Estonian mashed potatoes with barley (Mulgi puder)

I am born and bred in South-Estonia. I still live here and I couldn't imagine it any other way. South has a special place in my heart. It just has this uniquely different vibe. My vegan cooking workshops usually take place in Tallinn, which is in north and it's fun, but I love to drive back to our little forest cabin afterwards. Even if it's 3am. I guess there's no place like home. 

The culture-historical region where I'm from, is called Mulgimaa. We have our own dialect and we also have our own historical foods. Some of them are widely loved, like today's recipe, which is even considered Estonian national food in some cases. My mom has been cooking mashed potatoes with barley since I remember. She learned to make it from my dad, who learned to make it from his grandmother and so on. There are different versions of it, but the base is always the same - potatoes and barley. This dish is often served with pan-fried cubed lard and onions, but since I'm a vegan, I just love it with the onions or "beef" it up with delicious pan-fried eggplant, which has a really nice hearty texture. Some people also like to eat it with sour cream, but I replace it with sunflower sour cream.

The main reasons we love this dish so much, it's because it's really filling, delicious, very affordable, doesn't need much labor and it heats up really nice when pan-fried the next day. That way it gets golden brown and crispy...yum! We also love to eat some home-made preserves with. For example tomato and green bean preserve or some spicy pickles. So it's all in all a winter season food. And since the days are getting a bit chillier here, it's the perfect time to share this recipe. Happy cooking and if you have some time, I would love to hear about your favorite foods from your region!

Time: a bit over an hour
Serves: 4 people

Mashed potatoes with barley:

  • 3 ⅓ pounds / 1 ½ kg potatoes
  • ½ cup / 100 g pearl barley
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tsp fine salt (I used pink salt)
  • 2 - 3 bay leaves
  • 6 ⅓ cups / 1,5 liter water

For serving:

Peel the potatoes and cut the bigger ones into half. Put them into a thick-bottomed pot along with thoroughly rinsed barley, chopped onions, salt and bay leaves. Cover everything with water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a lid and let it boil on a medium heat for at least an hour. In the meantime, you can prepare the onions, eggplant and also sunflower sour cream, if you like. 

Pan-fry the onions in plenty of oil, until really golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. 

Cut the eggplant into small cubes. Heat up a pan, add plenty of oil and half of the eggplant cubes. Sprinkle some salt on them and pan-fry them for a few minutes, until they are translucent and golden brown. Put the cubes on a plate covered with a paper towel, so it absorbs the extra oil. Pan-fry the remaining batch of eggplant cubes exactly the same way. 

Now check on the potatoes. If they still have too much water left (it shouldn't be too soupy), let it boil without a lid on high heat for about 5 minutes. Now mash everything using an old-school potato masher, definitely not a hand blender. Taste for salt and add more, if needed. Serve with pan-fried onions, pan-fried eggplant and some sunflower sour cream.