Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Murray's Famous Chicken-Beef Kreplach

Kreplach or Zlikrofi?

So what is kreplach, a traditional Jewish dumpling, doing in a Slovenian food blog?

If you have read my recent posts about Slovenian zlikrofi, especially here, you already know part of the answer.

The two dishes are so similar that you could easily mistake one for the other. In fact, my mother often referred to her meat-filled dumplings as kreplach. She probably figured it sounded more American than zlikrofi!

There is another reason for sharing this. Murray's Kreplach is also a family recipe. But it's from my husband's side of the family.

Murray Tabak is my father-in-law. As a boy, he used to watch his Polish-born mother hard at work in the kitchen. He went on to become a fine cook himself. Luckily, he had the foresight to preserve some of his mother's prized dishes. He watched her, asked questions, and made notes. The result was a handful of traditional Jewish recipes. This is one of them. Every fall, Grandma Rose used to make a big batch of kreplach and then deliver them, a couple dozen to each household, to her five children and their families for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Rose, my husband's grandmother, cooked from memory and feeling. Just like my own grandmother, she lived through hard times and had the knack for doing a lot with very little. Her kreplach, like Slovenian zlikrofi, are labor intensive.

The filling uses two kinds of meat, chicken and beef, each cooked separately and then ground or chopped in a food processor. The shape is also more complicated that my mother's simple wonton triangles. There is a second step here: Pinching two corners of the triangle together, so they resemble tortellini.

During a recent visit, my father-in-law proudly showed us a printed version of his recipe, dubbed Murray's Kreplach, in a 1988 cookbook called "Almost All My Secrets: Recipes from the Bakery." This cookbook, probably self-published, was the creation of Deborah Davidson, who used to own a bakery in New York's Westchester County. The cookbook is out of print, the bakery no longer exists, and Murray moved to Florida and lost touch with the baker-author. So I saw this as one more vintage cookbook that helped preserve a piece of the past.

Except for one small problem. The cookbook got it wrong.

This came to light during a subsequent visit,  just after I had posted the first version of this recipe. When I showed Murray the blog entry, he was pleased and started to read it. Then he took a closer look.

I had the proportions of beef and pork reversed, Murray said. So I went to my original source, the cookbook he'd shown me. She got it wrong too. The filling was supposed to be mostly beef and just a little chicken, in a ratio of about 4:1.

In the recipe below, I have made the correction. I also specify chicken breasts, since Murray's mother used white meat only. And I have substituted fresh herbs for dried.  

Murray also agreed with me: The instructions in the cookbook were too detailed. In fact, his observation was a little more pungent: Anyone who needed every step spelled out had no business even attempting such an ambitious recipe!

For the filling, I have simplified the directions even more and put them into my own language.

When it comes to the dough, I offer only brief instructions.

The cookbook version gives detailed directions for using a pasta machine. I no longer own one of those, and I have happily returned to the old-fashioned hand-rolled approach, at least for making noodles and dumplings. If you would like to find instructions for using a pasta machine, I am sure you can.  For a reminder on how to make noodles by hand, you can look back at my zlikrofi recipe.

I have given the ingredients for the dough, to give an idea of the quantities in this very large recipe. Unlike the Slovenian egg noodle dough,  this recipe includes a little oil, but no salt. Oil is supposed to make pasta dough more supple and elastic. I'm not sure how much difference it makes. The Slovenian recipes, and some kreplach recipes, skip the oil.  So it's up to you.

Murray's Chicken-Beef Kreplach



8 oz. boneless chicken breasts
2 lb.  boneless beef chuck
2 T. flour
2 1/2 c. chopped onions
2 T. chicken fat
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 t. paprika
2 T. fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
additional chicken fat if needed


3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten
2  T. oil

Instructions for filling:

Poach chicken breasts in water seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little minced garlic. Drain. Murray, his mother, and my mother all used hand grinders. If you use a food processor, be careful to chop coarsely. You don't want a paste! Refrigerate.

Murray refers to this next step as "making potted beef." Cut beef in cubes, coat with flour, and brown on all sides. Remove beef from pan. Using the same pan, brown the onion in 2 T. chicken fat. When brown, add beef back to pan. Add 1/2 inch of water, along with salt, pepper, paprika, parsley, and garlic. Cover and simmer on low heat, adding more liquid if needed. When beef is tender, remove from pan and grind or chop coarsely in food processor.

