Lithuanian Koldūnai | Meat Dumplings [Recipe]
They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In my case, this was particularly true. In the early days of our relationship I remember plying my man with rich stews of lamb shanks in red wine sauce served with super-creamy mashed potato, mixed seafood platters served on a lazy Susan with a big bowl of chips and a selection of dipping sauces set in the middle and regular full Irish breakfasts. He still jokes about how he could hear the “chitzzz” of a fresh beer being opened as soon as he set an empty bottle down on the table.
But it worked. Perhaps I’m also interesting, fun-loving, adventurous and whatever else men have on their wish list. But first and foremost I was the provider of damn-tasty meals.
Ten years on and still nothing makes me happier than serving my man the food he loves. Since moving to Lithuania I have been attempting more and more traditional Lithuanian dishes. The ingredients are easy to come by and are generally inexpensive and, as I’m exposed to the cooked dishes in friends’ houses and in restaurants, I now know what it is that I’m trying to produce.
One of Arūnas’s favourite Lithuanian dishes is koldūnai (kol-doon-ay), small dumplings that come with a variety of fillings such as meat, curd cheese or diced mushroom. While these dumplings are quite like Italian ravioli they are not typically served with a sauce. Instead, they come with a generous dollop of sour cream which you then stir through your dumplings, giving them a rich, silky coating and a slight tang. Arūnas loves his served with spirgučiai (pronounced spear-goo-chay), made with fried onion and bacon belly (side). The sweetness of the onion and the salty crunch of the bacon pair perfectly with the slippery, subtle taste of the dumplings themselves.
These dumplings are really quite easy to make – rolling the dough is far more straightforward than its Italian cousin, pasta. The dough is softer and can be rolled with a rolling pin or glass – no pasta roller is required. As they’re quite small they can be a bit fiddly, so I generally make a large batch and freeze the rest for future meals. The dumplings cook from frozen in minutes, making them ideal for last minute lunches or unexpected guests.
Lithuanian Koldūnai | Meat Dumplings
For the dough:
350 g | 12 oz plain flour (all-purpose flour)
2 medium eggs
70-100 ml | 2.5-3.5 fl oz water
For the meat filling:
700 g | 1.5 lbs pork mince (ground pork)
125 g | 4.5 oz fine breadcrumbs
3 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
For the topping:
250 g | 9 oz smoked bacon belly (side) or pancetta, finely diced
400 g | 14 oz onion (about 4-5 medium onions), finely chopped
- Place the flour, eggs and 70 ml (2.5 fl oz) of water in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for about 20 seconds to combine. Add more water, a little at a time, as needed to bring the dough together. You want a soft ball that is only very slightly sticky to touch. If you don’t have a food processor you can mix the dough in a large bowl mixing with either your hand (as you would pasta) or a metal fork.
- Wrap the dough in cling film (saran wrap) and rest for at least 15 minutes while you make the meatballs.
- Place the mince (ground pork), breadcrumbs and seasonings in a bowl. Mix well with your hands to thoroughly combine the seasoning and breadcrumbs into the meat.
- Using about 1 teaspoon at a time, roll the meat mixture into small balls about 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter and set out on a tray or board. Having all the meatballs ready in advance speeds up assembly of the dumplings, helping to prevent the dough from drying out.
- Cut the dough into two pieces, keeping one half wrapped in the cling film so it does not dry out.
- Lightly flour a board or table. Using a rolling pin or the side of a glass, roll the dough to a thickness of about 2 mm. (When rolled, each half of the dough should measure roughly 40 cm x 45 cm (16 x 18 inches). If it is not this size then your dough is not thin enough and you will run out of dough.)
- Using a pastry cutter or glass, cut the dough into rounds about 6 cm (2.5 inches) in diameter.
- Working quickly so that the dough does not dry out, place a meatball on the centre of each round of dough. Flatten the ball slightly so that it forms a circle with 1 cm (1/3 inch) of dough around the sides. Fold the dumpling in half and pinch the sides of the dough together to seal. The dough is quite stretchy and should be slightly sticky so it should form over the meatball and seal together easily. If your dough doesn’t stick together to seal you can dampen one side with water using a pastry brush or your finger. Be very sparing with the water – you don’t want to alter the consistency of the dough.
- As you make your dumplings line them up on a lightly floured baking sheet or board ensuring that they are not touching. They can stick together quite easily.
- When you have assembled all the dumplings using one half of the dough, repeat with the other half. (If you roll out all the dough at the same time it will dry out before you can assemble the dumplings.)
- To prepare the meat and onion topping, place the chopped bacon into a cold pan and set over a medium heat. Slowly render the fat from the bacon, then add the chopped onion and fry for about 8-10 minutes until the meat starts to crisp and the onions soften and start to brown.
- To cook the dumplings, bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil. (As the dumplings are well seasoned I don’t add salt to the water. However, you can add some if you like.) Add the dumplings to the pot a few at a time, ensuring they don’t stick together.
- Bring the water back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 7 minutes. Cut one dumpling open to ensure the meatball is fully cooked before removing the dumplings from the water to serve.
- Serve the dumplings in bowls topped with the fried bacon and onion and a dollop of sour cream.
- These dumplings freeze well and cook in minutes from frozen. To freeze, lay the dumplings on a lightly floured baking sheet or other freezer-proof board, ensuring that they are not touching. Place the board flat in the freezer and freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight, then transfer to a zip-lock bag or freezer box. To cook, follow instructions as above but increase the cooking time to 10 minutes. Again, test for doneness before removing the entire batch from the water.
Notes on ingredients:
- You can use any kind of meat you like for this recipe – pork, beef, lamb, turkey or even vegetarian meat substitutes.
- You can also use any kind of breadcrumbs for this recipe. Using different breads will give the meatballs a different taste and texture, so experiment to find what you like. I currently use Lithuanian medium rye bread which is moist and rich and adds a hint of sweetness to the meat filling.
- Lithuania is king when it comes to smoked fatty bacon – the array available in supermarkets and farmers’ markets is breathtaking. Many people still have a cold smoker in their home and produce fantastic home-smoked meats. You can use any fatty bacon for this recipe, but if you live near a Lithuanian or Polish supermarket I suggest you give their smoked bacon a try.
- I never use fresh onion or garlic in either meatballs or burgers. No matter how finely you chop them they always seem to prevent the meat from compacting nicely and the final product takes longer to cook. The meatballs at the centre of these dumplings are particularly small and are cooked quickly, so using the fresh vegetable as an alternative to the powder won’t work. If you don’t have onion or garlic powder you can either substitute your own favourite dry seasoning (watch out for salt content) or just leave them out completely.
- These dumplings are quite like Italian ravioli and can be served with grated hard cheese or in any way that you would typically serve meat-filled ravioli.
- Update Jan 2016: Based on recent feedback from readers I have retested the recipe to ensure there is sufficient dough to cover all of the meat. While my quantities were sufficient they were “just right”, so I have increased the dough quantity slightly to ensure you don’t run out. Note that you need to roll your dough very thin, as outlined above. The dough thickens a little as it cooks so this really is thick enough. However, if you prefer your dough thicker you might wish to make a double batch of dough upfront to ensure you don’t run out. Any leftovers can either be frozen or cut into strips and cooked like pasta. Note also that the recipe is based on using medium eggs. If your eggs are large, use less water (50 ml | 1.5 fl oz) initially, adding more as needed.
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