Cepelinai“Zeppelins” are a Lithuanian specialty (not technically Russian, so sue me). Boiled dumplings are, in general, extremely popular in Central European cuisines. Jaroslav Hašek, a celebrated Czech writer of satire, was a great aficionado, and mentioned a tremendous variety of dumplings in his unfinished novel “The Good Soldier Svejk”. The roster of dumplings made in this region is so great, this variety of food is hard to define, except as something boiled made from something starchy and incorporating bacon at some point. The Lithuanian cepelinai are giant potato dumplings filled with pork and dressed with either sour cream or some kind of a cream-based sauce and usually garnished with crumbled bacon. I chose to make a creamy horseradish sauce, whose sharpness complements potato dumplings particularly well, in my opinion.

Before we begin, there are a couple of things that make boiled potato dumplings tricky. First, grated potatoes tend to turn bluish-gray when boiled, so I add lemon juice to improve the color. Second, the only binding agent is the potatoes’ own starch and a small amount of starch added to the cooking liquid. (No self-respecting cook will “cheat” by adding flour or more starch to the dumpling mix.) For this reason, it’s important to use a starchy variety of potatoes, such as russets.

As you can see from the recipe, this is a labor-intensive dish, but you can make the task easier by preparing the pork filling and the sauce a day ahead. For the sauce, use fresh horseradish. Canned horseradish is usually cut with vinegar, and would make the sauce far too acidic.

And now, without further ado:

For the dumplings

10 large potatoes
1 lb pork belly, coarsely ground
1 medium onion, minced.
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp corn starch
bouquet garni (use a couple of stems of thyme and bay leaf, plus whatever is on hand: parsley and/or dill stems, parsley root, leek, chervil, etc.)
1 tsp peppercorns.

1. Boil two potatoes with skin on until soft (about 30-45 minutes, depending on size), let cool, peel and shred.

2. Combine the pork and the onions, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Preheat a pot of water and keep hot.

4. Set a colander over a large bowl and place a piece of muslin or a floursack towel over the colander (a piece of cheesecloth folded several times over would do, but a piece of dense kitchen fabric works best). Peel and grate the remaining 8 potatoes, place them into the fabric set over the colander and mix in lemon juice. Gather the fabric into a ball around the potatoes and squeeze hard against the sides of the colander. Squeeze out as much liquid as quickly as you can. (You have to work quickly with grated potatoes, or they will begin to discolor.) Let the liquid that’s drained into the bowl rest for a few minutes, then pour off carefully, taking care to reserve the starch that has settled at the bottom.

6. Add the grated potatoes to the starch in the bowl, add the shredded boiled potatoes, mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Oil the bottom and the sides of a large-diameter non-stick pot and sprinkle with 1 tbsp corn starch. Take a quantity of the potato mixture slightly larger than a baseball. Make a dip in the middle of it and fold in approximately 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp of the pork filling. Give the dumpling a roughly oval shape and place carefully on the bottom of the pot. A finished dumpling should be at least 1 inch thick and about 4 inches long. Arrange the dumplings in a single layer — do not stack — and make sure the dumplings do not touch and are far enough apart (at least 5 mm) that they won’t fuse during cooking. You might need to use an additional pot. If you have to cook in stages, preserve the remaining dumpling mixture by covering it with a moist floursack or paper towel sprinkled with lemon juice.

8. Once the pot is filled with dumplings, add the peppercorns and the bouquet garni and place over medium-high heat. Carefully add hot water to the pot — pour it slowly in between dumplings, not directly on a dumpling — until the dumplings are just covered. Season with salt. Once the liquid begins to simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer gently for 1 hour 15 minutes.

For the creamy horseradish sauce

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cups veal stock, warm
1 cup heavy cream, warm
1/2 sour cream
2 tbsp fresh shredded horseradish
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a skillet and sprinkle flour over it. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring, until the roux is smooth and yellowish brown.

2. Slowly whisk in the veal stock and the heavy cream, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, stir in the horseradish, cover and cook for 35 minutes.

3. Stir in the sour cream, heat through for a few minutes, and keep the sauce hot.

Garnish

1/2 lb smoked bacon, diced
3 shallots, halved and sliced.
1 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute the bacon until most of the fat has rendered. Pour off all but 2 tbsp of the fat.

2. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until the shallots have softened, about 5 minutes. Add water, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon and shallots are browned.

To finish

1. Using a fish spatula (that’s the implement that works best), remove the “zeppelins” from their cooking liquid and arrange on a platter or serving plates.

2. Dress with horseradish sauce and sprinkle with the bacon-shallot mixture.

3. If desired, sprinkle with additional fresh herbs, such as parsley or dill.

Advertisements