New Year, New Dumpling
Tradition has it that there is a dumpling for every Jewish holiday: kreplach, the Jewish tortellini, for the meal before Yom Kippur; dough pockets filled with cottage cheese for Shavuot; and matzo balls for Passover.
But Jewish food has become so diverse, how about a taste of another kind of tradition for Rosh Hashana on Friday night? A new dumpling for the holiday.
I first found gundi, a cardamom-flavored chickpea and chicken dumpling, 15 years ago when I met Azizeh Koshki, who had just emigrated from Iran.
She plopped herself on the floor of her townhouse in Rockville, Md., where she turned on her newly acquired American food processor to grind chicken and onions. Next, she added chickpea flour and cardamom to the mixture, molding the dumplings by hand and simmering them in a soupy chicken stew spiced with turmeric. As I watched her, I wondered whether her ingredients and technique — other than the food processor — went back to the Babylonian captivity or even earlier.
Mrs. Koshki told me, through a translator, that her family ate gundi, with a sip of the spirit arrack, each Friday night after they walked home from synagogue. The gundi were always garnished with spring onions, basil, parsley, cilantro, radish and mint and served with a piece of lavash or other flat bread.
From years of living in Israel, I came to adore kubbeh, soup with dumplings made from semolina and bulgur, filled with meat. They would float in soupy stews made of chicken broth, sometimes flavored with pumpkin, dried limes, tomatoes or okra. I would eat them in tiny restaurants run by Kurdish or Iraqi Jews and, on the Sabbath, in their homes. Most Israeli supermarkets stock frozen kubbeh — always the sign of a food becoming part of the common culture.
Kibbe, made throughout in the Middle East in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Kurdistan, is bulgur and lamb served raw, baked or fried, stuffed with rice and spices. Kubbeh, the Jewish dumpling for soup, is borrowed from these cultures.
Kubbeh has become a holiday food, with the sauces or soups changing with the season. Pnina Lahav, a professor of law at Boston University and an avid cook, whose mother was considered a kubbeh queen in Tel Aviv, occasionally makes her mother’s semolina dumplings in a soupy sauce of beets, plums and celery.
”In the Middle East they say that the thinner the dough of the kubbeh, the better the cook,” she said. ”A good kubbeh is the sign of a good wife.” But, she added: ”Kubbeh is not for working women. In our world today it is inconceivable that you would make it every Friday night.”
Matzo balls seem like a universal Jewish icon, but that wasn’t true until the B. Manischewitz Company produced the first commercial matzo at the turn of the last century and then began promoting its matzo and, later, its matzo meal and matzo ball mix, said Jonathan D. Sarna, author of ”American Judaism: A History” (Yale University Press, 2004).
Until then, matzo balls were strictly a Passover dish, and dumplings — called knoedel, also known as kneidlach in Yiddish or kleis in German — made with breadcrumbs, bread or flour, filled their role at others times of the year.
”Manischewitz was in the business of finding ways of making people use their machine-made matzo products all year round,” Dr. Sarna said.
In 1930, Manischewitz’s ”Tempting Kosher Dishes” cookbook called matzo balls made with prepared matzo meal ”feather balls, Alsatian style.”
Rabbi Everett Gendler acknowledged that ”feather” was not an image that came to mind in describing his first efforts to make whole wheat matzo balls. Rabbi Gendler, a retired chaplain of Phillips Academy Andover now living in Great Barrington, Mass., said that before whole-wheat matzo meal came on the market, he would either grind whole-wheat matzos or bake his own with soft winter wheat ground with an old hand peanut grinder.
”The first couple of years I did it, it was advisable to wear steel-tipped work boots in case I dropped one of the balls on my foot,” he said. ”After a few years they lightened up. Because I have gotten the feel of it, I don’t squeeze them so tightly. Now I treat them like matzo balls, not like Play-Doh.” A vegetarian, Rabbi Gendler incorporates spirituality and organic gardening into his cooking.
