Kreplach: A Look Beneath the Dough

Kreplach: A Look Beneath the Dough

[Sorry for the delay in posting, I have been extremely busy these days, but better late than never . . . .]

The few weeks are of Jewish holidays. Yom Kippur is observed, as well as Rosh Hashanah and, in addition to these “big two,” Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) is also being celebrated. Whereas the first two holidays have long and deep culinary traditions (not the fasting, but the feast beforehand), there are very few foods that are associated with Sukkot. In researching this topic I have identified three foods having at least a tangential attachment to this holiday: cabbage soup (or boiled cabbage), freshly harvested fruits and vegetables are generally mentioned, and what has been fondly nicknamed the “Jewish wonton,” the kreplach (קרעפּלעך).   Interestingly enough, kreplach is not actually associated with the entire holiday holiday, only the seventh day, which is honored by being given its own name, Hoshanah Rabbah (הוֹשַׁעְנָא רַבָּא). I should also add that some experts have expressed that Sukkot does not have a specific food associated with it because every food you eat receives a special flavor when they are being eaten inside of the Sukkah.

What is Hashanah Rabbah?

Before I can delve into why kreplach had become a traditional dish for this holiday, I must first provide some enlightenment as to what this holiday is all about. Sukkot itself is a holiday of multiple celebrations. The holiday celebrates the end of forty years of the Hebrews wandering around in the desert. It is also known as a harvest festival (and sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif (חג האסף), which translates into the “Festival of Ingathering” (gathering the produce from the field). Thirdly, it is also one of the three shalosh (שָׁלוֹשׁ), or pilgrimage festivals, besides Passover and Shavuot (as provided in Exodus 34:18-23). [Deuteronomy 16:16 lists these three days for the people of Israel to make a pilgrimage to the “the place that G-d chooses,” most likely the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.] Lastly, as mentioned above, the seventh day of the holiday, Hoshanah Rabbah is also celebrated during Sukkot.

Hoshanah Rabbah is the final Day of Judgment (that began all the way back on Rosh Hashannah), and is the last day that a person can influence their verdict for the New Year. The Zohar (Tsav 31b) explains it to mean that the Book of Life is sealed at the close of Yom Kippur, but it is then in-transit and can still be changed until it is ultimately “delivered” at the time it reaches its destination on Hoshannah Rabah.

The holiday of Hoshanah Rabbah is celebrated in a multitude of fashions. There is a special service held in the synagogue (lead by the Hazzan wearing his Yom Kippur whites), which includes making seven circuits around the bimah (the platform or pulpit in the synagogue) by the congregants holding their lulav and etrog (a palm branch and a citrus fruit used during prayers on Sukkot), while reciting the special prayers recited on this holiday called the Hoshanot (הוֹשַׁעְנוֹת). The congregants complete seven circuits to honor the seven patriarchs in Judaism: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. The Torah is also usually removed from the ark and carried around the temple during the procession. At some synagogues a shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded at the completion of each circuit.

The Origins of Kreplach

In some communities (mostly Ashkenazi) it is customary to eat boiled cabbage or cabbage soup on Hashanah Rabbah. The custom was thought to have been derived many years ago in Germany due to a misstatement of words. The Hebrew words kol mevasser v’omier (קול מבשר ואומר), “a voice announcing good tidings,” are recited a number of timed during prayers on that day. The word kohl in German means cabbage and the words mit vasser means “with water.” This is also very close to the Yiddish phrase for “cabbage with water,” which sounds very similar and is pronounced kroyt mit vasser. So due to a confusion with pronunciation, a culinary tradition was born.

But I am not here to write about cabbage in this article. Instead, I would like to educate you about the wonderful wrapped delicacy known as the kreplach, which is also traditionally eaten (by many) during Hashanah Rabbah.

Kreplach, the step-child to the matzah ball (even during non-Passover holidays), are basically noodles (egg pasta) stuffed with meat (although not always) and usually served in chicken broth. From a culinary point of view, kreplachs are especially hard to make just-right, so most dinner guests go with the safer choice – the matza ball (and noodles).

