Kreplach

“I’m making the sequel to Emanuelle. I call it Temple Emanuelle. Actually it’s not dirty at all, it’s just a lot of kissing and mezzuzas. And er, one singular sub-plot, in which a woman who has an unnatural relationship with a Kreplach. I know there must be one or two of you out there, who haven’t got the vaguest idea what the hell is a Kreplach.  And to both of you I say … A Kreplach is a person from Kreplachia, which is a very small fishing nation wedged between Estonia and Latvia. You don’t hear from them too much since the iron curtain fell! But every now and again, one or two Kreplach’s manage to escape … but NEVER to Cleveland!”

Bette Midler, “Live at Last

I think that was the first time in my life that I ever heard word kreplach mentioned. This was back in the late 70s, in my friend Pierre’s living room. We were listening to The Divine Miss M’s latest album, which, in my opinion, was her finest. As far as I’m concerned, it was pretty much downhill for her once Beaches was released.

But I digress.  A kreplach (as I make them, anyway), is actually a dumpling stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, chicken, onions sautéed in schmaltz, and maybe some parsley. They look very much like the tortellini of Italian cuisine, though they are generally larger.  They are most often served in chicken soup, though they’re sometimes fried. Their deliciousness is proportionate to the trouble involved in making them, which is why I suppose they are considered the most elegant thing to serve in Jewish chicken soup.  You can buy them at some Jewish delis, fresh or frozen.  But if you’re like me, when you still have lots of chicken soup in the fridge, and the weather is crappy enough to prevent you from going out, and the only other thing you can think of doing to occupy your time is the ironing, you might consider making some.  If done entirely from scratch, it’s quite time consuming; but you can cheat, as I did, buy opting for store-bought dough for the kreplach.  All in, you’re looking at about an hour of time, perhaps less.

The recipe I use is adapted from Robert Sternberg’s Yiddish Cuisine, which, if can have only one book on Jewish food, should be the book you choose.

Here’s what you need:
  • 1 tablespoon schmaltz.  If you read my chicken soup post, you’ll know that schmaltz is worth it’s weight it gold.  If you don’t have any, use a neutral-tasting vegetable oil.  But the end result won’t be quite the same.
  • ½ cup finely minced onion
  • ¼ pound of lean ground beef
  • ½ cup of finely chopped (or ground) cooked chicken
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced parsley (I didn’t have any fresh parsley for some reason, so I used a large pinch of chervil, an herb I happened to have in my pantry that I use about once every two years.  It worked well.)
  • Round dumpling or wonton wrappers
  • A pastry brush
  • A glass of cold water
Here’s what you do:
  1. Put the schmaltz into a 10″ skillet, and place over a medium flame.
  2. When the fat has melted, add the onion, and give the pan a shake to coat the onion with the fat.  Sauté the onion for a few minutes, until it turns translucent.
  3. Add the beef, and break it up with a fork.  Cook the beef until it loses it’s raw colour.
  4. Remove from the heat, then add the chicken and parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Give it a good stir and set it aside.
  5. Grab about 12-18 of the wonton wrappers, and re-wrap the rest and put them in the fridge.  (They will dry out and become useless if you don’t.)  Set up a space to assemble the kreplach, such as your kitchen table.

    IMG_2483

    Ready to start putting the kreplach together with my faithful assistant, Hudson.

  6. Now, the wrappers I had were fairly dry, and fairly heavily coated with flour or cornstarch.  I found they needed to be moistened so that they would behave properly (i.e. so that the dumplings could be sealed and shaped).  So, before filling each wrapper, a painted the perimeter of each wrapper with a pastry brush that had been dipped in water.  This moistened and softened the dough somewhat.

    Dampening the dough

    Dampening the dough

  7. Scoop up a teaspoonful of the meat mixture and transfer it neatly into the centre of the circle of dough: IMG_2488
    Make sure there is a half-inch border of dough all the way around without any filling touching it; if the filling spilled into this border, use your pastry brush to sweep it into the centre, otherwise, you will have a hard time sealing your kreplach.
  8. With the dough circle in front to you, pick up the edge of it at the 12 o’clock point on the circle, lift it up, and over until the 12 o’clock point meets the 6 o’clock point, and pinch 12 and 6 o’clock together: IMG_2489
  9. Now, pinch the edges of the dough together firmly from 6 o’clock to 3 o’clock, and then from 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock.  It’s critical that the edges seal tightly; you might need to go over the seam two or three times to make sure it’s well sealed.
  10. If your dough is on the dry side, as mine was, dab the 9 o’clock position of the semicircle with your pastry brush to wet it. Then, gently twist the 3 o’clock corner past 2, 1, 12, 11 and 10 o’clock and press what was the 3 o’clock corner into the dampened 9 o’clock corner, and pinch it to make it stick together. You’ll get a shape that looks like this:
  11. IMG_2490Place the kreplach on a floured towel.
  12. Repeat steps 6 – 11 until you’ve used up all your filling. It goes fairly quickly.

