Originating in eastern Europe, the knish is a traditional, potato-based snack also common to North America, where it was first introduced and made popular by the local Polish and Jewish communities.
Typically made using root vegetables and Schmaltz—the fat rendered from chicken skin—the beauty of the knish is that it is infinitely adaptable; the simple filling easily enhanced by throwing in whatever takes your fancy.
While these were sadly bereft of Schmaltz, sweet potato and Swiss chard proved a nice, earthly compliment to the traditional potato, parsnip and celery, and offered a refreshing break from the rich feasts presently gracing the tables of midwinter. That said, the bubble-and-squeak nature of the filling already has me thinking of alternate versions; perhaps leek and blue cheese? Or maybe corned beef and cabbage, for a bolder, somewhat meatier version?
But future contemplations aside, garnished with greens and a good condiment they certainly made for an excellent lunch, being light yet sustaining, and adding some much needed warmth to this grey winter's day.
SWEET POTATO KNISHES (Adapted from The Mile End Cookbook by Noah and Rae Bernamoff)
For the dough
- 5 eggs, plus one extra for the egg wash
- 90 ml olive oil
- 300 g baker's flour
- 100 g wholemeal flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- seeds, such as sesame or poppy, to garnish
For the filling*
- 1 kg potato (I used a mixture of Dutch cream and sweet)
- 5 leaves Swiss chard, finely chopped
- 2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 eggs
- salt, pepper
To prepare the dough, combine the eggs and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the egg mixture and blend on low speed until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough has a smooth, consistent texture. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or as long as overnight.
To make the filling, bake the potatoes in an oven preheated to 190°C for around 60 to 90 minutes, until soft on the inside, then set aside to cool. Finely chop the parsnips, onion and celery using a food processor, and then sauté together with the bay leaves over medium heat. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are completely tender, then uncover and cook for a further 10 minutes to let any liquid evaporate. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves.
Once cool enough to handle, peel and then mash the potatoes. Add to the sautéed vegetable mixture along with the egg and Swiss chard, season with salt and pepper, and then mix thoroughly before allowing to cool completely.
When you're ready to make the knishes, flatten the dough roughly into a rectangle and then roll out until approximately 2-mm thick*. Cut into 15- × 15-cm squares and distribute the filling evenly along one edge of each piece. Roll the dough around the filling to make a cylinder, brushing the seam of the rolled knish with egg wash and pressing lightly to seal. Place the knishes seam-side-down on a lined baking sheet and make four or five diagonal slashes across the top of each to allow for expansion while cooking. Brush the knishes with egg wash and then finish with a sprinkle of sesame and poppy seeds. Bake in an oven preheated to 190°C for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm, with mustard and fresh greens.
** You're likely to have leftover filling, which can be cooked into hash, or breaded and turned into fritters.
** The original recipe called for the dough to be rolled using a pasta machine. If you have one, use it, as I think a thinner dough would work better here, but rolling by hand still gets you a nice knish.