You may be wondering – why Piragi? Well, my mum is half Latvian and half German. My Latvian Grandfather, Ludvig, was a HUGE personality…and is sadly missed. Funny the things you remember. (Cue whimsical music and dream sequence…) He arrived in England after WWII, when the Soviet Union once again occupied Latvia in 1945. Sadly, this continued for so long my Grandfather remained in England. The book I use for my Piragi recipe states Latvia was still occupied at the time of publication (1984). It regained independence on August 21st, 1991.
I always remember my Grandfather’s Piragi at Christmas, on Christmas Eve, when twelve o’clock (present opening time) felt like light years away to an eight year old! The sweet scented pine tree, with it’s crackling candles softly warming the room. The Latvian music, the homemade wine and the tinkling angels keeping the Christmas rhythm.
Of all the Latvian ways of cooking, baking has always been one of the most important. Rye bread, pretzels and Piragi. Baking has even played a mystical role in Latvian tradition. Bread was sacred; in pagan times it was taught that if a piece of bread was dropped on the floor it must be retrieved and kissed, by way of an apology. The Piragi is a household recipe. Each home had their own version. There would be much gossip between the Latvian women about their Piragi.
“You could build a house with hers!”
Latvian cooking is earthy and honest. Probably, to our cultured Western palates, a little bland compared to the curries, pizzas and heavily flavoured food we are used to! Caraway seeds, rye, cabbage, potatoes, pork…. I still love it though. Except the pork! Being a vegetarian, I make these with onion, cheese and potato. YUM.
This recipe (and many of the stories) is one taken from a Latvian recipe book published by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Latvian Relief Society of Canada.
Piragi (Latvian Bacon Rolls) (Makes 20 small rolls)
(I can’t translate into US cups unless I give the recipe for 80 Piragi! Happy to share if you would like this though)
30ml warm water
½ tsp sugar
½ envelope dried yeast
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1/2 egg, beaten
30ml sour cream
Red onion very finely diced
Potato, finely diced
Herbs – caraway seeds, thyme, rosemary, oregano. (you choose)
* Prepare the yeast: mix sugar, water and sprinkle yeast on top. Keep in a warm place for 10 minutes. It will bubble up.
* In a pan, scald milk and add to a mixing bowl. Add salt, second amount of sugar and oil. Stir.
* Mix beaten egg with sour cream separately.
* When milk is lukewarm, add egg mixture. Add yeast mixture and ¾ of the flour. Beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon or electric mixer. Add rest of flour and continue beating. (Dough will be stiff-ish but sticky)
* Turn out onto a floured board. Knead for 5-10 minutes or use a mixer with a dough hook on low.
* Place dough in a greased bowl with cling film stretched loosely across the top. Place somewhere warm to rise for 1 – 1 and 1/2 hours to rise.
* In the meantime, boil potato chunks for 10 mins.
* Fry bacon, cooked potato, onion, herbs. Set aside.
* When dough has risen, roll into a long ‘snake’. Cut it into 4cm pieces (you’ll need to practice, to work out the correct size). Roll into discs, flatten and stretch into little circles, enough for a teaspoon of mixture.
* Brush a little egg around the inside edges and place a heaped teaspoon of mixture inside. Fold over and pinch the edges together. Place on a greased baking tray and egg wash.
* Bake for 15 minutes at 220 degrees C / 400 degrees F until golden brown and shiny.