Kavkazi Fried Kurze (Meat-Filled Dumplings)
One of the most iconic dishes of Kavkazi (Mountain Jews) cuisine is called kurze (pronounced koor-zeh). Kurze are little, braided, meat-filled dumplings, and are perhaps an influence that came to our region from East and Central Asia. When done right, these dumplings have a light and soft-doughy shell and a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth meat filling. The filling is traditionally made of ground lamb or beef, but you can also substitute almost anything you’d like. Vegetarians, take note: You can alternatively fill kurze with almost anything your heart desires. You can try to experiment with a farmer cheese and herb filling. A sweet alternative is to use sour cherries and a pinch of sugar, made popular by the influence of Russian-style dumplings called varenikiy.
- 1 pound ground meat of your choice (traditionally lamb, but can use beef or turkey)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1-2 onions, finely chopped (based on your preference)
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup water, plus more if needed
- Optional: Olive oil (or canola oil), for frying
- Dipping Sauce
- ¾ cup red vine vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Filling: Prepare the meat filling first. Mix ground meat, salt, pepper and onions together in a large mixing bowl. Cover with wet towel or plastic wrap and set aside. For extra juiciness, you can put the bowl in the fridge to let the mixture sit for a few hours.
- Dough: Put 2½ cups all-purpose flour in a large mixing bowl. With your hand or a spoon, create a well in the middle of the pile of flour inside your bowl. Add in salt and pepper. Then, crack the egg into it. Add in 1 cup of water and mix together with your hands until you have a mass of formed dough.
- Knead the dough in your bowl for several minutes, adding water, just a teaspoon or so at a time, if it gets too hard or adding some extra flour if it is feeling too sticky on your hands. After kneading for several minutes, form the dough into a smooth ball. Cover your bowl with a wet towel and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Shape: Next, roll out the dough. Prepare a clean surface on your kitchen counter or on a wooden rolling board. Dust it with fresh flour so that when you start rolling out your dough, it doesn’t stick.
- Take your ball of dough and flatten it down with your hand so it creates a rough circle. Sprinkle it with some flour so it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin as you go. Start rolling the dough from the center of the circle to the top, then to the bottom, and keep rolling across the surface of the circle distributing your grip on the pin so that it rolls across the dough evenly. Roll the pin in all angles, rolling up and down, then angle your body so you can roll side to side and diagonally.
- Repeat these movements and you should have a large circle of thin dough. If you do not yet have a thin circle of dough, continue rolling it out until it’s fairly thin. If this is your first time rolling dough, it is better to have it slightly thicker than too thin so that the kurze don’t break. (Refer to the photo in the main post to see approximately how thin the dough should look.)
- Then, take a cup or a glass with a smooth and even surface. Turn the cup upside and cut out circles from the dough. I like to start at the very edge of the dough and go around, gradually making my way to the center of the circle and taking any scraps of dough in between circles and forming them together into a small ball of dough.
- If this process takes you a long time, put a wet paper towel over your created circles so that they do not dry out. Once you have your dough circles ready, you can start stuffing and forming your kurze dumpling into its iconic shape. Make sure to bring out your meat filling if you had it sitting aside.
- Take one circle in your dominant hand (for me, it’s my right), and take a teaspoon of the meat filling and place it in the center of your circle. With the circle in your dominant hand, use your thumb and index finger to pinch the end of the dough to start your “braid.” Then pinch each side of the dumpling as you move to close it, alternative between the right and left sides and moving the dough into the center. With your less dominant hand, use your thumb to keep the filling in place so it doesn’t fall out as you start pinching the dough and use your other fingers as support for the bottom of the dumpling. (Refer to the short video at the bottom of this post for how to do it.) Make sure to cover the dumplings as you go so that they do not dry out. You can also freeze the raw dumplings and boil later.
- If you’re a beginner and this technique is too difficult for you, you can also opt to make half-moon shaped dumplings by bringing both ends of the circle together and pinching it shut. The taste is the same, just a different aesthetic.
- Boil: The easiest step is boiling the dumplings! Fill a large pot with water about ⅔ of the way, add in about a teaspoon salt and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, turn it down to medium-high heat and make sure it is still bubbling. Gently drop the dumplings into the water. The dumplings will sink to the bottom and then start to come up as they become fully cooked in the heat.
- Keep doing this with many dumplings and make sure to stir with a large spoon. This can take up to 10 minutes, but is usually less. To be safe, I usually take out one dumpling and cut it open to see if the meat has fully cooked. Remove the dumplings using a large slotted spoon, and put them in a large, shallow bowl, but try to keep them separated so they do not stick together.
- Once you have successfully boiled all of the dumplings, you can stop here. The kurze is now fully cooked and you can enjoy them immediately. Just wait a few minutes—they’re hot!
- Fry: For the extra oily, crispy and fried version, continue to the last step: frying! Take out a large frying pan, and let it warm up over medium heat. Then add in enough olive oil (or canola oil, based on your preference) to cover the surface of your frying pan. Make sure to heat the oil a bit before adding in the dumplings or else they may stick to the surface of your pan. Once the oil is warm, keep the heat on medium, and add in the dumplings. Fry the first side until it is golden brown and crispy, then fry the other side. Remove from the pan with a spatula and continue until all kurze are crispy, golden and ready to eat. Arrange on a beautiful plate.
- Dip: The dipping sauce is optional, but is a traditional part of the kurze-eating experience. Combine vinegar and garlic. You can use less garlic if you prefer. We tend to have a very garlic-heavy cuisine, so we can handle it better than others.
- Dip your fried kurze dumpling into the garlicy vinegar dip, and taste!