Reuven and Vera (aka ReuVera) are a son-mother duo. Originally hailing from Kazakhstan, they now reside in the U.S.
What Is a Knish?
A knish is a traditional Eastern European dumpling that can be stuffed with a variety of fillings, including potato, spinach, cabbage, kasha, sweet cheese, and more.
Many Knish Varieties
- Dough: The dough may be made with flour and butter, like a traditional pastry, or it may be made with flour and mashed potatoes. In its most traditional form, the dough is made entirely of mashed potatoes.
- Shape and size: They can be small and round or square and flat. They can also be made in long rolls. It all depends on how the cook prefers to make them.
- Cooking method: Knishes may be baked or fried.
- Fillings: Traditional fillings include potato, spinach, cabbage, kasha, sweet cheese, and others, but today you will find more contemporary fillings, as well. Jalapeño cheddar knish, anyone?
However they're prepared, knishes are near and dear to my heart. I was born in Kazakhstan, so I grew up with traditional Russian cuisine. Even now that I live in the United States, I love cooking dishes that remind me of my childhood!
Origins of the Knish
The origin of the knish (both the “k” and the “n” are pronounced) can be traced to Russia and Ukraine, though today, the knish is more popularly associated with Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. Ashkenazi Jews came from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and surrounding areas, so this culinary borrowing and blending makes sense.
The word knish has Ukrainian origins. In Ukrainian, knysh refers to a small bun, with or without filling. It may also be a plain bun with butter. In addition to referring to food, knysh is also used to describe a short person.
There is even a Ukrainian riddle in which the word knysh refers to the moon: “The stove is full of coals, and a knysh is in the middle” (suggesting a night sky with stars and the moon).
How Did the Knish Come to America?
The knish came to the United States along with the waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. When people immigrate to a different country, they bring with them not only their luggage but also their ways and traditions, including their cuisine.
In the larger American cities where Jewish immigrants settled, knishes were sold in bakeries and delis. One of New York City's original purveyors, Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, founded in 1910, is still standing in its original location in the Lower East Side (see photo above). Knishes are so closely associated with New York's Lower East Side that the name Knish Alley is sometimes used to refer to the 2nd Avenue section of that neighborhood.
Recipe 1: Potato Knishes With Pastry Dough
Making knishes can be a bit time-consuming, but the process is actually very simple. It also makes a great family activity. Just as in many Chinese homes, the entire family gathers to make dumplings; the same is true of knishes.
This is the recipe I use when I make knishes at home.
For the dough:
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 sticks butter or margarine
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 dash salt
For the filling:
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1 large onion
- Vegetable oil, as needed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dill weed to taste (optional)
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
- Make the dough: Add the flour and butter or margarine into a bowl and "chop" it with a pastry cutter/blender until it has achieved the consistency of sand. Add the egg, lemon juice, and water. Knead to make a soft dough. Divide the dough into eight balls. Cool the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
- Make the potato filling: Peel, chop, and boil potatoes until soft. Mash with butter or margarine. Chop the onion and fry it in vegetable oil. Add fried onion to the mashed potatoes. Add salt, pepper, and optional dill weed to taste. (I love dill, so I always add dill weed to mashed potatoes.) Or use the leftover mashed potatoes.
- Assemble: Take one ball of dough and roll it out thin. Spoon some mashed potatoes in the middle of the dough. Roll dough over the filling. With the help of a palm, cut the filled roll into pieces. Form each piece into a little bun, place on a baking sheet, and brush with raw egg or vegetable oil.
- Bake: Preheat the oven to 375 to 400ºF. Bake the knishes for 25 to 35 minutes or until they are pink or brownish.
How to freeze knishes: Bake knishes only until they are half done (about 10 to 15 minutes; they should not yet be pink-brown). Cool them, cover them with clear plastic wrap, and freeze them. When you're ready to bake, put them into a preheated oven and bake until pink-brown.
Photo Guide: Making the Dough
Photo Guide: Assembling the Knishes
Recipe 2: Potato Knishes With Potato Dough
Other knish recipes use mashed potatoes in the dough as well as in the filling.
For the dough:
- 3 cups flour
- 1/4 pound / 1 stick margarine
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1 potato, peeled, cooked, and mashed
For the filling:
- Same as Recipe 1, above, or use leftover mashed potatoes
- Make the dough: Combine the dough ingredients and form a soft dough. Divide the dough into eight balls. Cool the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
- Assemble and bake the knishes as outlined above in Recipe 1.
More Ways to Make Knishes
Long Knish Roll
History of the Knish
More About Knishes!
- The History of the Humble Knish in America | The Nosher
How did this once humble snack sold on street carts rise to become a food cherished by the masses and fodder for comedic banter?
- What Is A Knish And What Does It Taste Like? | Mashed
When you want a quick pick-me-up and crave something casual, nothing can keep you moving through your day like a knish.
- Why the Knish Became New York's Miss Congeniality | Serious Eats
"People used to say, 'the streets in New York are paved in gold,'" Laura Silver said to me over the phone. "No, they're not. They're paved in knishes." Born in Brooklyn and bred in Queens, Silver is the world's leading authority on the knish.