October 25, 2007
Iranian Jews’ delicious obsession with Gondi
“What are those delicious dumplings that look like matzah-balls?” an American rabbi inquired of me recently. “You’ve got to find me someone who has the recipe for this food, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had in my life!” The rabbi could not stop asking me questions about some mouth-watering “dumplings” he had recently eaten at the home an Iranian Jewish family. I immediately knew he was talking about the famous “Gondi” dumplings. He never had this special dish before because it is exclusively prepared by Iranian Jews in the home and rarely if ever offered in Persian restaurants.
Gondi, (pronounced go-n-dee) is perhaps the single most unique food to the Jews of Iran and is on the dinner table of most Iranian Jewish families for their Shabbat dinners. Prepared as dumplings that are cooked and served in chicken soup, Gondi is the traditional side dish or appetizer Iranian Jews enjoy along with a Middle Eastern bread as well as raw green vegetables including mint, watercress, and basil. It is typically served in a hot bowl of chicken soup with some families also adding in potatoes and a turkey leg. I’ve come to realize that the preparation of Gondi is not only a labor of love for Iranian Jewish mothers but enjoying the dish is always a time for families to gather and in a way reconnect with their past. Over the years, the vast majority of Iranian American Jews have informed me that Gondi first originated in the Jewish ghetto in Tehran many years ago—exactly when, no one knows. Now before any Jews coming from a city either than Tehran gets upset with me, I must mention the fact that Jews from the other Iranian cities also claim to be the first inventors of Gondi. In any case, it was a special food prepared only for Shabbat dinner because its main ingredient of ground lamb or chicken was expensive. While Iranian Jews have over the centuries eaten the same types of foods as other Iranians, Gondi has been one of their few culinary innovations that they can claim their own.
Now if you ask older Iranian Jewish women what the ingredients of Gondi are, they will give you almost 100 different variations of the same ingredients. To the best of my research the following is a recipe for a serving of eight Gondi dumplings:
The preparation of Gondi can be tricky but first the onions are very finely minced by hand or thoroughly blended in a food processor. Then ground chickpeas or chickpea flour is added to the mixture and hand mixed with the onions. Next, chicken breasts or turkey breasts are blended or ground, to have the same texture as ground beef. Now some folks who prefer the taste of veal will use a combination of ground veal and ground chicken breasts. In any case, the ground chicken is added to the onions and oil, salt, pepper, and cardamom are added to the mixture. Some individuals will also add turmeric and cumin to the mixture.
Again all these ingredients should be hand mixed very well, then water should be added to make a dough-like mixture. The mixture should then be refrigerate until well-chilled for about two to three hours. Next, when the chilled mixture is removed, the chef preparing the dish should dip their hands in cold water and divide the mixture into small portions. Each portion is then fashioned into balls about two inches in diameter. Finally the dumplings should be gently added one by one to a chicken soup that has been brought to a boil. The pot cooking the dish should be covered and left to simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes.
Preparing Gondi is no easy task and more often than not, amateur cooks fail in their first several attempts. Nevertheless, practice makes perfect and overtime anyone who is able to prepare a delicious tasting Gondi dish is typically given high praise in any Iranian Jewish family. My only hope is that younger Iranian Jews living outside of Iran will continue cooking this amazing dish not only because it’s delicious, but because it’s a part of our heritage that needs to be kept alive. Unfortunately since Gondi is not widely available to the general public and not cooked in restaurants, the older generation of parents and grandparents have a responsibility to pass on the recipes and techniques of cooking Gondi.
I bid you happy eating and encourage you to ask your Iranian Jewish friends to indulge you with Gondi the next you visit them for Friday night dinner!