Growing up, I remember my mom, an excellent cook, reaching for the box of Streit’s matzo ball mix when she wanted to make matzo ball soup. No way was she going to spend time making matzo balls from scratch when there was a good chance they’d turn out like rocks, dense and flavorless. I had the same fear of making matzo balls, until I discovered gondi, the fluffy dumplings traditionally eaten by Iranian Jews for Friday night Shabbat dinner. They are virtually foolproof, with a texture that’s tender but firm, and a taste brimming with warm Middle Eastern flavors.
Unlike matzo balls, which are eastern European in origin and made primarily from eggs and matzo meal, aromatic gondi are shaped from a thick puree of ground chicken and toasted chickpea flour, a staple ingredient of the Middle East, and seasoned with turmeric and cardamom. Feather-light dried limes, known as limoo omani in Farsi, are pierced and thrown whole into the soup to gently permeate the soup stock with their green, citrusy flavor. Just before serving, the broth gets spiked with a bright shot of lemon juice.
Gondi is an old dish, a reminder of the long legacy of Jews in Iran that dates back to the ancient Persian Empire. How the dish came to be known by such a crude name in Farsi (look at the shape and think of the male body part to which it corresponds) I can’t say, but despite their indelicate name, gondi are usually served on high holidays including Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and of course, Shabbat. They are traditionally made using chicken meat because, according to Gil Marks, the late, great author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, chicken in Iran was historically more expensive than other meats and was reserved for special occasions.
Luckily for many a busy wife on Shabbat, making gondi is easy. You mix the dough, shape the balls, and then simmer them in broth. I like to make the dough one day, then let it firm up in the refrigerator overnight so it’s easy to work with, and to break up the work. Once the dough is shaped into balls, it’s best to refrigerate them for an hour so that they hold their shape when dropped into the boiling broth. Go the extra mile and toast the chickpea flour, as it gives the dumplings a rounded, nutty flavor. To toast the flour, warm a pan over medium heat. After about a minute, add the flour and stir constantly until it’s fragrant and a little darker, about 5-7 minutes, then turn off the heat and stir for another couple of minutes until the flour cools to room temperature.
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As the dumplings simmer to firmness in chicken stock, the broth takes on a cloudy appearance, becoming starchy and full of flavor. For a more dignified presentation, you can strain the dumplings and serve them in a fresh batch of clear chicken broth, as in this recipe. If you don’t want to bother with straining the dumplings, add the dried limes, carrots, and chickpeas to the stock at the beginning and let them cook along with the dumplings; when the dumplings are cooked through, gently fold in the fresh herbs.
I love how food connects us with different times, places, the environment, and each other. I'm the author of two cookbooks: The New Persian Kitchen, and Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life. Magpie Cookshop is my sustainable kitchen goods company.