The origins of the kreplach are sketchy at best. However, many historians point to the introduction of the stuffed noodle into Europe from the Far East as the point of its conception. Cultural anthropologist Claudia Roden argues in her book, The Book of Jewish Food, that the kreplach originated in the ghettos of Venice at about the same time the Italians first created the ravioli. It was around this time, they began boiling the filled pasta, instead of the previously more popular way of frying it. The earliest known reference to ravioli is in the 14th century writings of an Italian merchant and references have appeared as far north as England by the end of the century. Through rabbinic connections and trade during the 14th century, the dish made its way north to Jewish ghettos in Germany. From there, it spread from community to community – even to America by the turn of the 20th century as evidenced by a recipe for “creplich” in a 1901 cookbook entitled The Settlement Cookbook in Milwaukee (for recipe, see: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/coldfusion/display.cfm?ID=sett&PageNum=122).

However, the origins of the “Jewish” version of a kreplach may be even older. There is a document written by Rabbi Isaac ben Moses from the 13th century, where he writes “Jews in the Slavic lands also made krepish with cheese.” A krepish resemples a kreplach – meat in a pastry – but it is fried. The name for kreplach may have been derived from a German-Yiddish crossing of words, krepp is translated to “crêpe” in German, and lach means “little” in Yiddish, so when you put the two words together you get kreplach, the little crêpe.

Another possible origin provides a Central-Asian connection, which may also explain why some kreplachs are usually cooked with onions, and cheese-filled kreplachs are served with a sour cream. It is the fashion of the Turks and Mongols to eat manti (a boiled or steamed dumpling usually filled with spicy lamb or beef) with a yogurt sauce. The connection may go back even further. The earliest evidence of stuffed pasta (actually petrified wontons) was found in Turfan, China dating to 7th or 8th century. Therefore it is possible that the idea for this dish had made its way to Europe seven centuries later, hence making the term “Jewish wonton,” not just a clever quip, but a commentary on its gastronomic history. [For more detailed information on the origins of the kreplach, please visit: http://courses.hamilton.edu/szimmerm/name.]

To give some depth to the story of Kreplachs in a religious sense, the rabbis have held discussions on determining what category of food a kreplach falls under. Under rabbinic law, a person that bakes bread is to give 1/24th of the bread to the temple. However, due to the fact that it is boiled, some rabbis have argued that it may not constitute “bread.” In addition, the fact that it contains a filling, the filling may negate its bread status as well. The rabbis took this one step further, asking what constitutes “baking bread”? Is it the use of fire to cook it be enough, or does it need to be baked in an oven? Susan Weingarten discusses these and other rabbinic questions regarding kreplach at http://www.academia.edu/12348929/Food_for_feasting_or_food_for_fasting_Rabbinical_krepelach.

Why Do We Eat Kreplach on Hashanah Rabbah?

I have provided you with a quick overview of Hashanah Rabbah, and some background on kreplach, so let’s put it all together and answer the question on everyone’s mind: what’s the connection between a meat stuffed into dough and the seventh day of Sukkot? Well, to tell you the truth, just as the origins of the kreplach are uncertain, so are the reasons behind its association with the holiday. But, of course, many scholars and historians have devised their own explanations. I have listed a few of the reasons I was able to uncover, beginning with the most known and obvious – since Hashanah Rabbah is the end to the period of Divine Judgment, the meat being hidden within the noodle symbolizes the secrecy of G-d’s verdict. Other reasons are as follows:

  • To show that the verdict of judgment is sealed within the Book of Life (as the meat is sealed within the noodle.
  • The kreplachs are usually filled with a chopped-up meat, or “beaten meat” to signify the frailty of human life, just as the willow branches (aravos) are beaten on this holiday.
  • In accord with the above reason, you eat kreplach “on days you hit” (klopf), those days being: Hashannah Rabhab (beating willow branch), Purim (stamping feet when say Haman), and Yom Kippur (hitting our chest during al chet (על חטא)). As they would have said in the old country: “when we bang, we eat kreplach.”
  • This is one of three holidays (besides Purim and the day before Yom Kippur) where Jews are not obligated by the Torah to eat a celebratory meal, and there are no restrictions on work. To symbolize that the celebration is hidden (meat and wine are the two symbolic foods that are mitzvot to eat while celebrating a Jewish holiday), we hide the meat to obscure that fact that we may be celebrating.
  • According to the Kabala, the bread represents divine kindness throughout without causing harm to others. The meat, on the other hand, provides sustenance to man, but only through depriving an animal of life, represents severity, or in other words, sometimes good must come at a price.
  • We cover the meat in dough to remind us to pray that compassion should sugarcoat all judgments.
  • Because KRP (KRePlach) is an acronym for (Yom) Kippur, (Hashanah) Rabbah, and Purim.

