Finnish cuisine isn’t likely (never say never) to have a following to rival the popularity of Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Mediterranean foods—and French, of course. Thai. Japanese and Indian. Heck, there are more Ethiopian restaurants in the U.S. than there are diners that specialize in Finnish dishes.
Many of the foods from the Northern European country are plain and feature fish, cured meats, cheese, varieties of rye bread and little-loved root vegetables (aha! cue the rutabaga picture! Haven’t used that in a while).
Mojakka (moy-ah-kah), a beef stew, and pickled fish rolls may not inspire a lot of foodies but it could happen. Who knew how sushi-crazy this country would become?
In the meantime those of us who enjoy the foods our ancestors ate usually have to prepare it ourselves, like these Karelian Piirakka (Karelia is an area of Finland, piirakka means pie).
I love these simple little pies made with a rye crust and choice of fillings. Until now I’ve only had them stuffed with rice, but we had some leftover mashed potatoes that I mixed with a little cheese so I made some with that tasty filling. Delish. I adapted the following recipe from a couple of sources including The Finnish Cookbook by Beatrice A. Ojakangas.
I don’t know why I don’t make piirakka more often. Maybe because I always think of them as being more work than they actually are. Or maybe I just like them as a special treat saved for special times like now, when my siblings and Graham are visiting.
Some day I’ll try the whipped rutabaga filling.
Preheat oven to 450 F
2 cups water
1 cup rice
a little salt
2 cups milk
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups white flour
1-1/2 cups rye flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/c hot milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
Bring the water, rice and salt to a boil. Stir, cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, until water is just absorbed. Stir a couple of times.
Add the milk, cover, and cook until the milk is absorbed and rice is fairly creamy.
Combine the softened butter, eggs and salt and pepper. (If you refrigerate it until serving time be sure to bring it to room temperature before trying to spread it on the pies!)
Combine the water, salt and oil in a large bowl, and stir in the white flour. Beat until smooth. Add the rye flour and blend well.
Turn out onto a floured board. Knead until smooth, 2 or 3 minutes.
Shape the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Cut into 16 equal portions. Dust lightly with flour. Pat each piece into a little round, then roll into a 6 inch circle. Dough will be thin.
Spread 3 tablespoons of rice filling on each circle, to within about 3/4 inch of the edge all around. Fold two sides of the dough toward the middle, then the two shorter ends to form an oval shape. Leave about a 1-inch strip of filling showing. Crimp the edges of the dough.
Place on lightly greased or parchment lined cookie sheet and brush with the milk/butter mix.
Bake 15 minutes and baste once midway through. Brush again when you remove them from the oven. Pies should be lightly browned.
Eat at room temperature or cold with the egg butter.
TIP: The rye dough can get tough as it cools. To keep them soft cover the piirakka with a dish towel (I dampened the towel ever-so-slightly) until serving time.
All stories and photos are Copyright Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted.