I said goodbye to Montreal on Saturday, an unusually spring-like day, the kind that wheedles out dogs and babies and makes you wonder where all these people hid all winter. It was a kind that made saying goodbye difficult. I had racked my brain for things to do on my last full day. What did I love most about the city? What would I miss most? Not for lack of loving or for potentially missing, but I could think of almost nothing. I felt uninspired, or just full, as if I had extracted everything from the city that I could, as if there were nothing left for me, no more that I could possibly take.
That was, of course, until I drove away, seemingly abandoning the optimism of spring. Fleeting satiation gave way to a hazy realization of untapped potential.
Reservations and good riddance have gone, replaced now with only affection, but I still cannot help but compare my lives in Montreal and New Jersey - the discrepancies in independence; in my way of getting around; the sidewalks, or lack thereof; the dishes, always clean in New Jersey, and the three people I share a house with, those at neither place better than the other, just different, so different.
A very welcome change, though, is my eased access to a new fixation of mine: knishes. The starchy pockets seem to inundate the City's streets these days, partnering with street-side hot dogs, and beckoning you from deli windows. I longed for a knish upon returning to Montreal from my last New York visit, and although I've heard that the do exist in Montreal, they didn't exist in my part of the city, and they certainly didn't exist on any street corners.
On a Sunday afternoon with absolutely nothing to do I took the craving into my own hands, raided the potato-onion cabinet, and spent only a few hours making something that pretty much hit the spot. This recipe is basic, not because my favorite knish is potato (because it's not; kasha is, hands down), but to the fact that I refused to leave my house that lovely Sunday. I'd love to hear suggestions or alterations, because it's been a long time (frankly, far too long) since I've become intimate with a genuine knish. Having bid my farewells to Montreal, I'll be making sure it's not too long before that changes.
1/4 c oil
1 tsp baking powder
3 c flour
1/2 c cold water
2-4 tbs butter
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
pepper to taste
1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped
Bring a large pot (big enough to fit your potatoes) of water to boil. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Cut the potatoes into large chunks to help them cook faster and then place the boiling water. Cook for 15 - 20 minutes, or until they are soft. When the potatoes are done cooking, drain them, and return them to their cooking pot. Mash them well with a potato masher until they are smooth and creamy.
Remove 1 cup of potatoes to use with the dough. In a large bowl combine the measured potatoes with the oil and 1 tsp of salt. Combine with a fork until creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the baking powder in with the flour. Once combined, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the potatoes and oil and mix. In portions, add all of the flour as best you can. The mixture will still be dry and clumpy. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and pour the water into it. Knead the dough with your hands until it comes together to form a firm bowl. You can add a little more water, cautiously, if the mixture is too dry, or more flour if necessary also. Place a wet tea cloth or paper towel on top of the dough and let it sit for thirty minutes.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tbs butter over medium heat in a saucepan or pot large enough to fit the mashed potatoes. When melted, add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft but not yet brown. When cooked, turn off heat, and add the potatoes, mixing well. Taste and add more butter, salt, and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. Divide the dough into four parts, and begin with one. Roll it flat to about 1/4-inch thick. For a square knish, trim all four sides of the dough with a pizza cutter or knife to form a rectangle. Place about two tablespoons of potato filling (depending on the size of your rectangle) in the center of the square. Fold both long sides up, covering at least partially the filling, and push them closed. Finish by folding over the short sides and lightly pushing closed, forming a pocket, and covering the filling completely. If there is excess dough you can cut it off and add it to another dough pile. To form a round knish, cut out a large circle using a knife or pizza cutter. It does not have to be perfect. Fill the center with about two tablespoons of filling, depending on the size of your circle, and fold the sides up, pinching the border if necessary to create an open pocket.
Place knishes on a baking sheet and cook for 20 -25 minutes.
*I used mostly white, but threw in a sweet potato and some squash that I had lying around. Although I cooked them together, I made each mash separately.