Kreplach not only has connections with Hashana Rabbah, it is also a food associated with other holidays as well, such as Yom Kippur and Purim. To a lesser degree, kreplach are beginning to be linked with and Shavuot and Chanukah.

 Yom Kippur – Kreplach, eaten the day before Yom Kippur, symbolizes the kindness, mercy and protection of G-d, all enveloped as one – as the meat is enveloped within the dough.

  • Purim – Sometimes cheese filled kreplach are served during Purim to symbolize the hidden nature of the miracle of Purim. In addition, the kreplach on Purim are usually shaped as triangles to represent the three cornered hat of Haman.
  • Shavuot – Cheese filled kreplach may also be served on Shavuot as part of the dairy meal (see May 2015 issue of the Bulletin)
  • Chanukah – Not a widely-accepted association, but oil-fried meat or cheese filled kreplach is a tasty addition to symbolize the miracle of Chanukah.

The Recipe

For this month, It is pretty obvious the recipe I will be providing. I am bringing you a delicious recipe for a succulent meat within a tasty dough exterior, and is celebrating its 200th anniversary – Beef Wellington.   No matter how good my recipe for kreplachs may be, it will never compare to how your mom used to make it. Since I cannot compete with mom, I have decided to provide a recipe that contains meat engulfed by a type of pastry/breading [Fast Fact: the dish’s probable origins came about through the renaming of a classic French beef in pastry dish (filet de boeuf en croûte) after the second defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte (in 1815) by troops under the command of Arthur Wellesley who was given the title “Duke of Wellington” for his battle prowess]. And now, how to make Beef Wellington (the “rich man’s kreplach” in Ten Steps:

Ingredients: (served 4)

1 1/3 lb            Beef (center cut tenderloin suggested)

½ tsp               Black pepper

½ tsp               Salt

1                      Egg

1 tsp                Water

1 tbs                Margarine

1 cup               Chopped Mushrooms

¼ cup              Chopped Celery

1/3 cup           Chopped Onions

2 tbs                Flour

2-4                   Sheets of Pastry Dough (depending on size)

 

Directions:

Step 1: Preheat oven to 450 F.

Step 2: Sprinkle salt & pepper onto beef, then place onto greased cooking sheet.

Step 3: Place beef into oven for approx. 30 minutes. Interior should be heated to 130 F

Step 4: Place into refrigerator for 1 hour (beef should be covered).

Step 5: While beef is cooling down, reheat oven to 420 F.

Step 6: Heat the margarine (in a sauce pan), Once melted, add the onions, celery, and mushrooms. Heat vegetables until they are tender and the margarine has evaporated.

Step 7: Add flour to a work area and then place the pastry dough on top of flour.

Step 8: Place the vegetable mixture into the middle of each pastry dough and spread it out. Then place the beef on top of the vegetables and wrap everything inside of the pastry dough.

Step 9: Combine the eggs and water, then use this misture to whitewash the outside of the filled pastry dough.

Step 10: Place the filled pastry onto a (clean) baking tray and place back into the oven. Cook for about 20-25 minutes. Interior temperature should be heated to 140 F.

 

Notes:

If you like your beef a little more well done, increase the cooking time the first time the beef is in the oven. If you like it black and bleu, after the desired time cooking it (the first time), place under the broiler for 1- 1 ½ minutes on each side. I also tend to have a heavier hand when it comes to the salt and pepper, and will add a few additional “pinches” of each while seasoning. A chopped leaf salad with apples and walnuts (with fruit-flavored vinaigrette dressing) would go well with this dish, as would a dish made with lightly sautéed vegetables in olive oil and garlic, such as asparagus. A sweet red wine or merlot would pair up very well with this dish.

Piktah Tova (“A good note”), and keep on cooking,

Chef Lon E

A special thanks to Michael B. for his help as consultant on this article.

 

Sources

Books

Claudia Roden , The Book of Jewish Food

The Settlement Cookbook in Milwaukee

 

Online Resourses

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