To bring us into the weekend, I thought I’d share one of those wonderful old-fashioned Jewish dishes– you know, the sort of dish that warms your tummy and your heart. It’s the kind of cooking that brings back memories of Bubbe in the kitchen, making her family recipes from scratch with a “pinch of this” and a “handful of that.” I never had a bubbe (mine were both called “grandma”), but if I had I’m sure this soup would have been one of her favorite recipes. I’m talking about homemade Chicken Kreplach!
Kreplach are stuffed noodle dumplings, a Jewish dish that has been around since Medieval times. Kreplach originated in Eastern Europe as fried pastries stuffed with meat, known as krepish. In the 15oo’s krepish evolved into stuffed pasta; the shift was likely inspired by Italian or Asian influence in the region. The dish became popular throughout Europe under different regional names (varenikes in the Ukraine, pierogi in Poland, agnolotti in Italy). In Eastern Europe and within the Yiddish community, they became known as krepl, which evolved to the plural word kreplach that we use today. It’s now considered a quintessential Jewish dish that has become standard fare on deli menus across the country.
Kreplach can be made with a variety of fillings. You can use boiled soup chicken, as this recipe does, which allows you to create both soup broth and kreplach filling from the same chicken. Other fillings include ground beef fried with herbs, leftover brisket or roast meat, and dairy kreplach stuffed with cheese. The cheese filling is often enjoyed during Purim, a vegetarian Jewish holiday, and assembled in a triangular shape to resemble “Haman’s hat.”
Kreplach are generally served in a bowl of soup broth, but they can also be served on their own, like dumplings. Cheese kreplach are often topped with sour cream. My husband grew up eating kreplach topped with chopped walnuts, a tradition handed down from the Russian side of his family. They can even be stuffed with fruit or preserves and served as dessert.
My kreplach recipe is an adapted version of my mom’s homemade egg noodle recipe, with a little oil added to the dough for flexibility. They’re stuffed with a basic chicken kreplach filling– minced soup chicken, herbs, chicken fat and onions. I fry the onions to caramelize them and bring out their flavor before adding them to the filling. My herb of choice is dill, because in my family we’re dill fanatics. If you’re not a fan, you can substitute fresh parsley instead. And I always add a touch of the skimmed chicken fat from the broth for moisture and flavor. If I’m feeling naughty, I throw in a little of the fatty chicken skin. It might sound weird, but when ground in with the filling the fat produces a silky texture and adds a ton of flavor.
Did you know that kreplach can also be fried? Frying stuffed kreplach creates little mini pies that are similar to empanadas. They are totally delicious, and they make fun appetizers for a party. I usually fry them in corn oil; if it’s a meat filling and you’re feeling indulgent, you can fry them in schmaltz for even more flavor. Instructions are provided in the recipe below.
Before you tackle homemade kreplach, keep in mind that this is a Sunday kind of project– it takes time. It’s also messy. Wear an apron, and prepare to get flour everywhere. I’ve provided step-by-step instructions with pictures to help keep you on track. It’s a long process, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort. Because it is a laborious process, kreplach are usually reserved for special occasions and holidays. They are traditionally served on the evening before Yom Kippur, the seventh day of Sukkot, on Purim, and on Shavuot (Shavuot is a dairy holiday, so cheese kreplach are usually served then). If you’re looking for an easier way to make kreplach, my friend Bella Hadar gave me the tip of using won ton dough– you can find it in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores. It won’t taste like homemade, but it’s a workable sub if you’re in a hurry or don’t have the patience to roll out the dough from scratch.
We’re now in the weeks leading up to Passover, and I seem to be cravings carbs– perhaps because I know that soon I’ll be restricted to matzo, with no chametz in sight. This kreplach completely satisfied my need for comfort food. It’s one of those dishes that just feels good to eat. There is a popular Yiddish expression, “Kreplach esn vert oykh nimis,” which roughly translates to– “One even gets bored of eating kreplach.” It’s the Yiddish equivalent of the American phrase, “Too much of a good thing.” Kreplach really is a good thing. Really really. And it’s hard to imagine having too much of it. So go on, make some kreplach! Shabbat Shalom.
