Thursday, October 6, 2011

Passing on Tradition


Lillie saw the big bag of gluten free flour sitting on the counter and asked what I would be making. "Kreplach!" I said enthusiastically. "Gluten Free kreplach", I said more quietly--trying to encourage myself. Knowing the precariousness of gluten free dough, I had my doubts the kreplach, meat filled dumplings, traditioanlly eaten on certian Jewish holidays including Yom Kippur, which is tomorrow night, would hold together. I pictured soggy bits of dough and the meatball like filling floating in boiling water in which they cook. I pictured a huge waste of my time in an otherwise very busy day and night of preparations. I pictured my sadness that my girls can't have a taste of the traditional foods my beloved grandmother lovingly provided us in her lifetime. A tenuous link to a vanished world in Europe. The village, gone, the people, gone, the food, survived.

"Kreplach?" Lillie said. "Kreplach." I said again. I could have said we're having mao po dao fu and she would have had the same look. "You know, like pierogen", I added. "Umm, what's pierogen?", she answered. Me, "like wontons!" Still blank. Then I realized. This is not a dough centric child. While most children at Chinese restaurants can be seen slurping wonton soup with a handful of crunchy complimentary noodles thrown in, Lillie tentatively eats plain rice. These dumplings in any language were not part of her lexicon until now. Finally I showed her a picture on Google Images. She cocked her head to the side, not really understanding the big deal. To me though, they meant so much more. They represented my grandmother's love and tradition and everything good about home cooking.

Every year since I've been married I've said I would make kreplach for Yom Kippur, and every year I've ended up reaching for the box of meat kreplach in the kosher freezer section of my supermarket. The first year, I had been married only a few weeks before the holdiay, the next year, I had a few month old baby (k"a), etc. I was always disappointed with the frozen ones, the dough was too thin and they were remininscent of wontons, the filling too salty, very bad when you won't be able to drink for the next 24 hours. When I was single I had once attempted making my own. The dough was too thick and chewy, the ground meat wasn't the right texture, and overall, they "just weren't Grams". I'm the same way about stuffed cabbage. Nothing is as good as my grandmother's and noone bothered, in her 86 years on this earth, to write down her recipes.

But this year I wanted to give it a go. Why? I don't know. When I started the process I felt a slight fear. "Why?", I kept asking myself. So if it doesn't work, just boil up some gluten free noodles, the kids love those anyway. But I felt like if I succeded, it would be a nail in the coffin of my grandmother. Once I could make kreplach, we didn't need her kreplach. We didn't have them so this was all irrational. Anyway.

I had serendipitiously came across Beard on Pasta on sale for $1 in the lobby of my library a few weeks ago. "That's a classic", the librarian noted as I stood at the circulation desk. Flipping through it I came across a kreplach recipe. How odd, that James Beard would have a kreplach recipe in his pasta book, I thought. But he's thorough. The filling seemed right, a few weeks later I came across Jules Gluten Free Easy Ravioli recipe. No eggs to my delight! Most homemade pasta has eggs making it off limits for Rosie. Hmmm. I think I can make a mashup of the two and we're in business.

I tentatievely rolled and filled the dough. Sensed encouragement from a voice from within. Pictured my Gram looking down from heaven and telling me, go ahead, it's ok, you can do it. Pinched the dough shut. Held my breath and dropped them in the water. They rose to the top as the recipe said. They looked like any other dumpling I've ever had. One bite told me they actually tasted like any other dumpling I've ever had. We have liftoff! I think those dozen pale lumps of dough staring back at me from the counter are my proudest achievement all year.

The dough for this recipe is NOT elastic like wheat pasta dough. It is not forgiving either. If you pull it, it doesn't stretch. It is very easy to make, but you have to handle it with care. If you pull on it, it will tear, the plus side, it is softer than regular pasta dough, so you can just rub the crease together much like pie dough.

Jules' Easy Homemade Pasta from

The recipe is verbatim from Jules' blog, until the part about forming the dough into kreplach, that is mine.

Pasta Ingredients
1 1/2 cups Jules Gluten Free™ All-Purpose Flour
1 – 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup very hot water
salt for water

Pour Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour into a large bowl and form a shallow well in the flour. Add the oil and water a little at a time of warm water into the flour well and mix until it all comes together into a smooth ball (I mixed up everything in my electric mixer and it was super easy). Wrap in clear plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface, dust lightly with gluten free flour. Place dough in center of plastic wrap and cover with a second sheet the same size as the first. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out between sheets of plastic wrap to a 1/4-1/8th-inch thickness.

Remove top layer of plastic wrap. Using a sharp paring knife or pizza cutter, trim edges off dough to form a rectangle (reserve for later use). Cut dough into 3-inch squares. Gently pick up each square and put a scant tablespoon of filling (see below) into center. Fold over corners to form a triangle. Pinch or crimp edges closed with a fork. Repeat until all dough is used up. Roll out trimmed off dough and fill as above. Note: You can use a biscuit cutter or glass to make round kreplach, but you have less waste if you cut them in squares.

Bring a large pot of water to boil with salt. Drop into boiling water. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until they bob up to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Allow to air dry for a few minutes before storing.

At this point the kreplach may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and served in chicken soup (put in soup at last minute before serving so you don't end up with mushy pasta). Or, frozen between layers of waxed paper. To re-heat, place frozen kreplach in boiling water or soup for several minutes until warmed through. Or, fry thawed kreplach in oil or margarine in a skillet until crispy and golden brown. Serve with fried onions.

Kreplach Filling:

From Beard on Pasta by James Beard, p. 175

1/2 pound ground chuck
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage, or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 small bunch chives, minced
3 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. Chill until ready to use.

My Filling:
Although I usually alwasy buy extra-lean ground beef, use the full fat variety for this me!

1/2 pound ground beef
1 small onion finely minced
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
salt and ground pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill kreplach.

Note: You can also use mashed potatoes to fill dough if you want to make pierogen. There is meat filled pierogen too, but in our house meat filled dumplings were called kreplach and the potatoes ones pierogen.