Combine chopped beef, chopped chicken and whatever remains in the pan. If needed, add up to 2 T. additional melted chicken fat, both for flavor and to hold the filling together. Taste and adjust seasoning. Filling should taste somewhat salty.

Murray notes that the texture of the filling should be something like ground meat, as though you were making meat balls. Also, to make a lower fat version, you could omit the chicken fat and use additional browned onions. If the filling seems too soft, add some bread crumbs.

Instructions for dough, shaping, and final preparation:

The original recipe suggests using a a food processor to mix the dough and a pasta machine for rolling it out. If you use a pasta machine, divide into 4 portions. You should end up at the thinnest setting. Or you can follow the old-fashioned approach: mixing and rolling by hand!

Either way, cut the thin sheets of dough into 3 x 3 inch squares. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center. Here is where things change a little: The Murray Method is to moisten the edges of the square before folding into a triangle. The edges are simply pressed together. Then, the final step: Two points of the triangle are joined and pressed together. The finished product should look like tortellini.

Ultimately, the shape doesn't define the dish. I have read about Slovenian zlikrofi that are shaped the very same way, and I have enjoyed kreplach that are simple triangles. Again, it is your choice.

To prepare: Cook in boiling salted water, a few at a time, and "cook until they rise to the top of the water." Remove and drain. The printed recipe suggests that the kreplach should be coated in oil or melted chicken fat to store. They can also be frozen and then simmered for five minutes in soup or broth.

Serve in soup or on their own.


Update: Two years later, I finally made Murray's kreplach. Even with a few healthy modifications (no salt, oil instead of chicken fat) it was wonderful!  For details, go here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 15: Žlikrofi, My Way

Žlikrofi (Meat-filled Dumplings) in Soup
Broccoli-Radish Salad

For the full story behind this dish, take a look at my previous post.

I  developed this recipe after considering many sources: Memories of a childhood favorite that my mother called wonton dumplings.   Several versions of zlikrofi, plus a meat pita recipe, that I found in my trio of vintage Slovenian American cookbooks.   Contemporary Slovenian sources I discovered online.  And a touch of my father-in-law's family recipe for kreplach, a traditional Jewish dish.

So is this a fusion dish?  Not exactly.  The flavors certainly aren't Chinese.  And meat kreplach would never include pork or sour cream! The fact is, many cultures have similar versions of meat-filled boiled dumplings.

I think this is Slovenian žlikrofi, the way my mother used to make it, even though she never used that name around us.

As for what my mother thinks, read on!


1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 T. fresh parsley, chopped
1 T. oil
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 t. paprika
1 egg, beaten
3 T. sour cream
3 T. matzo meal (or bread crumbs)


1 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
water as needed


First, make the noodle dough in the usual way.  Mix, knead till smooth.  Form into a ball, cover and let rest for a half hour.  For more detailed instructions, see my recipe for egg noodles.

Now, the filling:  Brown the onion, garlic, and parsley in oil.  Add the ground meats and seasonings and cook until no longer pink.  As the mixture cooks, chop with a spatula to prevent lumps from forming.  Remove from heat and adjust the seasonings. Add egg, sour cream, and enough matzo meal or bread crumbs to hold together.   If you like, you can make the filling in advance and refrigerate

Next, make the dumplings:  Roll out the dough thinly. Cut into  3 x 3 inch squares. I ended up with two dozen. Place a generous spoonful of filling a little off to the side of each square.  I've read about all kinds of fancy shapes for žlikrofi, but I followed the old family method. Fold the square into a triangle and crimp the edges with a fork.

Cook dumplings in boiling salted water for 15 minutes.  Drain and serve.

I served the žlikrofi in a simple but tasty soup I figured out on the fly.  It goes like this: Purchase a good quality, organic chicken broth.   Add some baby carrots, a stalk or two of sliced celery, and  some chopped parsley. Simmer until carrots are tender.  Adjust seasonings.

Alternatively, you can serve žlikrofi on their own, topped with buttered bread crumbs.

The verdict:  Pretty good. Until I compared my žlikrofi to my recollection of my mother's wontons.  Then I started to fret aloud to my long-suffering husband.