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- 3 eggs
- 5 tbsp corn oil, divided (9 tbsp if frying kreplach)
- 1 1/2-2 cups flour
- 1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs.
- 5 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
- 5 celery stalks, cut into thirds
- Handful of fresh parsley
- 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tbsp whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch fresh dill
- 1 onion, diced
- Salt and pepper
- Place the chicken into a large stock pot. Cover with 4 quarts of water.
- Bring water to a boil over medium high heat. Let the chicken boil for 10-15 minutes, skimming the foam and particles that rise to the surface of the water periodically, till most of the foam is gone.
- Replenish the liquid that was removed during scumming with hot water (it's usually around 1-2 cups). Do a final skimming to remove any leftover foam. Add the carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns, cloves, and half the fresh dill to the pot. Add 2 tsp salt to the water (if you're salt sensitive or using a kosher salted bird, salt less). Bring back to a boil.
- Put the lid on the pot and vent it. Reduce heat to medium low so the soup is slowly simmering. Let the soup cook for 90 minutes. While the soup is cooking, mince up 1/4 cup of the remaining fresh dill and reserve.
- Heat 2 tbsp of corn oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the diced onion into the skillet. Let it fry for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, till the onion turns golden brown. Remove from heat. Reserve the onions and oil in the skillet.
- After 90 minutes of cooking, when the chicken is tender, turn off the heat. Use a pair of tongs to carefully pull the chicken from the broth. Put it on a plate. Taste the chicken broth and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Allow the chicken and the broth to cool.
- Meanwhile, make your kreplach dough. Beat 3 eggs and 3 tbsp of the corn oil in a small bowl till frothy. Reserve.
- Sift 1 1/2 cups of flour with 1 1/4 tsp of salt into your mixing bowl (if you're salt sensitive or on a low sodium diet, use less).
- In your mixing bowl, make a “well” in the center of the sifted flour and pour the beaten eggs in.
- Use a fork to mix the eggs into the flour until it is evenly moistened.
- Sift more flour into the bowl, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to stir until a soft dough forms. When the dough gets too thick to stir, use your hands to knead. Stop adding flour when the dough holds together and is only slightly sticky to the touch (it will be soft). Let it rest uncovered for 20 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, carefully strain the broth into another pot through a mesh strainer. Reserve the vegetables; discard the spices and herbs. Skim the fat from the top of the broth and pour it into a bowl. Reserve the fatty liquid (schmaltz).
- Pull the meat from the chicken in small pieces.
- Chop up and measure out 1 1/2 cups of the boiled chicken pieces. Place the chopped chicken in a food processor. Add the fried onion with its oil, 3 tbsp of the chopped dill, and 2 tbsp of the reserved fatty liquid from the broth to the food processor. If you're feeling indulgent, you can also throw in some of the fatty chicken skin for a more silky filling texture (not healthy, but tasty!).
- Pulse the chicken mixture in the food processor till it becomes a chunky paste. You will only need to pulse it a few times. Don't over-process it, you don't want a puree-- it should still have texture, like tuna salad. Alternatively, you can mince the dill (and optional chicken skin) by hand, use a meat grinder for the chicken meat, and combine the mixture by hand.
- Put the chicken mixture into a bowl. Season it with salt and pepper to taste. Don't be afraid to season generously, kreplach can turn out bland if you don't season it well. I like to add plenty of black pepper.
- Now you are ready to roll your dough. Cover your rolling surface with a thin layer of sifted flour. Scoop up half of the dough from the bowl; cover the remaining dough with a slightly damp towel. Lightly flour your rolling pin. Roll out the dough till it’s very thin, flipping the dough occasionally and reflouring the board and rolling pin as needed. Some people like their kreplach on the thicker side (more dumpling-like), some like it thinner (more wonton-like). For a thicker dumpling texture, roll it out to 1/8 inch thick. For a more delicate texture, roll it out as thin as possible without tearing the dough.
