A weekend of surprises: Lithuanian cepelinai

With this weekend somehow nearly over already, here we are reflecting on last weekend, which was very enjoyable, even though much of it didn’t turn out as we expected!

It started on Friday night at a dinner party with friends. We knew that was happening, but what we didn’t know was that we were going to be introduced to the wonder of raclette. We’d seen raclette at Borough Market but never eaten it, and can now happily report that the ensuing cheese coma was totally worth it. An experience to repeat!

Our plans for Saturday were to go to the theatre and then out for dinner in the evening. That sort of happened – Miranda went to the theatre, but Ash had a better offer in the form of tickets to England v France at Twickenham.

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Wonderful wife that she is, Miranda couldn’t deny Ash this opportunity, so off we trotted in our separate directions, both pretty happy, meeting back in the Mash House afterwards for a gourmet supper of avocado on toast.

Sunday started off disappointingly, as the plans we had for some London exploration with friends had to be postponed due to one of them being unwell. However, we made the best of a bad situation and decided to seize two opportunities. One was to watch Bridget Jones’s Baby, which was a surprise belated birthday present for Miranda from her sister-in-law that had arrived the day before! The other was to finally attempting the Lithuanian national dish, cepelinai, or zeppelin-shaped potato dumplings. We’d been looking at this for a few weeks but putting it off because the idea of pork-on-pork with added cream is Miranda’s idea of a nightmare. Unfortunately, there was no escaping the fact that cepelinai is as Lithuanian as it gets, so she took a deep breath and accepted her fate. We consulted a few different recipes in order to create our own, but mostly followed the one on Lithuanian Home Cooking, which sounded like a reliable source.

Cepelinai

Ingredients
For dough:
1.2kg potatoes (we used Maris Pipers)
1 tsp salt
Juice of approx 1/2 a lemon

For filling:
200g pork mince
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

For sauce:
100g bacon, diced
1 large onion, chopped
Oil for frying
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
1. Peel the potatoes. Set aside 1kg of them and boil the remaining 200g until soft. Drain, mash and set aside to cool.
2. Grate the reserved 1kg of potatoes with the zesting side of a grater and mix with the lemon juice – this will stop them from turning brown once grated.
3. Put some of the grated potato in a cheesecloth or tea towel and squeeze well until they are barely moist. Reserve the potato juice in a bowl. Repeat with the rest of the grated potatoes.
4. Slowly pour away the reserved potato juice. There will be a layer of potato starch settled on the bottom of the bowl (there wasn’t much for us so we just salvaged what we could). Knead the potato starch with the grated potatoes and the mashed potatoes until well combined. Add the salt while kneading.
5. For the filling, combine all of the ingredients and mix well.
6. Fill a large (about 4 litre) stockpot with water up to 2/3 of volume. Add salt and bring to the boil.
7. While the water is coming to the boil, take a tennis ball-sized lump of the potato dough and flatten in your hands. Then take a ping-pong ball-sized lump of the meat filling and put on top. Fold the potato dough on top and press the edges to seal the dumpling into a zeppelin-like smooth shape. Make sure it is well sealed, otherwise they may open up during boiling. Repeat with the remaining dough and meat.
8. When the water boils, reduce the heat to medium and carefully lower the zeppelins into the water. Boil for 15-20 minutes until the meat inside is cooked through and carefully remove from the pot with a slotted spoon.
9. While the dumplings are boiling, prepare the sauce. Add the bacon and onions into a large frying pan and sauté on medium heat for 5-10 minutes until onions are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste, then the sour cream. Mix well and turn off the heat. Thin the gravy with hot water if needed.
10. Serve the cepelinai generously topped with the sauce.
Serves 2 (particularly if you’re a two like us – it made five, so we could split them 3-2)

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In a way, this dish was kind of its own surprise, in that it was more enjoyable than either of us expected. Yes, it was heavy; yes, it was porky; yes, it was creamy. But that combination of qualities wasn’t totally abhorrent, even for this week’s fussy eater Miranda. The potato ‘dough’ took on a chewy, dumpling-like consistency, which was rather fascinating considering it was just boiled potato! The pork filling was akin to what you would find in a sausage roll, and the sauce, whilst as rich as expected, did tie everything together.

On the other hand, we thought it was too salty (which we kind of expected even as we were mixing the ingredients together), and we were glad we’d added some tenderstem broccoli to our plates to cut through the stodge a bit and add some freshness. If we were to make it again (which we won’t, frankly, but if…), we’d cut the bacon for the sauce smaller, crisp it, remove it from the pan and then crisp the onions before returning the bacon and adding the sour cream.

All in all, quite a fun little airship-shaped experiment, and a nice way to round off our Weekend of Surprises, but probably not an experience we’re likely to repeat!

Next, we’re cooking something from Estonia, which we plan to take in a slightly different direction…

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