Cepelinai is Lithuanian dish of dumplings stuffed with a pork and onion mixture and smothered in creamy bacon and mushroom sauce. Cepelinai is considered the national dish of Lithuania and is a point of comfort and pride, as cepelinai take a careful hand to form correctly.
Due to the recipe’s difficulty, it comes as no surprise that many Lithuanians prefer to eat cepelinai in restaurants rather than at home. The potato mixture must be finely grated and perfectly smooth for the large dumplings to keep together.
Cepelinai, always served hot and covered with gravy, is a great winter meal. Although they are a kind of dumpling, they are usually much larger than expected– sometimes they are as large as an adult hand! There are also variations within Lithuania. In the western region of the country, the cepelinai are usually made larger than in the eastern region.
Origin & Cultural Significance
The name of these dumplings, cepelinai, literally means ‘zeppelin‘, named so for their oblong and tapered shape that resembles the aircraft of the same name. Similar dumplings exist in most of Lithuania’s nearby countries such as Poland, Belarus, Latvia, and Germany but the cepelinai remains unique to Lithuania. Their large shape is easily portable and once served to help feed hungry workers during the harsh winters in the country.
There is also some debate about where cepelinai came from. Some think that they evolved from the German Kartoffelknödel due to their similar ingredients. However, there is no sure way to prove exactly where they came from and who decided to give them their apt name, ‘zeppelin‘.
For the fillings:
- Minced pork - 1 lb
- Yellow onion, minced - 1
- Garlic, minced - 3 cloves
- Egg, beaten - 1
- Kosher salt - 1 tsp
- Black Pepper - 1 tsp
For the dumplings:
- Russet potatoes, medium, peeled and grated - 10
- Russet potatoes, large, peeled, boiled, and minced - 2
- Lemon juice - 1 tbsp
- Yellow onion, diced - 1
- Cornstarch - 1 tbsp
- Kosher salt - 2 tsp
For the gravy:
- Bacon, finely diced - ½ lb
- Onion, large, chopped - 1
- Sour cream - 1 cup
- Mushroom (porcini or chestnut) sliced - 1 cup
- Dill, chopped - 1 tbsp
- Whole milk - 2 tbsp
- Black pepper - 1 tsp, more to taste
- Prepare your meat filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork mince, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and the beaten egg. Set aside and refrigerate.
- Now you will make the dumplings. First, to prevent browning, add lemon juice to the grated potatoes.
- Put grated potatoes into a cheesecloth and bring over a bowl. Taking the corners of the cheesecloth, twist the grated potatoes to remove excess liquid, reserving it inside the bowl.
- Take the potatoes from the cheesecloth and set them back into the same bowl with the excess potato starch. Add in the minced potatoes, onion, and salt. Mix and check salt levels, adding more to taste.
- Now, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Take your meat filling from the refrigerator.
- While the water is heating, begin to form the dumplings. Take roughly a cup of the dough and place it in your hand. Flatten it to create a patty-like shape.
- Put four heaping tablespoons, or about 1/.4 cup, of the meat filling into the center of the potato patty. Using the palm of your hand, fold the dough around the filling into an oblong, zeppelin-like shape.
- Keep making the dumplings until all of the dough and filling have been used.
- Set prepared dumplings aside on a plate and add cornstarch and salt to your boiling water.
- Boil your dumplings. Depending on the size of your stock pot, this might need to be done in batches as overcrowded can cause the dough to stick together and fall apart when removed.
- Using a stirring spoon, lower the dumplings into the water one by one.
- Let the dumplings sit at a high boil for 30 seconds, then lower heat to a simmer and let cook for around 25 minutes. By the end, the filling should be completely cooked.
- While your dumplings are boiling, use the time to make the gravy.
- In a medium skillet or saucepan, cook the bacon until crispy and the onion until tender.
- Once cooked, drain any excess grease and mix with sour cream and black pepper. Use the whole milk here to thin the gravy to your desired consistency.
- When the dumplings are done cooking, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and drain them on a dish rack or dishcloth. Plate the dumplings and cover them with the gravy. Enjoy!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 429Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 79mgSodium: 697mgCarbohydrates: 47gFiber: 5gSugar: 4gProtein: 23g
Nutrition is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. It is for general information purposes and is only a rough estimation.