I had never heard of knishes before I moved to Montreal for university. In fact, there were a lot of things I hadn’t heard of before I moved there: shish taouk, Mongolian hot pot, and duck terrine to name a few. Montreal is such a mosaic of cultures, and it’s also a city of people who love to eat… you want authentic Afghan food? Legit Turkish breakfast? The best bagels and smoked meat money can buy? Montreal’s got you covered.
My first taste of knish was from Café X at Concordia (the same place these Vegan Pumpkin Muffins came from). Flaky golden pastry stuffed with potatoes and spinach, they were the definition of comfort food, and also a super-efficient way to fill up before (or during) class. One-handed meals are the best.
It seems like every culture has some version of the stuffed savory pastry, à la Cornish pasties, samosas, empanadas, et cetera. This is probably due to the fact that it’s a genius combination of portability and carb-aliciousness. In the case of knishes, Eastern European immigrants brought them to North America in the early 20th century, and now they’re considered a consummate Jewish comfort food. Because of their great portability, they were originally sold from baskets and carts to people looking for a quick, filling snack.
The major question now is: why doesn’t Edmonton have a knish cart on every block? I have a substantial knish budget and I’m always hungry. Can we make this happen please?
Although my experience with knish-making is limited, I can tell you that the recipe is very forgiving: the dough is stretchy and easy to work with, and you can pretty much fill them with ANYTHING. Really. Got some leftover meat in the fridge? Throw that into the filling. Same goes for cheese, veggies, and any spices you like. It’s the most delicious way possible to use up stuff from your fridge and pantry. See the step by step photos below the recipe to see how exactly to fill and roll the knishes – it’s pretty straightforward, and they don’t have to look perfect… Lord knows mine don’t!
Knishes are best served hot with a bit of spicy mustard (if you’re so inclined); if you’re reheating one for lunch, I’d recommend microwaving it for a few minutes until the centres are hot, and then broiling in the oven for a minute or two until the crust starts to brown – this will result in maximum crispiness. Or you could pop it in the toaster oven if you’ve got one of those.
Happy noshing, my friends!
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- ½ cup lukewarm water
- 1½ pounds white potatoes (about 3 medium)
- 3 cups fresh spinach, packed
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup 1% milk
- ¼ cup green onions, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
- Sesame seeds (for sprinkling)
- To make the dough, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, and make a well in the centre. Pour the egg, oil, vinegar and water into the well and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula until a dough starts to form. Gently knead a few times to form it into a ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit for 1 hour at room temperature while you make the filing for the knishes.
- Cook the potatoes either by boiling them in water for about 15 minutes, or stabbing them with a fork and microwaving for 8-10 minutes. I didn't bother peeling them, but you can if you want. Cook until soft (use a sharp knife to test them).
- While the potatoes are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, then add the spinach, stirring for another minute until wilted. Set aside.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, place them in a large bowl along with the milk, butter, green onions, salt and pepper. With a masher or a large fork, mash the potatoes roughly - they don't need to be super smooth. Add the wilted spinach and stir to combine.
- Once your dough is done resting, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. On a floured surface, roll out the dough until you get a rectangle that's approximately 20"x14".
- About 2 inches from the bottom of your dough rectangle, spoon the filling into a log shape, using your hands to form it. Grab the bottom of the dough rectangle and start rolling up your filling - you'll have about 3 layers of dough wrapped around the filling once it's all rolled up.
- Use your fingers to pinch off a baseball-sized portion of the log, then twist it like a sausage link. Sever this portion from the rest of the log using a sharp knife, then use your fingers to fold and pinch the dough together at the seams of the knish. It doesn't have to be totally perfect, just make sure it's mostly sealed, using your thumbs to make an indent at the top. Repeat the portioning, cutting, and sealing with the rest of your dough.
- Place the knishes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then brush liberally with the beaten egg and sprinkle sesame seeds on top of each one. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the knishes are golden brown.