Amber & Rye: A Baltic Food Journey, written by Zuza Zak, features an incredible collection of recipes and stories inspired by the cuisine of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A few highlights include Poppyseed Pastries, Summer Blueberry Soup, Green Nettle Pelmeni Dumplings, Muhu Lamb Burgers, and Sakotis Bundt Cake. I will also be sharing her recipe for Spiced Cacao Manna Porridge following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Interlink Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
“In October 2019, Zuza embarked on a food-focused PhD at the prestigious School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL, where she continues to explore Eastern European food from a socio-cultural perspective, through the lens of a cultural anthropologist.”
Amber & Rye
Amber & Rye begins with Zuza’s grandmother’s childhood memories in Lithuania and personal stories from her own travels. She has connected these stories to the food, both modern and traditional, in such an amazing way to really highlight the ingredients and that passion shines across the pages.
I especially love the notes on the differences in the languages and the closer look at Tallinn (capital of Estonia), Tartu, Riga (capital of Latvia), Kaunas, and Vilnius (capital of Lithuania). For those unfamiliar with the area, the brief history of the countries is particularly helpful.
Chapters are divided according to course: Beginnings; Appetizers & Snacks; Soups; The Main Event; Salads & Sides; Ferments, Pickles, Preserves; Desserts; and Drinks.
The food photography is provided by Ola O. Smit with travel photography by Yasin Salazar. The pages are filled with not only beautiful photos of the meals, but also of Zuza’s travels. Most of the recipes are paired with a quarter to full-sized photo of the finished dish.
Measurements are listed US Customary and Metric. Titles are written in English. Each recipe includes a headnote with background stories, inspiration for the dish, serving size, notable ingredients, and helpful tips. She has also clearly labeled if the recipe is vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian.
Spiced Cacao Manna Porridge
The recipe for the Spiced Cacao Manna Porridge comes from the Beginnings chapter. Inspired by manna (semolina) porridge, Zuza’s own take on this comforting meal pairs fine semolina with milk, cacao, syrup, and warming spices. I particularly appreciate how it comes together so quickly with only a handful of ingredients for a quick, but filling start to the day.
Simply combine semolina with cacao powder, cinnamon, cardamom, birch/maple syrup, and milk to form a paste. The mixture is then simmered with additional milk to create a thickened porridge before whisking in an egg yolk.
Divide among serving bowls and top with thickened cream or crème fraîche and strawberries. The thick skin that forms holds the toppings well, then gives way to the smooth and creamy porridge.
I also made Potato Latkes with Smoked Sausage and Spinach, Greta’s Gran’s Potatoes with Kefir and Summer Vegetables, Rose-Scented Mini Doughnuts with Spiced Sugar, and Blackberry Wine Spritzer.
The Potato Latkes with Smoked Sausage and Spinach was the very next recipe following the Spiced Cacao Manna Porridge. Coarsely grated potatoes are combined with shallots, egg, and flour, then pan-fried. To serve, top with smoked sausage (or Kosher sausage) and wilted spinach.
Greta’s Gran’s Potatoes with Kefir & Summer Vegetables were another huge hit. I absolutely loved the contrast in flavors and textures. Baby potatoes are pan-fried until browned and crispy, then topped with a variety of refreshing Kefir-coated vegetables. The recipe was inspired by a friend Greta who would eat dill potatoes with kefir and vegetables from her grandmother’s dacha (summer cottage) in Lithuania.
The Rose-Scented Mini Doughnuts with Spiced Sugar were the favorite with the kids. Yeast-based rounds of rose scented dough are fried in oil until golden, then topped with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom spiced sugar.
The Blackberry Wine Spritzer was the perfect way to use up a few extra blackberries at the end of summer. Fresh blackberries are crushed, then combined with chilled white wine before straining and pouring in soda water. It was so refreshing!
Amber & Rye is a great pick for those interested in incorporating the flavors of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the home kitchen. There is such a wonderful range of recipes for every time of day along with something for every skill level. Some come together in as little as 15 minutes while others require a little more planning. I also love the focus on seasonal ingredients (including a few pumpkin dishes for fall such as Pillowy Pumpkin Buns and Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake).
Most of the ingredients can readily be found in larger American grocery stores. A few items that may require further searching include farmer cheese, kasha, sea buckthorn berries, fine semolina, elderflower, juniper berries, redcurrants, and rose jam. A guide to notable ingredients with descriptions and where to locate them can be found at the end of the book.
Spiced Cacao Manna Porridge Recipe
Excerpt from Amber & Rye
Spiced Cacao Manna Porridge
- 1/4 cup (40 grams) fine semolina
- 2 tablespoons cacao powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 tablespoons birch or maple syrup plus extra for drizzling
- 2 1/2 cups (600 milliliters) whole milk
- 1 egg yolk
- Thickened cream or crème fraîche to serve
- Strawberries to serve
- In a large cup or small bowl, combine the semolina with the cacao powder, spices, birch or maple syrup, and half of the milk.
- Mix to a smooth paste.
- Heat the remainder of the milk in a saucepan until small bubbles begin to appear, then turn the heat right down and pour in the semolina paste, while stirring constantly.
- Start with a wooden spoon, but if the porridge starts to look lumpy and is thickening very fast, grab a hand whisk and give it a vigorous whisking.
- When the porridge starts to thicken, whisk in the egg yolk.
- Once you have a smooth porridge of the consistency you like, pour into bowls and allow to stand for a moment.
- Drizzle with syrup and serve with cream or crème fraîche and strawberries.