Dreaming of “cepelinai”?
Actually there is no single season for potatoes in Lithuania. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a Lithuanian eats about 250 g of potatoes a day, so almost 100 kg a year. However, according to Snieguolė Valiaugaitė, the communication project manager of Keliauk Lietuva, according to this indicator, Lithuanians are not among the top ten potato consumers in the world. It turns out that the Chinese, Indians, Americans and Russians cannot live without potatoes any more than Lithuanians.
This time of year marks the end of the potato harvest. Potatoes are dear to Lithuanian hearts everywhere, and it’s likely that the first potato dish that comes to mind for anyone of Lithuanian blood is the meat-filled potato dumpling – cepelinai, named for their (usually) zeppelin shape. They are more officially called “didžkukuliai” or large dumplings. Very rarely does a visitor to Lithuania miss an opportunity to taste this beloved comfort food. The longing is such that in larger cities of the diaspora, cooks at parish halls and community centres draw customers from far and wide to savour these heavy but satisfying and delicious potato creations.
So popular are “zeps”, that the National Tourism Promotion Agency “Travel in Lithuania”, which has been developing gastronomic tourism for several years, has now produced a Zeppelin Map indicating places across Lithuania that serve the dish in most diverse flavours, including potato dumplings stuffed with cod, cottage cheese and mint, carrots, and beaver or rabbit meat.
The town of Karmėlava, near the Kaunas airport, is known as the zeppelin capital of Lithuania. This is the home of the legendary giant zeppelins weighing in at one-half kilogram, served at a restaurant called Briedžių medžioklė (Elk Hunt).
All zeppelins are served with sour cream and the ubiquitous duet of Lithuanian cuisine, fried bacon bits and onion. Below is a recipe from a Lithuanian website (alkas.lt), with a few tips for success. Start practicing now for World Zeppelin Day, the first Sunday in February.
Food experts tell us that the best zeppelins are made with the freshest starchy potatoes. In North America, these would be the type called Russets. To keep the dumplings from falling apart, it is important to mix mashed potatoes to the grated potatoes in a ratio of 1:3. Also, to the water used for boiling the dumplings, add a cup of the liquid (with starch sediment) which remains after grating the potatoes. This also helps the dumplings retain their shape.
3 medium-sized potatoes, boiled, skin-on
9 raw peeled potatoes
1 cup starch
1 lb ground meat for filling
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and mash the boiled potatoes. Grate raw potatoes and drain off the liquid, (pressing by handfuls or through strainer). Mix with mashed potatoes, add starch, salt to taste. Mix well. Prepare filling to taste with grated onion, salt and pepper. Flatten a handful of the dumpling mixture into a patty, put a spoonful of filling into the centre, fold the patty over the filling and seal, shaping into a ball or zeppelin. Add to a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook for 20-25 minutes. Do not crowd the dumplings in the pot.
For cottage cheese filling
½ lb firm cottage cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sour cream
Dried or fresh mint (optional)
Salt, pepper to taste
Prepare dumplings as above, blend the cottage cheese with egg, butter, sour cream, mint, salt and pepper. Shape the dumplings as above and boil 20-25 minutes. Serve with sour cream, fried bacon bits and onions, or mushroom sauce. Skanaus!
Info from Lithuania Travel, Alkas.lt, LRT.lt