Lithuanian Mushrooms (Grybai)

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Lithuanian Creamed Mushrooms (Grybai) Recipe

Lithuanian Creamed Mushrooms (Grybai)

Lithuanian Creamed Mushrooms (Grybai)

This is my Great Grandmom, Anna Belskis’s recipe for Lithuanian mushrooms. She first arrived in Philadelphia in 1920 and was a member of Saint Casimir’s Church as well as the Lithuanian Music Hall Association. She passed this creamed mushrooms recipe down to my Grandmom who was been an active member of the Lithuanian community since the early 1930s and continues to attend the annual Mugė today. My Grandmom passed it down to me and today I continue to make this dish for special occasions.

Lithuanian Grybai

From the kitchen of Anna Belskis;
written by Dan McIntyre

Ingredients:

3 lbs. white mushrooms
1 ½ lbs. bacon
1 yellow onion (smaller than the size of a tennis ball)
2 pints heavy whipping cream

Serves 6 — 8 persons.

White Mushrooms

White Mushrooms

Rinse and clean your mushrooms and drain them. Dice the mushrooms into pieces roughly the size of a nickel. Once all of your mushrooms have been diced, add them to a large pot of boiling water. Cook until they have darkened and shrunk in size — usually about 10 minutes depending on the amount of mushrooms you use and the size that you dice them. Drain the mushrooms thoroughly in a colander and return them to the pot in which you cooked them. Make sure that you have removed as much water as possible. You want your mushrooms to be as dry as possible.

Heat a large pan on medium high heat and place strips of bacon in the pan one at a time. Cook all of the bacon until it is about a third of the way cooked. Cooking the bacon partially will allow you to dice the bacon with a bit more ease. Remove from heat and drain the grease. Do not remove all of the grease, but pour the majority out to allow the bacon and the pan to remain greasy. A small pool of grease in the pan is fine. This will add to the flavor of the mushrooms once everything has been added.

Take the bacon and dice it on a cutting board. Remember that the bacon will continue to shrink as you cook it, so it is not necessary to dice the bacon too small. Smaller than a postage stamp is fine; if all else fails just think you want to be able to gather a spoonful of all the ingredients together. Once the bacon has been diced, return it to the original frying pan and continue to cook on low to moderate heat. Cook the bacon until it is about two thirds fully cooked but still soft. You don’t want the bacon to be hard or crispy.

Dice a yellow onion and set aside. You want your onion to be diced into pieces no larger than a quarter inch in size. Add your diced yellow onion to the frying pan of bacon. Continue to cook the bacon along with the onion until the onion has begun to darken and soften. It is important to add your onion to your bacon at the right time in order to have the bacon and yellow onion finish cooking at the same time.

Sliced Bacon

Sliced Bacon

Slightly before the onion and bacon has completed cooking, add your heavy whipping cream. This will of course cool your mixture down. Continue to cook over a low to moderate flame until the heavy whipping cream has begun to bubble. Turn your heat all the way down, or on an electric range off and continue to stir using low heat.

Once the bacon, onion, and heavy whipping cream have finished cooking, pour the mixture into the large pot of mushrooms. Turn the heat on moderate low to low and mix the entire contents evenly. Allow the mushroom and bacon mixture to continue cooking slowly with a lid on top. Do not allow the cream to boil. After about 10 minutes of simmering, remove from heat and continue to stir off and on until you are ready to serve them. I have found that the longer the mushrooms have an opportunity to simmer on low heat, the more the flavors begin to merge.

In my family, this has always been served at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It goes wonderfully with turkey and chicken and the heavy whipping cream creates a perfect gravy for your dish. When not cooking a large bird, they also go well with pork chops. They also go well by themselves although they are incredibly rich.

I have changed my Great Grandmom’s recipe a bit; feel free to add more or less bacon, more or less onion, and continue to play with this recipe until my Great Grandmom’s creamed mushrooms recipe becomes yours. I hope you enjoy them and I know that Anna would be happy to know she continues to be a part of the community she loved.

Lithuanian Kugelis and Bulvių Dešros

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Lithuanian Kugelis (Bulvių Plokštainis/Potato Cake) and
Bulvių Dešros (Potato Sausage)

Lithuanian Kugelis With Sour Cream

Lithuanian Kugelis With Sour Cream

Mention comfort food and Lithuanian kugelis immediately pops into my mind. Like baked macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food for so many people, this is my ultimate comfort food. Try it once and you just might feel the same way. In Lithuania, kugelis is widely popular — appearing in home kitchens and on menus everywhere.