”I start my soup from the garden, which is 42 by 72 feet, because in Jewish mystical tradition, there is a 42- and a 72-letter name of God,” Rabbi Gendler said. ”Rosh Hashana celebrates the birthday of the world. A garden well tended is a small example of perpetual reunion.”
Whole-Wheat Matzo Balls
Adapted from Rabbi Everett Gendler
Time: 55 minutes plus 1 hour for chilling
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup stock
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 or more tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 cup whole-wheat matzo meal, or as needed
2 to 3 quarts vegetable or chicken soup, for serving.
1. In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, stock, oil, pepper and 2 teaspoons salt; mix well. Gradually add dill and 1 cup of matzo meal, stirring with a fork.
2. Whisk egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold into matzo batter. Cover and refrigerate until batter is well chilled, at least 1 hour.
3. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a gentle boil. Wet hands with cold water and shape some of batter into a walnut-size ball. Drop it into pot. If it starts to fall apart, add a little more matzo meal to remaining batter. If it holds its shape, roll remaining batter into balls and add to pot.
4. Simmer matzo balls, covered, for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat soup until simmering. When matzo balls are ready, use a slotted spoon to transfer them from water to soup. Serve hot.
Yield: About 12 matzo balls.
Persian Chickpea and Chicken Dumplings
Adapted from Azizeh Koshki
Time: 1 hour plus 3 hours’ refrigeration
4 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
8 ounces (about 2 1/4 cups) chickpea flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cardamom, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4 quarts chicken soup
Handful each of finely chopped basil, parsley, mint and cilantro.
1. Using a food processor with a steel blade, pulse onions until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Pulse chicken until it has the consistency of ground meat.
2. Combine onions and chickpea flour in a bowl and mix well with hands. Add chicken, oil, salt, pepper, turmeric, cardamom and cumin. Mix well, adding a bit of water if needed, to make a dough about the consistency of meatballs. Refrigerate until well-chilled, about 3 hours.
3. Dip hands in cold water and divide mixture into 16 portions. Shape into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Bring soup to boil. Gently add dumplings one at a time and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss together basil, parsley, mint and cilantro.
4. Ladle soup and dumplings into serving bowls, and sprinkle with mixed herbs.
Yield: 8 servings.
Iranian Beet, Plum and Celery Soup with Kubbeh (Meat Dumplings)
Adapted from Pnina Lahav
Time: 2 hours
2 cups semolina or farina
2 1/4teaspoons salt
4 small onions, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1/4 cup diced celery root
1 pound (about 3) beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 small red plums or apricots, pitted and diced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or as needed
1 teaspoon sugar, or as needed
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
1 cup chopped Italian parsley or cilantro
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves.
1. Mix semolina or farina and 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt in a bowl. Gradually add about 1 cup hot water, mixing with a fork until the consistency of Play-Doh. If necessary add a bit more water. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
2. Dice one onion. In large pot, heat oil and add diced onion and garlic. Sauté until golden. Add celery root, beets and plums or apricots. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add 6 cups of water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until beets are tender, about 15 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon sugar.
3. In food processor, combine remaining onions, celery leaves and parsley or cilantro. Pulse until finely chopped but not puréed and transfer to a large bowl. Add beef, black pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Mix well with fingers.
4. Remove dough from refrigerator and knead again until pliable. With wet hands, take a walnut-size portion of dough and flatten it as thinly as possible in your palm. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of meat mixture in center. Completely enclose meat in dough and roll it into a ball between your hands to seal. Keeping your hands wet, repeat with remaining dough and filling.
5. Bring soup to a boil and gently add dumplings. They will sink. Cover and simmer gently until cooked through, about 30 minutes, adding water if soup becomes too thick. Add more lemon juice and sugar if needed. Ladle into bowls, garnish with mint, and serve.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Note: Soup may be prepared up to one day ahead of time and refrigerated. Dumplings may be frozen on baking sheets. Do not thaw before placing in simmering soup.