My version didn't look like my mother's plump, neat triangles.  Mine were too small, misshapen, and lumpy.  I could have been more generous with the filling. (I did have some left over.)  And that ground meat filling just didn't have the texture of leftover roast beef that passes through a meat grinder.  And why did I decide to use part pork, anyway?

Despite my doubts, I decided to take the plunge.  I gave Mom a serving of žlikrofi a few weeks after Mother's Day.   It was frozen, so maybe she wouldn't get around to it for awhile.

But the final verdict came soon enough.  She called me up one day to deliver it.

I held my breath.

She loved it.  The filling tasted just fine.  No, they didn't seem too small.  And I had even crimped the edges with a fork, just the way my grandmother had taught her, when she was a girl.

Well, naturally.  How else would I do it?

"You do so many things well, Blair," she added.

It felt like a benediction.


Here it is in photos, step by step:

Prepare the meat filling
Roll out the dough + cut into squares

Place spoonful of filling on dough
Fold into triangles; crimp edges with fork


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 15: Zlikrofi, a Wonton by Any Other Name

As a special treat, my mother used to make a tasty dish she called wonton dumplings. They were large, meat-filled triangles made of noodle dough, boiled and then served in soup or topped with browned bread crumbs.  Sometimes she called them kreplach, like our Jewish friends.

But she never suggested they were Slovenian.  I wasn't sure she even knew what I had just discovered:  Filled, boiled dumplings are considered a Slovenian specialty, highly touted on all the tourist websites.

"So Mom," I asked her, "did Grandma ever make something like wontons?  Called, maybe, zlin-krow-fee?"

I hesitated over the pronunciation, since I'd seen a few different variants of the Slovenian name in my cookbooks: zlinkrofi, zlikrofi, zinkrofi.

But my mother didn't hesitate at all.

"Oh, sure.  Only we called them zhleee'-kro-feh."

Amazing.  Not only did she know all about them, but she had come up with the proper Slovenian pronunciation, right down to that tricky little ž!

Now I was determined to make them, whatever they were called.

Both spellings, žlikrofi and žlinkrofi, are used in Slovenia.  The Professor, my translator-linguist friend in Ljubljana, tells me the proper way is the first one, without the "n" in the middle.   According to him, it is probably derived from a German term that means "slippery dumpling."

In Slovenia, you can find zlikrofi in many fanciful shapes that are filled with meat, potato, cottage cheese, millet, and even dried fruit.  The most famous seems to be the potato/bacon version made in Idrija, with the name and the recipe protected by law.  It also seems to be the fashion, at least in these English language translations, to describe žlikrofi as ravioli or pasta.

But my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks were more down-to-earth.  Zlikrofi were dumplings or noodles, filled with meat.  The meat combinations, unfortunately, left me a little cold.  Liver or cooked lungs, put through a meat chopper? Veal pluck?  Ham and sausage?

I decided to come up with a version that would be close to what I recalled of my mother's:  a fairly plain meat filling, probably beef with onion and a little parsley.

As a child, I used to love helping her turn the crank on our old-fashioned cast iron meat grinder.  It was such a mysterious alchemy, to watch those leftover chunks of roast beef emerge as a fluffy bowl of shredded meat.  I had inherited that old grinder from her, some years back.  Sadly,  I no longer had it. It had been the casualty of one too many moves.  I wish I had it now.

I figured cooked ground beef would be a reasonable alternative.  And I did spot a recipe for a meat pie ("Meat Pita") in the American Slovene Club's cookbook, with a filling that looked like it might work.

I also had in mind a traditional Jewish recipe from my husband's side of the family.  We had just been visiting my father-in-law in Florida.  He had proudly shared with me his special recipe, Murray's Kreplach, learned from his Polish-born mother.  It had even been published in a cookbook a friend of his had written.

The secret, my father-in-law had told me, was to use lots of browned onion.  And none of this ground meat business. His very elaborate recipe used poached chicken cutlets and a smaller amount of sauteed beef chuck, cooked separately and then chopped in a food processor.

Well, I still wasn't prepared to cook whole chunks of meat from scratch.  But I agreed with him about the onion.  And I took one important seasoning addition from his recipe: Paprika.  I also used matzo meal instead of the bread crumbs called for in my Slovenian cookbook.

So maybe I had made my family's new version of an old favorite,  a marriage of Slovenian zlikrofi and Jewish kreplach.  That would be fitting!

Recipe follows here.