My family has been serving kugelis for decades (likely, centuries) and over the years, we experimented with our recipe. My grandmother’s generation and those before her grated the potatoes and onion by hand. We used to grate everything manually, too, but discovered that a blender accomplishes the same results. Purists probably would disagree with us, but we are pleased with our results.

On the other hand, we studied two other elements of our recipe and after experimentation, decided that they should not be compromised. We tried to make a reduced fat version of kugelis by experimenting with the bacon drippings. Kugelis made without bacon drippings or with less than ¼ cup of them simply is not the same, in our opinion.

Similarly, we conducted our own blind taste test for potato varieties and discovered that potato variety also has a significant impact on kugelis. Red skinned potatoes are by far the best in terms of flavor and texture. Yukon gold are also very good. White, russet, and Idaho potatoes are not good choices for kugelis, in our opinion.

Bulvių Dešros (Potato Sausage)

Bulvių Dešros (Potato Sausage)

You may notice that while most kugelis recipes contain several eggs, ours contains only one. I am not sure why our recipe is so different than others in this regard, but guess it relates to how we use the mixture interchangeably for potato sausage (bulvių dešros). Our kugelis is fairly dense and this density probably is better suited for dešros than fluffier varieties.

My father grew up in Pennsylvania’s eastern coal region and always referred to both kugelis and bulvių dešros as “dasheries.” When I began studying Lithuanian, I could not understand why he called them dasheries since no similar word seemed to appear in the dictionaries I had seen. After stumbling upon the translation for sausage, I realized that dasheries was an American adaptation of dešros. However, why he referenced kugelis as a sausage remains a mystery!

Crispy Diced Bacon

Crispy Diced Bacon

Kugelis and Bulvių Dešros

From the Kitchen of
Emilija Gvazdaitytė Naujalienė, 1886 – 1966

  • 5 lbs red potatoes
  • 1 lb bacon, partially frozen
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 TBS flour
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • 2 pork casings (if making sausage)
  • Sour cream for garnish
Potatoes And Onions

Potatoes And Onions In Cold Water

Serves 4 – 6 persons as a main course.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Slice the frozen bacon into small ½” pieces. Fry it until very crispy and set this pan of bacon and drippings aside. Do not discard the drippings.

When served, kugelis should be golden brown. To achieve this golden color, work quickly with the potatoes and keep them immersed in cold water. If your raw potatoes are exposed to too much air before baking, your kugelis may turn gray. It will taste fine, but will not look as appealing. Also, processing the onion first and adding the potatoes to the puréed onion helps to prevent the kugelis from graying.

Potato, Bacon, And Onion Mixture

Potato, Bacon, And Onion Mixture

Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water. Peel and rinse the potatoes and then place them in the cold water. Take a few potatoes from the water and roughly dice them. Return them to the cold water. Repeat this process until every potato is diced. Peel and dice the onion.

Remove the bacon from the pan and place it in a large bowl. Reserve the bacon drippings (about ⅜ cup).

Purée the onion in a blender with the milk. Using a slotted spoon or wok skimmer, fill the blender with potatoes and pureé until smooth. Pour this purée over the bacon. Continue puréeing all of the potatoes in the blender using the egg as the liquid for one batch and bacon drippings as the liquid for the other batch.

Stuffing Potato Mixture Into Sausage Casings

Stuffing Potato Mixture
Into Sausage Casings

Stir the mixture in the bowl each time you add purée to it. Sprinkle the seasoned salt, ground pepper, and flour over the purée and stir again.

If making kugelis, pour the potato mixture into a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Bake at 425° for 1 hour and 5 minutes. The kugelis is ready to serve when the top is golden brown when it starts pulling away from the sides of the baking pan.

Slice into squares and serve Lithuanian kugelis hot with a dollop of thick sour cream.

If making bulvių dešros (potato sausage), tie a knot in one end of the sausage casing and then slide the entire casing onto a funnel. Quickly fill the casing with the potato mixture while carefully squeezing the sausage to remove any air pockets that form. When the casing is filled, remove it from the funnel and knot the open end. Place the potato sausage in a greased 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Repeat this process with the other casing and place this sausage into a second greased baking pan of the same size.

Baked Lithuanian Kugelis

Baked Lithuanian Kugelis

Using a toothpick, gently poke holes in the sausage to allow air to escape while baking (one hole every six linear inches or so is plenty). Since ovens and potatoes vary, you may want to baste the sausage once or twice with a little water while it is baking. Bake at 350° for about 1 hour until the dasheries are golden brown.

Slice into large pieces and enjoy with a dollop of thick sour cream.

Gero apetito!