- I usually stop rolling when the dough is translucent-- when I can almost see through the dough when I hold it up to the light. When it's rolled out thin enough to your liking, it's ready to cut.
- There are a few different ways to cut and fold kreplach. I'm sharing three methods in this blog; there are other ways too. No matter which fold you choose, keep a small dish of water nearby.
- TRIANGLE KREPLACH: Cut the dough into strips 3 inches wide. Cut 3 inch squares from the strips. Gather any remaining scraps and place them in the bowl with the other half of the dough and recover with the damp towel.
- Place a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each square. Wet your finger and run it around the edge of the square.
- Fold one corner to the opposite corner to create a triangle. Seal the triangle by pinching the seal gently with your fingers. This shape is typically made for the Purim holiday.
- HALF MOON KREPLACH: Use a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut 3-inch circles from the dough. Gather any remaining scraps and place them in the bowl with the other half of the dough and recover with the damp towel.
- Place a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle. Wet your finger and run it around the edge of the circle.
- Fold the circle in half to create a half moon shape. Seal the kreplach by pinching the seal gently with your fingers. Roll the curved edge towards you to create a raised edge around the curve.
- THREE CORNER KREPLACH: Use a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut 3-inch circles from the dough. Gather any remaining scraps and place them in the bowl with the other half of the dough and recover with the damp towel.
- Place a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle. Wet your finger and run it around the edge of the circle.
- Take the two upper edges of the circle and fold them together over the top half of the filling. Pinch to seal. The bottom half of the filling will still be visible.
- Fold the lower flap of the circle up and over the bottom half of the filling. Pinch to create an edge and seal the kreplach closed.
- Once you've assembled your first batch of kreplach, gather the other half of the dough and the scraps. Roll it out and repeat the cutting and folding process. If you have enough scraps, repeat the process once more.
- You should end up with 40-50 kreplach (if you rolled the dough out thicker, you will end up with less).
- Once your kreplach are assembled, there are two ways to cook them. The most popular way is in boiling water or in the soup broth. Cook them in boiling water if you are feeding a large crowd; the kreplach will soak up some of the broth, which will make for one or two less servings of soup. I prefer to cook them straight in the broth so they soak up the chicken flavor-- you may end up with a little less broth, but your kreplach will taste amazing. You can always top the soup off with a little canned or boxed chicken broth if you need to.
- Bring the broth or water to a boil. Gently drop the kreplach into the pot. At first they will sink to the bottom, then they will slowly start to rise to the surface.
- Some people say to let the kreplach cook till they all float to the surface (which only takes about 5 minutes). I like to cook them for a bit longer-- around 20 minutes-- so they get nice and tender. You can test them to see when they're cooked and soft enough for you. While the kreplach are cooking, chop up the cooked vegetables and add them back to the pot (I usually just use the carrots) along with the remaining tablespoon of chopped fresh dill. You can also add some of the leftover soup chicken pieces, if you'd like. Store any remaining soup chicken pieces in an airtight plastic zipper bag for future use.
- When the kreplach are cooked to your liking, serve them in bowls of the hot soup broth.
- Alternatively, you can fry the kreplach to cook them. If you want to fry the kreplach, it's best to fold them in either the triangle or half moon shape-- these shapes have a more flat and even frying surface. Heat 1/4 of corn oil in a skillet till hot enough to fry. Keep it on the low end of frying temperature (I usually keep in over medium heat) so they brown, but don't burn.
- Place the kreplach into the skillet and let them fry on each side till the dough is golden brown and cooked throughout.
- Serve hot. My husband's family likes to serve the kreplach boiled with a small amount of broth ladled over, topped with melted margarine (or butter, if you're not keeping kosher) and chopped walnuts. It's a Russian tradition from his father's side of the family. No matter how you choose to serve them, homemade kreplach are out-of-this-world delish!