I grew up in a completely secular, non-practising but crazily Yiddishe Jewish family. A sort of group love child of Richard Dawkins and Maureen Lipman. The traditional Friday night Shabbes meal involved a great deal of food, a minimal number of blessings, some more food, Nana simultaneously watching ‘Corrie’ on the box whilst eating lokshen pudding, and Papa reminiscing about his grazed-kneed childhood in Hackney. Topped off with a piece of baked cheesecake and a lemon tea.
My mother would always make amazing, hamishe feasts for Shabbes: eggy challah, chopped liver, golden chicken soup with fluffy globules of kneidlach, gedempte chicken and meatballs… So suffused was our dinner table with historic dishes bubbling over from the old Jewish world that we would go to bed and dream of golems moulded from matzo meal.
In an attempt to gedempte, and recreate one of her delicious meals for my family this evening, I called my mother this morning to ask for her ‘Gedempte Chicken and Meatballs and Gravy Potatoes’ recipe. The conversation went a little like this:
Mother: “Do you have a shissel?”
Me (boasting): “Do I have a shissel. I have an AGA and THE best shissel.”
Mum: “Well, there you go.”
A traditional Yiddishe cooking method, gedempte is basically a pot-roast, whereby the ingredients slowly steam-cook together so that every part of the dish comes together and plants a bubbe-sized smacker on your lips. Perfect for those winter evenings with friends or family, accompanied by a full-bodied red and – if you’re feeling particularly indulgent – some steaming cous cous or crusty bread.
Serves 6-8 people
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours 30 minutes
2 red onions, finely grated
4 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 chicken, cut into halves and quarters
400g lean minced beef or lamb
1 medium egg
6 carrots, finely grated
2 red peppers, sliced into half-inch slithers
8 medium-sized potatoes (Cyprus or another firm, waxy type), peeled and cut into quarters
6 medium-large soft tomatoes, quartered
5 dried (or 10 fresh) bay leaves
2 teaspoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 tablespoon of olive oil
200ml of water
2 teaspoons of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Preheat your oven to 190°C / 170°C fan assisted / gas mark 5
Place your minced lamb or beef into a large mixing bowl. Beat the egg and add to the meat. Add to this a quarter of the grated onion, 2 cloves of the minced garlic and 2 teaspoons of finely chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper, and work the elements together with your hands. Then, with slightly wet hands (this helps to bind the meatballs together), roll about a dessertspoon sized amount of the mix together between the palms of your hands until you have a juicy, spherical ball of yumminess. Place at random in a very large lidded casserole dish (a roasting or baking tray with a tin foil top will also do) and continue until you have used up all the mix.
Then, leaving aside the paprika, water and tomato puree, take the remaining ingredients and scatter amongst the meatballs, working everything gently together with your hands. Next, mix the tomato puree into the water and pour into the dish – this liquid, along with the grated carrots and onions, will provide you with a scrumptious and rich gravy. (And as this is a one-pot-wonder please don’t worry about aesthetics – it’ll all go down the same way at the end of the day.) Finally, sprinkle the whole thing with paprika.
Now cover the dish and cook in the oven for 2 hours 30 minutes. Check every 40 minutes or so, basting and turning all the ingredients to ensure that everything cooks evenly.
Once ready, serve immediately, and enjoy the embracing warmth of your imaginary Jewish grandmother.