A couple of years back, I invested in a copy of The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook. It’s a fascinating historical document written at the end of the 1930’s by Fania Lewando, in Yiddish. Completely revolutionary for the era, it promoted vegetarianism for numerous reasons (which the essays at the start of the book resume). It’s saddening that her culinary crusade, teachings and life were cut so brutally short by the horrific injustices of the second world war.
With thanks, I read the translated recipes of her sole written legacy, which by today’s standards are all dripping with a wild excess of butter and eggs. Yet that’s very typical of Eastern Europe in that era (and French cooking to this day)! This recipe is my reinterpretation and vegan version of her ideas as I explore the cooking from Fania’s Culture, Era and part of the world. A multitude of her dishes – made vegan for the modern eater! – are likely to follow over the coming weeks.
Yield: 4 substantial servings
What you need for the dumplings:
- 1-1/2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice (ideally, pressure cook the rice so it has a nice sticky texture)
- 150 g (about 1/2 a package) silken tofu
- 7 tablespoons breadcrumbs (or more or less depending on how stiff you want the finished dumplings)
- 1 onion
- olive oil (between 1 tsp and 1 tablespoon depending on how rich you want it)
- fresh chopped parsley and dill (to taste, I like about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of herbs)
- salt (to personal preference)
- freshly ground black pepper (optional)
What you need for the tomato sauce:
- 3 cups crushed tomatoes or tomato purée (fire-roasted preferred)
- 1 large onion, grated
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon whole grain or unbleached white flour
- 1/2 cup cashew (or other non-dairy) sour cream (there are numerous recipes for this on-line, I like to whiz soaked cashews and rejuvelac and let it ferment – but any way you make and/or like your sour cream is fair game)
- salt (to personal prefernce)
- 1 or 2 teaspoons of ume plum vinegar (optional)
What you do for the dumplings:
- Heat a pan or skillet over medium flame and sautée the onion in the olive oil until soft.
- Blend all the ingredients for the dumplings, including the sautéed onion, in a food processor until you have a thick but not completely uniform dough (it should still be a bit chunky with some rice grains showing, but hold together well and be sticky).
- Refrigerate the dough for a few hours.
- Shape the dumpling dough into small balls or patties.
- Now you can either pan-fry or bake.
- To pan-fry, heat a cast-iron pan until really hot. Turn the heat down a bit, add a thin layer of oil and as many patties as the pan will hold. Fry each side for 3-5 minutes, until golden.
- To bake, preheat the oven to 375F and line a pan with parchment. Lay the patties or balls onto the pan and bake for 20 minutes. Turn them over and continue baking another 15 minutes or until golden to taste.
- Serve in a bath of tomato sauce.
What you do for the sauce:
- Heat a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the grated onion, oil and flour. Stir and fry until the onion is softened, and the flour fragrant.
- Add the crushed tomatoes (whisk them in so the flour doesn’t get clumpy) and salt. Cook about 20 minutes at a simmer, stirring/whisking regularly.
- If desired, you can run an immersion blender through the sauce at this point to get it really smooth, but it’s optional.
- Lower the heat as much as it will and add the non-dairy sour cream. Stir and cook another 5 minutes.
- Add the ume plum vinegar if using. Taste, and adjust flavours as desired.