavourful meatballs in it.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: about 30 minutes

Makes: four servings

For the frikadelles (meatballs)

1 large egg

2 Tbsp dry bread crumbs

1 Tbsp sour cream

• pinches dried thyme and sage

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

10 ounces (about 280 grams) ground beef

For the soup

2 Tbsp butter

3/4 cup onions, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup carrots, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup celery, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup turnip, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup green cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 bay leaf

• pinches dried thyme and sage

5 cups chicken or beef stock

1 cup water

1 cup red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (see Eric’s options)

• sour cream, to taste

To make frikadelles, combine egg, bread crumbs, 1 Tbsp sour cream, thyme, sage, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Mix in the ground beef. Moisten your hands lightly with cold water, then roll beef mixture into 24 small, about one-inch, balls and set them on a baking sheet. Refrigerate meatballs until needed.

To make soup, place butter in a soup pot (mine was eight-inches wide) and set over medium, medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the onions, carrots, celery, turnip and cabbage, and cook and stir until vegetables are softened, about four minutes.

Mix in the garlic, bay leaf, thyme and sage and cook one minute more.

Pour stock and water into the pot, add the potatoes, and bring the soup to gently simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface).

Adjust the heat to maintain that gentle simmer, and then simmer soup 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Taste and season the soup with salt and pepper.

Drop and gently submerge the meatballs into soup. Simmer the soup about five minutes more, or until meatballs are cooked. Gently stir in the parsley. Ladle soup into serving bowls, top each serving with a dollop of sour cream, and serve.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have parsley, you could replace it with minced green onion, to taste.

Dark Rye Bread

Dense, dark rye bread you can slice, butter and serve with the Latvian-style frikadelle soup. The bread, of course, is also great to slice and use for sandwiches or toast.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes

Makes: one large loaf

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (see Note)

1 1/4 cups lukewarm water

1/3 cup cooking molasses

1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus some for the bowl

2 Tbsp cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups dark rye flour, plus some for dusting and the work surface

2 1/4 to 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine water and yeast. Let mixture stand five minutes to dissolve the yeast. Mix in the molasses, 1 Tbsp oil and cocoa powder.

Add the rye flour and 2 1/4 cups of the all-purpose flour to the bowl and mix until wet dough forms. Now mix some or all of the remaining 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl (the dough should be fairly soft and a little bit sticky). Mix and knead the dough for another five minutes.

Lightly coat the bottom of a deep bowl with vegetable oil. Place the kneaded dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 75 to 90 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Gently press dough, trying not to deflate it too much, into a 10-inch long, eight-inch wide rectangle. Fold the bottom third of the dough, letter-style, up to the centre. Fold the remaining dough over the top and press the seams along the sides and ends of the dough closed to create a loaf. Set the loaf of dough on the baking sheet. Cover with a light kitchen towel and let rise 50 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in size again.

Set an eight-inch pan of water on the bottom rack of your oven. (The steaming rising from the water will enhance the crust of the bread). Preheat oven to 400 F.

Uncover the risen loaf of dough. Very lightly dust the top of the dough with rye flour. Now with a very sharp knife, make a few very shallow diagonal slits about two inches apart on top of the dough.

Bake bread in the middle rack of your oven 35 to 40 minutes, or until puffed and cooked through. Cool on a baking rack.

Note: If you bought yeast in small packets, one eight-gram packet contains 2 1/4 tsp.

Eric’s options: If you like caraway seeds, add 2 to 3 tsp of them to the dough when adding the rye flour.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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