Monday, January 23, 2006

Cooking Estonian: sõrnikud alias curd cheese patties

Since the EU Enlargement in May 2004 the availability of various food products from my part of the world (i.e. Northern and Eastern Europe) has increased considerably here in Scotland. My local deli, Victor Hugo on Melville Drive, has now a special shelf dedicated to various Polish relishes, jams and salads. And as of early January, there's a Polish shop, Bona Deli, within a 5-minute walk from my house. This is good news. Although Polish cuisine is not very familiar to me, quite a few of the raw ingredients we use are the same.

When checking out the new Polish deli*, I was delighted to find that they stock curd cheese. Milk curd cheese (kohupiim) is very popular in Estonia in various forms.You can buy it plain, or seasoned with vanilla or studded with raisins. Children adore chocolate covered curd cheese bars - a good source of milk proteins. When I was a kid, there was just one variety of these - nowadays you can get these filled with cranberry or blueberry jam, for instance. Milk curd creams with various delicious flavours were our typical milky snack before yogurts took over the dairy sections in the supermarkets. Cakes using milk curd are delicious alternatives to more familiar cheesecakes. Texture-wise, it's very similar to ricotta, although the production process differs (ricotta is used from milk whey).

But milk curd can also be used in savoury dishes, and one popular dish is called 'sõrnikud'. Basically these are curd cheese patties that have been dipped into flour or breadcrumbs and fried gently in butter and oil. The dish is also known in Russia, the Ukraine etc, so it's not 'native' to the Estonian kitchen. But I've seen similar recipes in older Estonian cookbooks.

I made two different versions last week - plain ones and carrot ones.

Plain curd cheese patties
(Kohupiimakotletid ehk sõrnikud)

Sõrnikud köömnetega

250 grams dry curd cheese
100 ml plain flour
1 medium or large egg
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 Tbsp sour cream
a pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients and let stand for 15 minutes. Moisten your hands and form the curd cheese mixture into small patties. Dip into semolina or fine breadcrumbs.
Fry in oil and/or butter until slightly golden. You're aiming for a soft and not crispy crust here.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and some chopped herbs as a light meal.

Curd cheese patties with carrot

The carrot version is very similar, but due to the use of some sugar and the inherent sweetness of carrots, this can be served as a dessert. Well, it is served as a dessert back in Estonia (as the plain ones can, once you omit caraway seeds and add a spoonful of sugar). If you're a bit sceptical about it, you can always drizzle some honey or serve with some jam - in addition to the sour cream, that is:)

250 grams plain milk curd cheese
2 large grated carrots
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp semolina
1 little to medium egg
1 Tbsp sugar
100 ml plain flour
a pinch of salt

Fry the grated carrot gently in butter to soften a little. Add semolina, fry for a minute or two. Cool a little.
Mix all ingredients and let rest for 15 minutes.
With moist hands again, form into small patties and dip into semolina or fine breadcrumbs. Fry until golden brown.

NB! If you cannot find curd cheese (try Polish/Russian shops), then ricotta is a perfectly acceptable substitute. The taste will be a wee bit milder though.

*Bona Deli, 86 South Clerk Street, Edinburgh


sha said...

just 2 blocks from where I live is a Polish store... I have not ventured there yet not just yet.

Alanna said...

Hei Pille -- Is the curd what Finns call 'rahka'? If so, a foodie friend who lives in Helsinki suggests that we might substitute things called quark or baker's cheese. If not, she says that you can supposedly make your own from buttermilk, as here: Naturally I'm especially intrigued by the carrot version!!

Maya said...

Hi Pille, this recipe seems very very simple...but yummy. I might try this out since I'm not a cook pro like you guys here ;-) A little step for a beginner amateur.

Btw, I hope it's ok that I include your blog in my Friends section. I really enjoy your blog and thanks for sharing it all...thanks again. Happy Cooking.

Pille said...

Sha - you should check the shop out then:)

AK - yes, curd cheese is 'rahka' in Finnish. I've used a mixture of quark and ricotta previously to bake curd cheese cakes here in Edinburgh. But now that I can buy the right stuff at my doorstep, I'm even happier:)

Maya - this is a very humble and simple dish indeed. I find it funny that we'd usually serve it for dessert (well, the non-caraway version that is), as it's not sweet at all. Consider it kind of Estonian cheese course at the end of the meal:)
And of course it's alright to include me in your friends' list. Thanks!

Antti said...

