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Russian Flagship Program cooks up culturally layered night

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Students prepare the ingredients for a traditional Latvian dessert at the UNC Russian Flagship Program's Cooking Night on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

Latvian layered rye bread, or rupjmaizes kārtojums, is an iconic piece of Latvian cuisine, similar to a trifle or a parfait.

On Monday, the Russian Flagship Program hosted a cooking night in Dey Hall's Toy Lounge devoted to the dish. The event was free and ingredients were provided. 

For many of the non-RFP-member students, this event was a chance to engage with the culture of Eastern Europe.

“I just want to be more aware of the rest of the world,” UNC student Nesia Evans said. “Sometimes I feel like I'm just stuck in America.”

At the start of the event, several tables were set up, equipped with mixing bowls, plastic cutlery and various other supplies. The organizers of the event began by passing out slices of rye pumpernickel bread, which each student then finely chopped, seasoned and blended into crumbs.

The second phase of the preparation process was the mixing of the layered dish’s cream component. Each table of attendees was given mascarpone cheese, vanilla extract and sugar, which they mixed as a team.

The final step was the layering of the bread crumbs, cream and jam — which was available in a variety of flavors. Traditionally, the dish is served with lingonberry jam, which is made from the popular European fruit that is similar to cranberries and huckleberries. At the event, the lingonberry jam was substituted with blackberry, strawberry and raspberry jam. 

After the preparation phase had concluded, students went their separate ways, taking with them their layered rye breads to cool at home and enjoy. All-in-all, the event lasted about two hours.

Some attendees, like first-year Erika Limezs had personal connections to both the culture and cuisine of Latvia. She said the process and the event were positive reflections of her Latvian heritage.  

“Both of my parents are from Latvia — I was actually able to visit, just recently, over the summer,” Limezs said. “And I wanted to see what any sort of Latvian events were here on campus. I thought this would be a great event to enjoy some sweet treats and perhaps meet other people and tell my culture.”

The RFP offers a number of events with the intention of celebrating Eastern European culture and language. At an October event, they taught students about the Russian folk art form of Khokhloma.  

“I would highly recommend this program,” RFP student ambassador Sasha Hase said. “The cool thing about it is it’s an excellent opportunity, both for those who have Slavic heritage and those who don’t, so people that are just interested in reaching a level of proficiency in Russian and learning about the culture in a way that you don't get to do with other programs.”

Hase said events like this one are a part of the program’s ongoing mission of providing students with opportunities to engage beyond their own culture and broaden their worldview.

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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