If matzah balls are the simple, crowd-pleasing, go-to of High Holiday soup accompaniments, kreplach remain their slightly intimidating, yet more interesting cousins.
While most Jewish cooks can whip up a matzah ball easily and quickly, kreplach are another story entirely, and for those chefs who are rolling pin-averse, the meat-filled doughy dumplings can present a challenge.
Kreplach are served most commonly on Rosh Hashanah, at Yom Kippur’s pre-fast meal and on Simchat Torah, although dairy versions have been known to surface in some homes on Purim, Shavuot or even Chanukah.
The dough is generally boiled, but some recipes — especially those used on Chanukah — call for the dumplings to be fried in oil.
It is hard to pinpoint the origin of the dish, but some historians trace it back to the filled pasta that was introduced from Italy to Jews living in Germany in the 1300s.
Kreplach are an Ashkenazi delicacy, with some families using recipes that have been passed down for generations, each clan putting its own, personal spin on the dish.
Such is the case for Dori Oshlag, of Mt. Lebanon, and her mother, Lenore Sherman.
“My mom has always made kreplach for yontif as she learned from her mom to do,” said Oshlag. “The recipe is fairly forgiving in that the Cuisinart pulses the basic flour/water dough recipe from Norene Gilletz’s ‘The Pleasure of Your Food Processor’ cookbook.”
But the filling, Oshlag stressed, “is where the heart and soul of the kreplach is found.”
Her mother taught her “to make the chicken soup early before yontif and freeze it. Then the soup chicken is taken off the bones, and by hand, chopped very fine. Unfortunately the food processor cannot do this because the consistency would be wrong.”
Onions, which are part of the filling, “should be slowly sautéed for an hour on low heat, and then added to the chopped chicken, with a half cup soup along with salt and pepper to taste and chopped by hand to be a fine consistency,” she explained.
The shape of the kreplach “is the cook’s signature,” Oshlag noted. “The dough is rolled out and cut into small circles using a small drinking cup and stuffed and folded in half, then the two edges are brought up and squeezed shut.” Her mom’s kreplach shape resembles “little tortellinis.”
The kreplach are then frozen on a cookie sheet and transferred to a plastic bag when they harden.
“Before dinner, they are placed in boiling water for just five minutes and taken out, ready and waiting to be placed in chicken soup to be ‘pillows,’ as my kids used to say,” said Oshlag. “It’s a yearly rite I plan out and look forward to doing with my mother.”
While Cheryl Blumenfeld leaves the kreplach-making to her cousin, Carol Wolsh, she is the keeper of not only the recipe that her grandfather, Joseph Rosenbloom, brought to America when he emigrated from Poland, but also his wooden mixing bowl and a brown table leg that he used as a rolling pin.
“Kreplach is kreplach,” said Blumenfeld, who lives in Squirrel Hill. “It all came down from someone’s grandparents.”
Her grandfather was not only handy with a rolling pin, but also with a needle and thread. Joseph Rosenbloom was known as “the Little Tailor,” Blumenfeld said, and was so talented, he even made her wedding gown.
“He was the cook of the family,” she recalled. “My grandmother didn’t really cook. We would all sit around the table and watch my grandfather. He would literally roll the dough out with that leg he brought from Poland. We would sit around for hours watching him make kreplach. And he was a perfectionist. His food was exceptional. He ground his own meat. Now, you go to the butcher shop, and you can buy ground meat and chicken.
“As he dropped those kreplach in the boiling soup,” she said, “we ate them as fast as he could make them.”
Blumenfeld’s mother, Mildred Rosenbloom, took up the mantle of kreplach-maker after the Little Tailor passed away, and although she died 42 years ago, her daughter can “still picture her getting out that rolling pin.”
“The kreplach recipes are all basically the same recipe,” Blumenfeld noted. “They are just an egg, flour and salt.”
She shared her family’s recipe, which was typed out on a yellowing index card.
2/3 cup flour (approximately)
1/2 tsp. salt
Beat egg slightly. Add salt and enough flour to make a stiff dough. Knead well and let stand, covered for ½ hour. Roll out very thin and spread on cloth to dry for an hour. The dough must not be sticky, yet it must not be dry. Cut as desired.
1 lb. cooked meat (chopped)
1 tsp. onion juice
salt and pepper
Add seasoning to egg and meat. With knife, mark dough into 2-inch squares. Place a teaspoon of meat on each square, then fold over in three-cornered shape, pressing edges together well.
Drop into boiling soup or salted water and let cook 15 minutes. Drain in colander. Place on hot platter and pour several tablespoons of melted butter over them (you can substitute margarine if using meat filling). Sprinkle with browned crumbs. PJC