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What is a Knish?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A knish is a Jewish dumpling made from dough wrapped around a savory filling and then baked or fried. Knishes are particularly associated with Eastern European Jewish cuisine, although they are served in many areas with a large Jewish population, especially in New York City. They are also relatively easy to make at home, for cooks who want to experiment with their own fillings and flavors. Knish range in size from bite sized appetizers to serious meals, satisfying a range of tastes and needs.

The dough used for knish may be yeast based for a more bready dumpling, or it may be made with baking soda as a riser agent so that it is more like biscuit dough. Fillings vary widely; mashed potato, meat, cheese, onions, kasha, and vegetables are all common traditional filling for knish, though they are not used together. Cheese and meat knishes are not kosher, and pork knishes are essentially unheard of, for much the same reason.

Once a knish is assembled, it can be brushed with egg and baked, or fried. Baked knish may be molded to allow some of the filling to show, while fried knish are sealed tightly to avoid leakage. The best way to eat a fried knish is hot, although baked knishes can make excellent cold snacks, and they can be eaten plain or with other foods. Many people associate knish with Jewish comfort food, and they are a popular offering at Jewish delicatessens and markets with a large Jewish clientèle.

In addition to making knishes for immediate consumption, some companies also make frozen or refrigerated knishes which can be cooked at home. For cooks in less of a hurry, a version of knish can easily be made at home by mixing up a batch of savory pie dough, rolling it out, cutting it into segments, and mounding fillings of choice on each segment before tucking the corners together into a firm dumpling shape. A wide variety of recipes for knish dough can also be found online, including more traditional recipes which include ingredients like mashed potato.

Many cultures have some version of the knish, like Latin American empanadas and the pasties made along the East Coast of the United States. The widespread appearance of dumplings in global cuisine is probably due to their filling, comforting nature and durability, which allows people to carry food with them for snacking.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Jun 05, 2012

I like eating knishes for dessert. My grandmother makes a great sweet knish using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. She uses kasha, dates, and raisins, along with walnuts, to give the center some texture and chewiness.

I love eating pumpkin, so I used elements from her knish recipe to make my own pumpkin dessert knish. I used the same spices found in pumpkin pie, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice, and I also used some applesauce as a sweetener. I used canned pumpkin to make things easier, and the result was an awesome autumn knish.

I use the same spices and applesauce in my zucchini knish. I add grated carrots and zucchini instead of canned pumpkin, but it tastes very similar because the same spices are used.

By orangey03 — On Jun 04, 2012

I think that baked knishes are so much better than the fried kind. When I eat a fried one, I feel like I’m consuming way too much grease. I even feel a little sick at my stomach afterward.

Baked knishes filled with vegetables actually make me feel healthy. I don’t get too full when I eat a few, and I don’t feel weighted down with grease and calories.

I sometimes take leftover veggie knishes to work with me for lunch. I can eat them right out of my cooler without ever needing to heat them up. Some people prefer them warm, but I love them at any temperature.

By shell4life — On Jun 03, 2012

@Oceana - Not all knishes are the same. It all depends on the cook. The amount of ways to prepare them are only limited by the imagination.

I have had excellent zucchini knishes before. They weren’t mushy at all. The zucchini had been grilled, along with red bell pepper and squash, and then it had been placed in the middle of the dumpling.

I’ve also had knishes filled with meat and onions that were reminiscent of burritos. I am a big fan of knishes, and I think that if you ate different kinds, you would be, too.

By Oceana — On Jun 02, 2012

I’ve never eaten a knish, but I’ve seen pictures of them, and they don’t look too appetizing. The fillings of the ones I saw were ground up and squishy, not something I would want to bite into and savor.

I saw a photo of a zucchini knish, and it appeared that the zucchini had been finely grated before being added to the center. I like grilled or baked zucchini fine, but if it is all gooey, then it nauseates me.

I also don’t get how anyone can stand to eat a mashed potato knish. It’s just too soft inside!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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