Vepřo-Knedlo-Zelo – Roast Pork with Cabbage and Dumplings

This is the Czech national dish.  I had it many times in Slovakia as well. As the name indicates, there are three main components to this dish: (1) Vepřo – Roast Pork, (2) Knedlo – Dumpling, and (3) Zelo – Cabbage. 

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There are many variations to this, but you usually need the following for 4 people:

1 pork roast (traditionally a pork loin joint, but I use a leaner pork sirloin tip roast plus a smoked hock for flavor)
3-4 Tbsp. caraway seeds
2 yellow onions
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. butter
Salt and Pepper (have a decent amount on hand)
1 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
16 oz. sauerkraut
2 tsp. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. dry yeast (not a typo, that’s really how much yeast you need)
3 cups flour
1 egg
1/2-2/3 cup breadcrumbs (or two dinner rolls)


  1. Set roast out to thaw for 8-12 hours if frozen
  2. Begin preparing roast as outlined in Part I, leave in slow cooker
  3. Prepare dough in Part II and leave to rise
  4. Prepare cabbage in Part III and leave to simmer
  5. Start heating water to boil (6-quart pot half full is optimal, add a little salt to the water)
  6. Continue with Part II and finish dumplings
  7. Continue with Part III and finish cabbage
  8. Slice roast and place on plate with cabbage, drench in pork drippings, and plate dumplings on separate saucers to keep them all from getting soggy. Serve with pickles, radishes, or something else light, as this is a very heavy meal.

I. Vepřo – Roast Pork

As previously stated, this is traditionally a pork loin joint. It’s a very fatty but flavorful cut. I don’t like that much fat on my meat so I use the leaner pork sirloin tip roast and add a smoked hock in the slow cooker for flavor.

After thawing, coat the pork in 2 Tbsp. caraway seeds. Salt and pepper generously.  Prepare a slow cooker by starting heat and adding 1 cup water (2 cups for a lean roast). Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a pan and brown the pork for a few minutes.  Once it is brown, place it in the slow cooker with pan drippings.  Add one whole onion halved and two garlic cloves (I brown these in the pan as well). Add smoked hock if desired. Leave for 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low.

If you do not want to use a slow cooker, you can follow the same procedure but roast in the oven in a roasting pan, following normal cooking instructions for an oven-roasted pork roast of that size. 

II. Knedlo – Dumpling

Dumplings are a staple for this dish so the post about dumplings and its ingredients are included here for convenience.

In Czech and Slovak cooking, there are two main kinds of dumplings: bread and potato. Bread dumplings are much more common and are traditional for this dish. They will be light and spongy and will soak up the pork and cabbage juices nicely.

There are many ways to prepare these dumplings, but there are a few main things to keep in mind. First, make sure your yeast is activated and rising nicely. Second, find the right dough consistency. Third, find a way to keep them from getting too soggy while boiling and to let them dry off properly when done.

First, heat 1 cup milk to about 105-110 degrees. This will feel hot but not too hot to keep a finger in for 10 seconds. This makes a perfect home for the yeast. Pour the milk into a bowl or large cup (16 oz. volume or more). Add a teaspoon of powdered sugar to feed the yeast. Now add 3 Tablespoons of yeast.  That is not a typing error, you need lots of yeast to make the dough rise correctly. Stir them all together and let it rise while you mix the next set of ingredients. It should make a froth that foams from the milk all the way to the top of the cup if the yeast is activated correctly. Try again if it doesn’t work, as the dumplings will not turn out well if the yeast is not activated.

In another bowl, mix about 1/2 – 2/3 cup breadcrumbs with an egg. You can also use a couple chopped rolls instead of breadcrumbs. Add the yeast mixture, 3 cups of flour, and a pinch of salt. Once the dough is fully mixed it should clean off the sides of the bowl but still be a little sticky. Place in a greased covered bowl. Leave in a warm place for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Start some boiling water (fill a 6-quart pot half or 2/3 full). Knead the dough and then divide in half. You can form each half into an oval or a sphere (doesn’t matter). There are a couple ways to proceed from here. For convenience, you can cover the shaped dough for 15 mins to let it rise again and then boil it, or you can wrap it in a cheese cloth, tying it off at the ends, let it sit for 15 mins, then boil it. They tend to turn out better in the cloth, but without the cloth it can be a little soggy but otherwise tastes the same.

Boil for 15 mins total, turning them over halfway through.  Once removed from the water, take off the cloth immediately (if applicable) and set it on a cutting board to dry. Stab it everywhere with a fork or knife immediately to let out the steam. Then you cut it into 1/2-inch slices. You can do this with a knife or with a string. Once it has drained off (usually 1-2 mins), go ahead and place on saucers if serving immediately. If not, place in a cloth-lined bowl covered until ready to serve.

III. Zelo – Cabbage

The “Zelo” in this dish is pickled (i.e., sauerkraut) but don’t let that scare you away.  This method of cooking really tames the cabbage.  Heat 1 Tbsp. oil and 1 Tbsp. flour in the pan and cook into a light roux (2 mins). Add a diced onion and cook for about 10 mins. Add the sauerkraut, 1-2 Tbsp. caraway seeds, and some salt and pepper. Add a teaspoon of sugar and 4 cups of water. Leave this to simmer for about 40 mins (be sure all the liquid doesn’t boil away).

Serve on the plate with the pork.

****UPDATE 10/28/2014****

I recently tried the recipe with potatoes instead of dumplings (time limitations) and it went splendidly. I simply added potatoes to the crock pot with leftover vegetable broth from the previous week’s sviečková. The potatoes were saturated with flavor and did not need additional seasoning.

Another trick I used to get more flavor out of the pork: split it. I cut it in half to maximize seared surface area before adding into the crock pot (essentially two small roasts from one). It had much more flavor than in past versions.

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