If you are from Estonia then the month of February probably resonates with cold weather (possibly the coldest of the year), heaps of snow, vastlakuklid and peasoup (both traditional foods eaten on Shrove Tuesday) and Estonian Independence Day. Celebrated on the 24th of February Independence Day is cherished and honored I would say at least as much as Christmas. Estonia not being a very religious nation, it could be that Independence Day is even more sacred to us than Christmas, as one can still love Christmas without being religious. The emotional and spiritual connection most Estonians have with their land is deeply rooted in our history, in our families, traditions, values and beliefs, carried on from one generation to the next. Every family celebrates it slightly differently, of course, but there are certain traditions and customs from which probably everyone follows at least one. At sunrise the day begins with the raising of our national flag on Pikk Hermann tower in Tallinn, followed by the military parade, celebratory speeches and events carried out through the day and it all culminates with the formal presidential reception in the evening.
Like every celebration, Estonian Independence Day has its own menu, certain foods that you may not necessarily eat on any other time of the year or which associate with Estonia more then others. We don't really have a national cuisine. Due to our geographical location, as our culture in general so is our food a combination of German, Russian and Scandinavian influences. However, there are some things that on this day feel very much our own.
Since moving abroad it has definitely become more important to celebrate this day as I would in Estonia. Specially, as a relatively new mother it's important to me to introduce and pass on traditions from early on. My children and our family will always be part Estonian, even if we live in France. This year Estonia reached the landmark of 100 years, making it a bit more special and festive. I had the honor to prepare truffles and appetizers for the Independence Day reception at the Estonian Embassy here in Paris. And honestly, I couldn't have imagined a more privileged and fitting way to celebrate my country's jubilee from afar. Needless to say, I wanted to do justice to Estonias food and use as much Estonian ingredients as possible, which wasn't an easy task. It was also important to me not to necessarily be innovative with the recipes but to keep true to the flavour combinations that one would associate with Estonian food and Independence Day. Originality has its place but on certain occasions people seek for what they know, specially when celebrating one's home country and heritage from abroad. I managed to order some things from Estonia and hunted in Paris for others. Last couple of crucial components arrived on the morning of the 24th (thanks to my wonderful and very patient husband) but at the end everything came together beautifully. I will share some recipes (first savory ones!) but just to give a glimpse, without further ado, my Estonian flavours:
Mushroom cream served on a rye crisp
Dark rye bread with egg salad topped with Baltic sprat ( a classic!)
Sõir (quark cheese) with garlic and herbs
Marzipan truffles with dark chocolate (with a dash of our national flower cornflower on top)
White chocolate cranberry truffles with cardamom
To start off, let me say that the quantities made were for approximetely 90 people, so unless you are hosting a bigger party or a gathering, you really don't need to bother with the exact amounts. This is just to give an idea but it doesn't need to be precise.
Sõir (quark cheese) with garlic and herbs
Quark cheese or sõir is a homemade cheese from South of Estonia. It's easy enough to make and try different flavour variations by adding different spices or herbs. I made mine with garlic, parsley and chives. The result was flavoursome and creamy with a nice kick from the garlic.
500g quark (I used full fat)
1 l milk (also full fat)
2 tsp. salt
3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
Fresh herbs (finely chopped, I used parsely and chives)
Bring the milk to a simmer (don't let it boil!), mix in the quark (mix it through with a spoon/fork before adding) and keep it on heat until the greenish yellow liquid (whey) appears on top f the pulp, around 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into a towel covered sieve and leave it to drain for appr. 15 minutes . In a pot melt the butter and add the quark mixture, keep mixing on heat until it feels and looks more even. Add eggs (previsously slightly whisked with salt) and the chopped herbs and garlic. Keep mixing on medium heat for 3-5 minutes but don't boil! Take it from the heat and put it in a form (a not too deep bowl is fine too) that has been previously covered with a wet cloth (a kitchen towel for example) and leave it to rest for at least an hour (I left it overnight).
This is nothing original but as mushroom are widely used in estonian cooking, it seemed appropriate that they would have a place on the Independence Day table. Given quantities provided 150 appetizers.
2-3 garlic cloves
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. cinnamon
0.5 tsp. nutmeg
200g cream cheese
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
Melt the butter in a pot, add shallots, garlic, dried parsley and chopped mushrooms, cook until mushrooms have softened. Add salt and mix well until mushrooms have released their water, take the pot from the heat. Add nutmeg, cinnamon and blend everything until even(in the same pot not to lose any flvour). Add cream cheese and mix with a spatula or a whisk until smooth and even.