Ah, the humble matzo ball. Few can say they do not hold affection for the fluffy bubble floating in its golden pool of fatty broth, even if they didn't have a Jewish grandmother shaping the balls by hand and dropping them gently into a steaming pot of chicken soup at least once a year. I actually had a Jewish grandmother, but I can't remember her ever making these (what I do remember her cooking were odd condensed-tomato-soup-and-noodle casseroles, pretty fantastic briskets, and the best stewed pears in all of human history). So much for that.
Matzo balls are like comfort in a bowl: almost creamy and agreeably bland against the salty chicken soup. In America, they're universally touted as being The Emblem of Jewish Food. But since my own taste memory doesn't lead me down any particular recipe road, I found Joan Nathan's article on Jewish dumplings all the more interesting.
Gundi are dumplings from the Jewish community in Iran and are simple, simple, simple to make. The hardest part will probably be finding chickpea flour (I got mine at Buon Italia, New Yorkers). You pulse some onions in a food processor and then a piece of chicken breast before mixing the mince with an array of Middle Eastern spices and letting the cold, clammy mixture sit for several hours. Chicken soup is brought to a boil, the mixture is formed into little balls and they are simmered for 40 minutes.
While they cook, gundi expand and lighten, going from soggy little balls to puffy yet substantial dumplings. Do not make my mistake and use Better Than Bouillon as your chicken soup. It's fine if used in small amounts for making a sauce or deglazing a pan. But in this case, where chicken soup really has a starring role, make your own. Otherwise you won't really be able to taste anything besides SALT, SALT and more SALT. Also, as the start to a holiday dinner, these would be tasty and interesting (who doesn't like talking about the Jewish Diaspora? Well, you might not, but your Uncle Hi will be impressed for sure). As The Only Thing For Dinner on a ho-hum Tuesday night? A little gundi overkill.
But anyway. We sprinkled chopped parsley and mint over the soup, slurped up the exotic dumplings and a lot of cooling water, and felt a little closer to our (sort of) Jewish brethren very, very far away.
Chickpea and Chicken Dumplings (Gundi)
Makes 8 servings
4 medium onions, peeled and quartered
½ pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
8 ounces (about 2¼ cups) chickpea flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cardamom, or to taste
½ teaspoon cumin
4 quarts chicken soup
Handful each of finely chopped basil, parsley, mint and cilantro
1. Using a food processor with a steel blade, pulse onions until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Pulse chicken until it has the consistency of ground meat.
2. Combine onions and chickpea flour in a bowl and mix well with hands. Add chicken, oil, salt, pepper, turmeric, cardamom and cumin. Mix well, adding a bit of water if needed, to make a dough about the consistency of meatballs. Refrigerate until well-chilled, about 3 hours.
3. Dip hands in cold water and divide mixture into 16 portions. Shape into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Bring soup to boil. Gently add dumplings one at a time and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss together basil, parsley, mint and cilantro.
4. Ladle soup and dumplings into serving bowls, and sprinkle with mixed herbs.