    This is all I got out of one recipe. There was one more kreplach, but I cooked it and ate it to make sure they were as good as I remembered.

    This is all I got out of one recipe. There was one more kreplach, but I cooked it and ate it to make sure they were as good as I remembered.

  13. Let the kreplach dry until the dough is no longer sticky to the touch.  If you are going to store them, dust them with flour, then put them into a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days.  If you want to store them longer than that, freeze them.  But when you defrost them, take them out of the bag first and place on a floured towel.  If they defrost in the bag, they will probably all stick together, creating an unholy mess.
  14. To cook the kreplach, I find it is best to use a skillet.  You don’t want the dumplings bouncing around in deep water in a saucepan, or else they might come open.  Fill a deep-ish skillet with about 1-½ inches of water, and add a scant teaspoon of salt to it.  Bring the water to the boil, and then slide in the kreplach.  They should be submerged or almost submerged in the water.  When the water returns to the boil, turn the heat to so that the water is just barely simmering. Again, violent boiling is likely to cause your kreplach to break up.   Kreplach should be cooked until the dough is quite soft; they are not eaten al dente.
  15. Put 2-3 kreplach into a bowl of very hot chicken soup, along with a tiny sprig of dill, and maybe a bit of cooked carrot (see my post on chicken soup for more details about garnishing) and serve at once.

Copyright © 2015, Allan Risk.  All Rights Reserved

Gefilte fish

Depending on your experience with it, the words “gefilte fish” will have one of three effects on you:

  • You might say “What’s a gefilte fish?  Is it like a salmon?”
  • You might involuntarily gag a little bit
  • You might start salivating, and say to your self “Get the chrain!”

You’re most likely to have the first response if you’re not Jewish (or if your not an Ashkenazi Jew). The second response  most often comes from those who’ve only ever eaten the supermarket version of this delicacy, which I think is abominable.  The third is what the children of Jewish mothers who were good balabustas are likely to say.  Because homemade gefilte fish is amazing. […]

The Shegetz’s guide to food for the Jewish high holidays

If, like me,  you’re a not-Jewish guy (a shegetz), but are married to someone who is, Jewish holidays sneak up on you.  Most of them seem to be movable feasts, falling on different dates each year, like Easter does in the Christian calendar. So unlike, say Christmas, which is pretty predictable, I never know when there’s one just around the corner. I’m usually just getting over a massive effort in the kitchen for some other project (most recently, preserving the summer’s bounty) when Daniel asks something like  “Are we making gefilte fish this weekend? It’s Rosh Hashana, you know.” […]

The joy and sorrow of pâtés en croûte, Part I

I have always loved a good pâté. From sturdy, coarse pâtés de campagne, to the ultra-luxurious, (if controversial) silken pâté de foie gras – if they’re on a menu, I’ll order them.  There’s something fascinating about how a chef can turn some of the more unappetizing parts of an animal into something wonderful to eat.  (I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to eat meat, you should make an attempt to use as much of the animal as possible.) I marvel at the ingenuity of the cooks – probably farmer’s wives – who decided they were going to take a bunch of liver and fat (and maybe some meat, if there was any left) and cook it up into something really tasty.  It’s alchemy to me. […]

“French” bread

(Skip ahead to recipe)

