Through Hardship, These Kreplach Endured
Shared by Angela Josephsberg-Achsen
Recipe Roots: Drohobych, Poland (today Ukraine) > Ramat-Gan, Israel
When we met Angela Josephsberg-Achsen in her home in Ramat Gan, just outside of Tel Aviv, we were overwhelmed by her endurance. At 93 years old, she has lived through hardship in ways that make it seem she has lived multiple lives. But she has also lived with great love. Through it all, there has been kreplach, petite dumplings filled with chicken and served in soup or fried and paired with caramelized onions, at the family table around the high holidays.
When Angela was little, her family lived in Drohobych, a town that at the time was part of Poland and today is located within Ukraine’s borders. She only has happy memories from those years, in the 1930s, she tells us. Her family had nicknamed their home “the beautiful house” and her parents slept on one side of it with her brother and she slept with her grandmother on the other. If she woke up in the night, her grandmother would pour her a glass of milk and ply her with chocolate before they went back to bed.
In 1934, her father Herman Tzvi made Aliya and sent for Angela, her brother, and her mother a year later. Angela remembers traveling to the city of Lviv and then on to a port to board a ship for Jaffa. Short on funds, her grandmother remained in Europe, but her kreplach recipe came with Angela’s mother Tzila.
Life took a radical turn in Palestine and Angela was forced to grow up quickly. The family moved from one small apartment to another, numerous times in their first years in the country. Her father, would leave for weeks at a time to work by the Dead Sea to support them. Angela remembers they were always hungry. When she once found an envelope of stamps and sold them to another child she knew, her mother sent her to the store to buy bread, cocoa, and sugar, to make Angela and her brother a treat. Even when money was tight, her mother made kreplach for the high holidays, placing each folded dumpling on a bedsheet as she made a full batch.
There were moments of tenderness, too. Her father once carried a heavy bin of water from the Dead Sea back to their home so her mother could dip her ailing elbow into it. And there were moments of joy. An outstanding athlete in high school, Angela became the national champion in track and field and competed in the competition with students from across the Middle East, where she won.
In 1947, though, tragedy struck the family. Tensions and fighting between Jews and Arabs rose in the region that year when the United Nations released its partition plan. During this time, Angela’s father was living in Baghdad, working in an oil and soap factory. On a visit home, he presented Tzila with a green purse as a gift. He insisted they go out to buy her matching shoes to celebrate. On the bus, after asking another passenger to switch seats with her so she could sit with her husband, bullets struck the bus and took Tzila’s life.
Among the memories and traditions she left behind was the family kreplach. Angela had watched her mother make the kreplach as a child, but had never made them on her own. She dug into her memory and managed to teach herself how to make the dumplings once again. She’s continued to make them for decades since, using the same meat grinder she has owned for 40 years. Today, the recipe is so beloved by her grandchildren that she jokingly hides the kreplach when they come over for Rosh Hashanah so that they won’t be devoured before the meal starts.
Like Angela, the kreplach recipe has endured.
Kreplach (Chicken and Liver Dumplings)
Makes: 90 dumplings
Total time: 2 hours, plus 20 minutes resting time
For the filling:
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 small chicken breast (about 5 ounces; ½ cup chopped), cut into ½-inch pieces
3 chicken livers (about 3 ounces; ¼ cup chopped), cut into ½-inch pieces
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the dough:
3½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup lukewarm water
Canola oil, for drizzling
1. Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken and liver pieces lightly with salt. Add to the pan and sear, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a plate and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Add the remaining oil to the pan along with the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
3. Transfer the chicken and liver to a food processor, along with the onions, 1½ tablespoons of the beaten egg, the ½ teaspoon of the salt, and all of the pepper. Pulse the mixture until it is finely ground and reseason to taste. Transfer to a small bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Set aside to cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, make the dough: Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Whisk the egg with 1 cup of water and the remaining egg from the filling. Pour the egg mixture into the well in the dry ingredients and mix with a fork until a shaggy dough forms.
5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.
6. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper and drizzle evenly with oil. Divide the dough into thirds with a dough cutter or chef’s knife. Transfer one-third of the dough to a heavily floured surface, keeping the other two-thirds covered. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough as thinly as possible into an 20-inch by 14-inch rectangle.
7. Using a pizza cutter or chef’s knife, cut the rolled dough into 2-inch squares. Place ½ teaspoon of filling in the middle of each square. Lightly brush the edges with water and fold each square in half over the filling to form a triangle, pressing the edges gently together to create a tight seal. Fold the two longer corners inward to connect and clasp along the longest edge of each dumpling, pressing to seal tortellini-style. Place on the prepared baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and continue with the remainder of the dough and filling.
8. While forming the dumplings, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Working in two batches, gently slide the dumplings into the water. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes until the dumplings float to the surface. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon to a wax or parchment paper-lined tray.
9. To serve, add the cooked dumplings to hot chicken soup or fry them in a pan with onions.
Make Ahead: The filling can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days. The dumplings can be made ahead and placed on a wax or parchment paper-lined tray in the freezer until firm, then transferred to a resealable airtight bag and stored in the freezer for 1 to 2 weeks. Add the frozen dumplings directly to the boiling water and continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes after they float to the surface.
Cook’s Notes: Leftover dough can be rolled out very thinly and cut into thick or thin strips to make fresh fettuccine or pappardelle.