Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hungarian dumplings (nokedli)

This recipe for Hungarian dumplings comes from my friend Holly. It is a WONDERFUL recipe because it features the quintessentially Eastern European technique of pulling the dough. As Holly explains:

"Dumplings are so precarious because you really have to have them cooked exactly right to come out well."

2 cups flour
1/3 cup water
large pinch of salt (pepper if wished)
2 eggs

Directions: Mix flour and seasonings. Beat egg and add a little water Mix flour with egg until you get an elastic moist dough Add further water as necessary Have a pot of boiling, salted water ready Put the dough on a wet wooden board Get your favourite kitchen knife and stick the blade briefly in the boiling salted water Turn down the temperature a little so that the water does not boil too vigorously Cut a line of the end of the dough just under finger thick Pull away from the rest of the dough and cut pieces from the line, about ¾'' to 1'' long and scrape off the board into the water (resist the temptation to make them bigger) Keep on cutting and dip your knife into the water occasionally to prevent sticking When all the nokedli is in the water allow to simmer until it all rises to the top Drain the cooking water and serve (*** Special tip*** keep the cooking water for your next Hungarian onion soup)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Archival dumpling

My cousin Lori provided me with this great shot of last year's dumplings (Christmas 2006), including our first, misguided batch which produced "brain dumpling" (bottom), necessitating a re-make (top).

Knedlicky, Christmas 2007

Ahoj! Welcome to this primer on Czech dumplings (knedlicky). As a Czech-American, bread dumplings were an important part of my childhood. Moje babicka cooked traditional Czech foods representing the peasant culture of the Old World in which simple ingredients and loving care combined to form dishes that were more delicious than the sum of their parts. In adulthood, my parents and I have attempted to keep the tradition alive although in modified form. Despite becoming acculturated to the abundant colorfulness of today's organic food supermarkets, a monochromatic starch and protein meal from yesteryear is always a treat.

Understanding Czech dumplings
Cubing slices of stale country white bread is the first stage in creating knedlicky goodness. Staleness is best achieved after the bread has been lying uncovered for two to three days. The cubes are added to the dough itself which is a mixture of yeast, flour, eggs, milk and a pinch of salt. As a contemporary modification, I have moved toward using Bisquick instead of yeast in order to avoid various yeast pitfalls. In the traditional recipe, live yeast must be warmed, but not cooked (or else it will be dead yeast) and added to the dough which must be set aside for several hours in order to rise. With Bisquick, the process of activating yeast and waiting for the dough to rise is circumvented. However, I imagine some of the lovingkindness is lost along with the live yeast as the dumplings move toward Bisquick fastfood overproduced Americanism.

Once the cubed bread and dough are mixed to a stiff, sticky paste, hand-fulls of the dough are formed into large balls which are then boiled in a vat of water on the stove. Once boiled, the dumplings expand to approximately twice their size. Approximately 12 minutes of boiling on each side is recommended. The dumplings are then removed from the water and left to cool for a few minutes before being sliced with string. Knedlicky are traditionally served with pork, gravy, and zelli (saurkraut) during a mid-afternoon holiday meal. It is not uncommon for my cousins and I to eat upwards of 5 slices of bread dumplings-- which expand to greater volume in our contented stomachs-- and then to sit around in a food coma for the rest of the day.

Bisquick Knedlicky
Recipe from Rose H. Strobl (1917-1998)

2 cups sifted flour
1 cup Bisquick
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
Cubed bread
Dough will be stiff, add more milk if needed. Add 2 slices of stale whit bread. Mix all ingredients well. Wet hands in cold water and form dough into 3 dumplings. Drop into rapidly boiling water (24 minutes, 12 each side). Lift with a slotted spoon and cut into slices.
For a good bread dumpling recipe which involves yeast, try:

And, to watch an old master make knedlicky, check out someone's Grandma Vera rolling it out old-school:

Finally, enjoy an old Czech commercial for fruit dumplings! Eve, an excuse to put a naked woman in the commercial, makes an appearance to remind us of dumplings' original sinfulness...
Dobrou chut!