As I promised in my post about our recent trip to France, I’m writing today about bread. I’ve been making bread for most of my life.  I started when I was in Grade 7, or perhaps a little before then.  That was the time when 10-speed bicycles first appeared, at least for the mass market.  I desperately wanted one … all the cool kids had one, after all.  But my parents felt that my red Supercycle was just fine, and weren’t prepared to fork over the cash for a bike that would almost certainly be stolen.  So, I started making bread and selling it. First to the neighbours; I’d rake in about 6 bucks a day from them.  The family next door, as it happened, owned a camp-ground north of where we lived … and when they offered to buy and then re-sell as much bread as I could bake, I realized I’d hit pay dirt.  I made 30-40 loaves every other day. Of course, I had expenses in the form of the ingredients required … though I didn’t contribute to the electric bill, which was surely going through the roof with the oven being on for so many hours a day. I suspect my parents felt it might have been more economical for them to have just bought me the bike, but I think they were also proud of my gumption, even if my business plan was a little shaky. […]

A re-energising trip

D and I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to London, Paris, Reims and Marseille, where we went with a dear friend to celebrate a significant birthday he was having. Our friend, who is an artist, was dying to go see an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London of John Singer Sargent’s portraits of his friends, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to turn this into an extended birthday celebration, and have a few nice meals at the same time. It all started modestly enough. We were to go to London to see the Sargent exhibition, and then take the train to Paris for a couple of nights to explore the food scene there, and then fly home. As things tend to go with us, however, a small side-trip got added here, and another there, and next thing we knew, a 4-night getaway had turned into a 10-day holiday with additional stops in Champagne and Provence. […]

Do-it-yourself orecchiette

Last summer, Daniel and I went to Apulia, Italy for a holiday. We ended our stay a little early because the weather in the beach town of Gallipoli promised to be steady rain for 7 days … and you don’t want to be in a provincial beach town if you can’t go to the beach. About the only thing you can do if it’s raining is sleep, eat and drink … and based on the spectacular meals we had had for the first few days, we knew that if we stayed, we’d put on 20 pounds each. Because Apulia is known for pasta.  Beautiful, toothsome, fattening pasta.  It is featured on menus at both lunch and dinner; I was led to understand that most families eat it at least daily.  And one type pasta in particular is practically a trademark of Apulia: orecchiette. […]

A career in high-tech isn’t for me. So what if it only took 28 years to figure that out?

I mentioned in my first blog post that I am a technical writer by profession. Something happened yesterday, though, that has put that into question. Getting the news yesterday afternoon of the death of my childhood best friend’s mom, a woman I really liked, upset me.  I found my thoughts dwelling on Mrs. Gullberg, and how nice she had been, and I couldn’t really focus on work. So, I walked out of my new contract job only 3 days into it. […]

Why I love my pressure cookers (plus my Shortcut Chicken Stock)

(Skip ahead to Shortcut Chicken Stock)

Yes, that’s pressure cookers, plural.  I have three of them.

My pressure cookers. From left -to-right, the 3 qt T-Fal braiser, the 6 quart T-Fal electric, and my 9 qt Fagor stove-top model.

My pressure cookers. From left -to-right, the 3 qt T-Fal braiser, the 6 quart T-Fal electric, and my 9 qt Fagor stove-top model.

Actually, four, if you count the huge pressure canner that I keep in the basement. But that only gets used once or twice a year, unlike the others, which see use several times a week. I was always fascinated by the notion of pressure cookery.  It started, I think, with  my Aunt Gay, who had one of the Presto aluminum models from the 70s, with the pressure regulator that wobbled back and forth on top, hissing diabolically. (The other object of my intense admiration belonging to my Aunt Gay was her Hoover upright vacuum, but that’s another story.)  She used to to make all sort of things, but in particular, boiling potatoes to be mashed. Imagine, potatoes cooked in 7 minutes!  (Only later, when I begin putting together entire meals on my own did I realize that  the 15 or 20 minutes needed to boil potatoes the normal way gives the cook a bit of a respite in trying to pull together several dishes to be ready at one time. But I digress). […]

Another blog about cooking and food?

Claudia Bianchi, a colleague of my husband who is the culinary producer for the  show he developed and produces for The Food Network Canada, recently asked Daniel: “Why doesn’t Allan  write a blog about what he does in the kitchen?”  My first thought was “What on earth does the world need with another food blog?”.  My second was “What have I got to say that (a) hasn’t been said already, or (b) hasn’t been said better by someone else?”.  There are a LOT of food-related blogs out there. Some are terrific, like Joe Pastry’s baking blog. His site really reflects his passion for baking.  It’s got very high production values, and Joe is clearly a hugely-talented amateur baker. Then again, some food blogs are just ho-hum, which leads one to ask oneself: “Who reads this stuff, and who cares about it?”. […]