Hi Pille! I found your fab-looking blog thru delicious days, and will keep reading your postings for sure :)

I have a Finnish food blog at, and I'll definitely try something Estonian in the very near future; many of your dishes feel so homey but with a nice exotic twist :)

relly said...

dzien dobre pille, i have lived almost a year in Poznan do you speak the language? I have learned a few market word when i was there.
I have just tasted Bigos.. do they have similar dishes with Estonian?
Is this dish main or first course? I'd love to try that and side with salads.

Dzienkujie bardzo!

Pille said...

Antti - welcome to my blog! I guess it's inevitable that you'd find a lot of Estonian cooking homely - but with a twist. Apparently our foods are very similar - it's just that your food is a bit sweeter:)

Relly - nope, I don't speak a word Polish, as it's totally unrelated to Estonian (which is very similar to Finnish though). I was taught Russian at school as a foreign language, but as I was a very reluctant learner (it was during the national reawakening in 1980s and 1990s, so we didn't really have to learn it anymore), Russian is my weakest language. I speak much better English, Finnish and Danish, for sure. But I do remember enough to recognise some Polish/Czech/other Slavic words.
We'd serve this either as a first course/light meal or a dessert - it's not really substantial enough for a proper main course.

Dagmar said...

Oh, Polish deli? I'm soo soo envious. I would love some of that cheese. I really hope that the Polish food store in Stockholm have a lot of goodies when I move there.

Pene said...

Tere Pille,
I've been wanting to know how to make these since I discovered them last summer in Rimi Hypermarket in Tartu. The ones I bought had raisins in them & were silghtly sweet. Can I use honey instead of sugar to sweeten them?

Thanks ever so much for posting the recipe in English.

Pille said...

Dagmar - have you checked out the Polish deli in Stockholm yet? I'm sure you'll become a frequent customer there!

Pene - there's no reason why you couldn't add some raisins and use honey instead of sugar.
For a packet of "kohupiim", I'd take 1 egg yolk, 3-4 Tbsp flour or semolina, a pinch of salt, 1-2 Tbsp of honey and a handful of raisins.

Pene said...

Do you use a microwave at all?
I prefer to cook vegetables in mine because they are warmed but still crunchy & healthier. So I was thinking of warming the grated carrot with the honey in the microwave. I'll be making these for Wednesday evening. I'll let you know what happens.

Pille said...

Hi Pene, I use the microwave only to heat up leftovers. But of course you can cook your veg in the microwave if you prefer.
Looking forward to reading about your Wednesday cooking!

Pene said...

I grated the carrots & mixed in the raisins with honey & butter yesterday. Today it tasted sweeter. I was able to cook them before I had to run an errand. I made small thin patties so that they would cook quicker. Gave each son one to try this afternoon. Eldest son asked if there were more? He liked them. Younger son ate his piece & said it was OK. I rather liked the flavour.
I bought some storemade sõrnikud to take tonight so that my friends can see what they traditionally look like. I'll let you know what they say.

Anonymous said...

Although Polish "tvarog" is now widely available and probably cheaper there is a Scottish curd cheese called Crowdie. It can be found in lots of delis and cheese shops e.g. Real Foods in Edinburgh. I think it is more of a highland foodstuff. Of course if you can find whole unpasteurised milk you can make your own.

Brixx said...

Sadly, I didn't discover it back then when I was "up there"...,so have no idea if it exists in Scotland. But- here, in London, to my greatest amazement I've found marvellous stuff! -it's called Fromage Frais, &it is identical (frighteningly so!!) to Estonian kohupiimapasta. Yammmm.

Just thought would make ur days happier, perhaps.

Here I get it from -Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Morrisons, etc, etc. So, everywhere, actually.

(Oh, they also have this in tiny pots, flavoured!!!, some with jam beneath it)

Pille said...

Pene - what did your non-Estonian friends in Estonia think of "sõrnikud"? I haven't tried the sweet version with raisins myself yet, but will soon.

Anonymous - I read about Crowdie in Sue Lawrence's Scots Cooking, where she says it's a traditional ingredient in Cranachan. I haven't come across it in Edinburgh stores yet, but maybe I haven't been looking properly.

Brixx - have we met here in Edinburgh? Fromage Fraise is great indeed, and can be used instead of kohupiimakreem - to make days happier:) However, it would be way to creamy for sõrnikud, as these work better with drier and crumblier curd cheese (pakikohupiim).

Anonymous said...

A good story

GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

Voila: This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

From a hectic life in New York City to the peace and glories of the French countryside lead me to be the co-founder of Ten years later with the words of Pierre Androuet hammering on my brain:

“Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.”

I took pen and paper; many reams later with the midnight oil burning Tasting to Eternity was born and self published.

I believe cheese and wine lovers should be told about this publication.