Thursday, April 1, 2010

Steamy sides: Vegetable Knödel "dumplings"

I think if there is any common denominator to all cuisines, it would have to be the dumpling. Whether you call them dumpling, gnocchi, matzah balls, sambusa, tortellini, pierogi, wontons, jiaozi, potstickers, Knödel, Spätzle, Knöpfle, momo, or gyoza, they are all basically the same - "cooked balls of dough," to quote Wikipedia. Some are based on potatoes, some on flour or meal and still others on bread. You can do almost anything with dumplings - fry, bake, boil, steam, heck you could probably even grill them if you got creative.

Considering they are such a basic aspect of so many different cuisines, it might come as a surprise that dumplings scare me to death. They are one of the culinary mysteries that I sort of shunned for a long time. My first dumplings were probably of the Italian variety - gnocchi, tortelloni & co. , all of which I didn't originally realize were dumplings and have at least in the case of gnocchi have a reputation of being difficult to make. The first dumplings I ran into, that I knew were dumplings, were Chinese dumplings. In the 5 months I studied abroad in Beijing, I literally devoured my weight in dumplings. It doesn't hurt that one orders them by the jin, 500g or a little more than a pound. They were beautiful and delicate and intricate. The women in the university cafeteria and different restaurants could be seen quickly pressing the dough together and forming different shaped dumplings. No way could I ever match that. Turns out mine aren't as pretty, but M & I can make pretty mean Chinese dumplings if given a free Sunday afternoon. But that's for another post.

When I moved here to Austria, I became introduced to a whole new sort of dumplings - Spätzle, Knödel, Nockerl, Knöpfle, etc. Some like Spätzle and Knöpfle are almost pasta-like - dough you drop into boiling water and wait until they rise. This seems to be another common denominator when boiling dumplings. You plop them into boiling water and wait until they come back up. Other Austrian dumplings are formed into ball some as small as golf balls, others as large as a baseball. Sometimes the filling is in the middle, especially for sweet deserts, other times they are mixed all the way through.

I don't know why I hesitated so long in making Knödel. I had heard horror stories about them falling apart in the boiling water and just thought no way can I make them as well as my father-in-law. Well, I haven't attempted my father-in-laws baseball-sized versions, but I made my own veggie friendly beautiful and cute little dumplings. They were so easy and not a single one fell apart in the boiling water, all were thoroughly cooked and all were devoured! Go me!
Knödel are very typical Austrian so I used some very typical Austrian ingredients: Gelbe Rüben - yellow Austrian carrots and Bärlauch - in English: wild garlic or bear's garlic.  Bärlauch, by the way, is easy to grow, plant some seeds under a shady tree in the fall and wait until spring.  It will come back year after year.  The smaller leaves are more flavorful than the large ones.

Here I must apologize for the bad pictures. M & I were having a pick-nick on our living room floor, because it rained so much and before I remembered to take pictures, we had devoured all, but a few!! Trust me, they were beautiful. The green of the wild garlic and the purples, oranges and yellows of the carrots mixed well.

How to serve Knödel: Oh! the possibilities are endless, just like dumplings themselves. One option is to melt some butter over them & serve with a salad. Another is to chop them into large chunks after cooking and then fry them in oil with some scrambled eggs and chopped onion. If you are a carnivore, pour some gravy on top and serve as a side to meat. Really whatever you like. They also freeze well if not yet cooked. When ready to cook, just plop the frozen Knödel in boiling water and wait for it to float up to the top. Are you seeing a pattern here? 

Vegetable Knödel adapted from Adamah Organic Veggie Box Recipe Flyer KW 13/10
Notes: When choosing your root vegetables, choose some that you would eat raw as they are only getting cooked for a short time or pre-cook them. Carrots and parsnips are great choices. This recipe calls for Topfen (Austrian)/Quark (German). This is a cheese curd, sort of a cross between yogurt and cream cheese, but a bit sour like sour cream. Quark is sold in some gourmet groceries in the US, but you can also substitute plain cream cheese, but it will be less tangy or mix 4 parts ricotta with 1 part sour cream. If you're adventurous, you can try making your own Topfen - I haven't tried it though since Topfen is readily available in Vienna. As to the flour, feel free to substitute with white flour.
Prep time: 7-10 min + 20 min resting period
Cooking time: 5-7 min
Servings: approx. 18 golf-sized dumplings

5-6 small-medium carrots or other root vegetables
1 large garlic clove
1 small onion
1-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
2 egg yolks
150 g /~1 cup Quark or Topfen, drained if necessary
3 tablespoons milk
130g / ~1 cup sifted, whole wheat flour
Salt & pepper

Finely grate the carrots or chop them in a food processor. Finely chop the garlic and onion. In a large bowl, combine carrots, garlic, onion and herbs.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks, Topfen/Quark and milk. Add to the vegetables and mix well. Salt & pepper to taste. Add flour and mix well. Everything should be covered, but it won't be like a dough. Set it aside for 15-20 min. Whole grain flours will need the full 20 min. This allows the flavors and the liquid to penetrate the flour all the way through. In the meantime, grab yourself a glass of Grüner Veltliner and say thanks for the wonders of fermented grapes.

After the resting period, start boiling a big pot of salted water. Adjust the dumpling dough as necessary by adding a bit of milk or flour as necessary. The dough should stick together easily, be a bit sticky, but still manageable. Form the dough into balls about as big as a golf ball. When the water is boiling, lower the temperature to just higher than a simmer - still boiling, but not full speed. With a slotted spoon drop those babies in the water, don't fill the pot too full. Step back and wait for them to pop back up. Most of my Knödel were finished in about 5 minutes. Take them out with a slotted spoon. Serve with melted butter. Enjoy!
© 2010 Nicole


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