Delicious Knishes

I have never come across knishes for sale anywhere in Australia - I can't believe I've lived a knishless life up until now! I read an article about vegan knishes a little while ago and was instantly won over by the idea of a potato-filled baked dumpling - double carbs! I kind of think of them more as pastries than dumplings, but whatever you classify them as, they're delicious!

I have the ebook version of a fantastic cookbook called Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World, which is encyclopedic in its size and scope; I just knew I'd be able to turn to it for a great knish recipe, and it didn't disappoint. Before I move on to knishes, a mini book review... Olive Trees is vegetarian rather than vegan, as the name suggests, and because I own so many vegetarian cookbooks (I was a vegetarian for a long time before going vegan), it has to be something really special for me to buy it rather than expand my collection of exclusively vegan cookbooks, and this book most certainly is very special. The good news is, there are a lot of vegan recipes included, and many other are easily veganised, so it's well worth adding to your cookbook shelf.

For me, it's an introduction to different types of dishes and flavours that are completely new to me, and I absolutely love that element of surprise when you run through the ingredients of a recipe and aren't quite sure how it's going to turn out - and everything I've tried has turned out deliciously (the Moroccan Pumpkin Soup, flavoured with cinnamon and ginger, is my very favourite pumpkin soup recipe). Olive Trees is more that just a cookbook too, because it's so rich in background information about the regions, traditions and ingredients. I really love the inclusion of maps showing the way foods have migrated around the world, such as The Spread of Stuffed Cabbage and The Spread of Lentils and Rice - so interesting! It's a five star cookbook in my opinion.

Olive Trees delivers a huge chapter on savoury pastries from across Europe and the Middle East, starting with knishes. There are options for different pastry recipes and fillings, and I have to admit, I did deviate a little from the traditional fillings, but only a little. I chose to veganise the Ashkenazic Sour Cream Pastry recipe (see below), because I used to make a lovely sour cream pastry in my vegetarian days, which was very flaky and tender. It worked out really well, but I ran into some issues re. splitting - too-moist filling plus super-tender yet delicious pastry equals splittage. It was my own fault, because I got too fancy with my mashed potato filling and it was really soft. I chose to make two kinds, potato and leek, and spinach and almond cheese. Here's what I did...

Potato and Leek filling:
I used lovely Dutch Cream potatoes, but also added about a quarter of a cauliflower when I boiled them. Big mistake. Tasty, yes, but my resulting mash lacked the firmness you need when forming knishes, and many of them split in the oven (a problem I didn't have with the spinach and cheese variety). Next time I'll leave the cauliflower out. I wanted to make sure the potato filling was really tasty, so I sauteed two finely chopped leeks and an onion in plenty of margarine, and added those to the mash with some of my homemade cashew sour cream (recipe here), chopped dill, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Spinach and Almond Cheese filling:
I steamed and chopped a bunch of spinach (stems and tough bits removed), sauteed a leek and onion (both finely chopped), seasoned the vegetables with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then stirred in some cashew sour cream and my homemade almond cheese mixture. If you're wondering about the cheese recipe, I've been making a baked almond and/or cashew cheese based on this recipe for a while now (here's a pic of some of the cheeses I've made).  What I've found is that straining the mixture makes little difference, so once blended, I just pile it in to greased ramekins and bake. Another discovery is that when you take it to the blended stage, you don't need to bake it first before using it in pastries such as Spanakopita, Borek and Gozleme (and knishes, of course) - it firms up when you bake the pastries. For my knishes, I blended about a cup of almond meal with some soy milk, a big pinch of citric acid (lemon juice works too), a tablespoon of canola oil, about 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, and a couple of generous pinches of sea salt. Then I folded it through the seasoned spinach, etc, and the resulting knishes are so cheesy and rich, I bet you could fool some dairy lovers with them!

Since Olive Trees doesn't have any photos, I had to look up instructions on how to form knishes. There seems to be different ways, but I chose the roll, chop and squash method (here's a good demonstration but the recipe isn't vegan). I do love how they're free-form, so you can make them whatever size you like. I made mine about 3 inches in diameter, but made some tiny bite-size ones too. Since I made two varieties, I topped the potato ones with poppy seeds so I could tell them apart. The knishes are rich and buttery, so I felt I needed something to accompany them that cut through the richness a bit. That lovely magenta coloured side dish you can see in the above photo is what I decided to make - German Red Cabbage with Apples, also from Olive Trees and Honey. This is the perfect accompaniment: sweet, acidic, and peppery (and so pretty!). I won't include the cabbage recipe (you should buy the book!) but here's my veganised sour cream pastry recipe. It also works beautifully for strudel type pastries, pasties, turnovers and rolls, both sweet and savoury. It might be a little tender for the base of a pie, but would also work well as a top pie crust (such as a pot pie). I brushed the formed knishes with some egg replacer mixed with soy milk, but I wish I'd just used arrowroot and soy milk as I usually do because it's shinier when baked and works just as well at making sure seeds stick to it.

SOUR CREAM PASTRY (veganised from Olive Trees and Honey)

The recipe says it makes enough dough for 12 knishes, but I made quite a few more than that, probably since my knishes were smaller, and I do tend to roll pastry quite thinly.

3 cups unbleached plain (all-purpose) flour
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
3/4 cup vegan margarine (I used Nuttelex)
2/3 cup homemade cashew sour cream (or a bought variety)
egg replacement powder made up to the equivalent of two eggs, as per instructions (I used Orgran No Egg)

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and work through margarine to form crumbs. Make a well in the centre and add cashew sour cream and "egg" mixture, working through with a fork to form a soft dough (add a little water if too dry). Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour before use.