Kreplach are one of those things that a lot of people think about making before abandoning the idea because it just seems like too much work. But these soft, moist parcels simmered in a rich soup or liquor are delectable when they are home-made and so different from the shop or restaurant version that it is a shame not to try them. And while you taste, you can be captivated — as I was — with the mystical reasons for eating and making kreplach.
Traditional kreplach are made by enveloping a beaten or chopped meat mixture in meltingly soft dough and poaching these triangular delicacies until tender in a good soup.
They are traditionally served on Kol Nidrei night, Simchat Torah and Purim; three festivals which are synonymous with metaphorical moments when we beat ourselves or others for our sins. During Yom Kippur, as penitents, we give ourselves 39 symbolic lashes. At the end of Hoshanah Rabba, we use the Arevot — five branches of the willow — and beat them on the ground, removing some of the leaves, thus symbolically absolving ourselves of our sins.
Of course, as part of the Megillah reading, we stamp our feet and bang to swamp Haman’s name.
And the Kreplach’s name? One explanation is that the initials of the three festivals are K for Kippur, R for Rabba, and P for Purim, which together can sound the word Krep. The “lach” comes from the Yiddish, meaning “little”. Another suggestion is that the word for these Jewish ravioli comes from the German word, Krepp, meaning crêpe. Some say that God hid when performing the miracle of saving the Jews — as the filling hides beneath the dough.
And the kreplach filling continues the metaphor of hitting and beating, — we eat food that has been chopped or minced, signifying that need to hit or beat. Usually it is made from minced meat — my mother boiled a piece of shin of beef with onions, minced the mixture and added gravy to make an economical filling. Again, for economy, chicken from the soup can be minced and mixed with the liver and fried onions.
Custom decrees that some communities use turkey, as the bird was thought to be a dim-witted animal, a little like King Ahaseurus at Purim. Some Ashkenazi Jews favour a sweet filling. By spring, winter’s meat supplies were short, so a dried fruit and spice was a delicious substitute.
Serve these lovely morsels in good, well-flavoured soup for a substantial meal. Or try serving the savoury versions with a rich onion or olive and tomato sauce on a bed of spicy lentils to form a substantial main course.
The “hidden” metaphor can be emphasised by serving other stuffed vegetables, such as courgettes or peppers, filled with rice cooked in vegetable stock with a piece of cinnamon bark and the grated rind of a lemon. Then add roasted pine nuts or almonds and plenty of chopped, fresh coriander and mint.
There are numerous discussions as to the best dough to use — as many as there are Jewish grandmothers.
I suggest my own dough which is a result of hours of dedicated experimentation and numerous family tastings on your behalf. Just to prove that these dumplings are endlessly adaptable, I have come up with an alternative vegetarian filling which uses mashed chickpeas spiced with chillies for kreplach with a twist.
Spicy chickpea Kreplach
Makes 32-66 kreplach
● 225g plain flour
● tablespoon warm water — boil water; add a few saffron strands and leave to cool
● pinch of salt,
● pinch of baking powder
● 2 medium eggs
● 1 dessert spoon olive oil
● 235g tinned chickpeas in water
● 1 heaped teaspoon tahina
● ½ teasp dried chopped chillies
● 1 teasp garam masala
● ¼ teasp ground turmeric
● 25g chopped coriander
● 1 teaspoon ground paprika
● Salt and black pepper to taste
● To make the dough, use the mixer or processor.
● Make a well in the flour. l Sieve in salt and baking powder. Beat the eggs. Add saffron strands to water and leave to colour, then strain and add to flour mixture with the oil.
● You may need to add a little more flour if your mixture is sticky but you need to have a very soft, pliable dough. Now really beat the dough for a good five minutes.
● Remove and rest it in the fridge for approximately ½ hour.
● Process or mash the other ingredients until well combined.
● Season with salt to taste. Roll dough out very thinly on a well-floured surface.
● Cut into squares. Place ½ teaspoons of the mixture in their centres.
● Bring corners to corners to form triangles and pinch around filling to stop leaks.
● Drop in boiling stock or soup.
● Serve or freeze