“Do you remember Grandma’s kreplach?” one of us would ask, beginning the mealtime mantra.
“Oh, Grandma’s kreplach,” we, the sibling Greek chorus, would chant.
“Oh, if only.”
That kreplach mantra was from one my brothers, and we have repeated it hundreds of times in the decades since our grandmother died. We chanted it when any two sibs gathered. We chanted it at big holiday meals. And we chanted it long distance on smartphones.
“If you loved me, if you loved us, you would make kreplach,” we would plead, turning to my sisters-in-law, all glorious cooks, but to no avail.
At every family gathering, we would recount — to our own endless delight — our favorite kreplach stories.
“Do you remember the time you flew home with a 5-pound coffee tin filled with kreplach for the family and arrived home with just one piece?”
“Yeah, well, what about how you always pushed me aside when we raced to the refrigerator in the morning to get to the kreplach first? You, the big brother, pushing your little sister aside.”
This battle at the refrigerator was replayed again and again, always the morning after a big kreplach dinner. It followed the traditional midnight raid when we each grabbed one or two pieces or a fistful of kreplach to help get us through the long night. The dinner itself was a time of unsurpassed gluttony and belching, worthy of ancient Rome. But while the Romans had the benefit of loose-fitting togas, we kreplach-gorged kids had to unbuckle belts and discretely loosen zippers.
As the morning battle commenced, we’d hear the anxious cries of my mother and Grandma. They weren’t chiding us to behave. No, they simply wanted us to heat the kreplach before inhaling it. “It tastes better warmed,” they would plead. Heat some we would, but first we needed a bissel to tide us over during the unbearable minutes it took to reheat a batch.
By lunchtime, the huge reserves of kreplach were depleted. The hordes of Galatz kids had done their job. There was never enough kreplach left for a second dinner, to the profound disappointment of my hardworking father, who’d arrive worn out from the long commute from the city.
Now you may not know what kreplach is. And even if you think you know what it is, you never had kreplach like my Hungarian grandmother, Ida Kirschen, made it.
First, picture ravioli. Then dismiss that notion. Kreplach is like ravioli only in its triangular shape.
Unlike ravioli’s meat, cheese or vegetable filling, Grandma’s tiny triangles of soft white dough were filled with unsweetened prune jelly. Sour prune jelly may not sound like bliss to you, but trust me, it is.
As far as we can tell, only Grandma made kreplach with prunes. You can — on rare occasions — find a Jewish deli that offers meat or potato kreplach. But to my family, that is kreplach heresy! Stuff dough with meat or potatoes and you’re making pelmeni or pirogi, which are delicious in their own right, but they just don’t measure up to Grandma’s kreplach.
We’re lucky to have Grandma’s recipe. She never wrote it down, never followed one. It is thanks to her daughter, my Aunt Evelyn, that we have this treasure. One afternoon, armed with a pencil and a measuring cup, Aunt Ev stood beside Grandma, grabbing each ingredient out of her hand, measuring it along the way from bulk packaging to counter to rolling pin to boiling pot to buttered pan.
The recipe is surprisingly simple. Yet, working with dough is always tricky, and making batches of kreplach takes patience and time. Here’s how.
- 2 lbs. sour prunes (add sour salt if using sweet prunes)
- 5 cups flour
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups water
- ½ lb. butter
- ¾ box breadcrumbs
Mix flour, eggs and water. Knead dough.
Before the dough is ready, cook prunes into jelly.
Roll dough out … Very thin … Cut into squares: “Not too big. Not too little.”
Put jelly in and pinch the ends together. Do this very carefully or the kreplach will burst in the pot, making a mess and earning Grandma’s scorn. I know this firsthand.
Repeat process: Dough, triangles, stuff, pinch. Repeat until your arms ache from the unaccustomed task of working with a rolling pin for hours.
Boil for 20 minutes in slightly salted water. Strain and pour cold water over it.
Dip dumplings lightly in melted butter and then into breadcrumbs to cover completely. Sauté over medium heat for approximately 3-4 minutes on both sides until slightly crispy.
Place in a warm oven while preparing the rest of the batch.
Again, the secret is the dough. Think of the flakiest, lightest apple pie you ever eaten versus a store-bought pie from the freezer case. That gives you a sense of the doughy perfection required.
One time my wonderful but misguided husband used his fancy pasta maker to roll out the dough. It was thick. It was tough. It did not melt in your mouth. Still we, the critical Kreplach Chorus, managed to stifle our disapproval and stuff ourselves with the entire platter of kreplach.
One Thanksgiving, attempting to quell the kreplach kvetching, my best girlfriend suggested using dim sum wrappers to simplify the dough drudgery. She was immediately shouted down. Though I must confess the outrage was somewhat muffled as our mouths were stuffed with her homemade, baked-to-perfection apple, pecan and pumpkin pies.
Another time, surreptitiously, I did use dim sum wrappers to make kreplach. It was a mistake. Chinese and Hungarian delicacies do not a culinary match make. The meal was tossed.
So, I repeat, kreplach is labor-intensive. There are no shortcuts. To make it right, you must spend hours in the kitchen, sweating and red-faced, covered in flour and splotches of jelly.
Of course, this is not the way we, the rushed modern generation, do things. We eat out or order in. We aren’t willing to devote an entire day to making a one-dish, backbreaking meal. And besides, think of the calories! The gluten!
Yes, we may from time to time make Grandma’s chopped liver recipe and call it pâté. We may appropriate her potato soup recipe and serve it up très chic as vichyssoise to our friends. But when it comes to kreplach, we Galatzes would rather long for it than labor.
And that, you see, is the heart of it. Kreplach is a labor of love and that’s what we long for — the love of our grandmother, the love of our parents, the love of marathon family meals, the refrigerator battles, and every other debate and discussion that played out across that most precious battlefield of all — the long-ago childhood family kitchen table.