Soft, fluffy, savoury potatoes baked under a layer of delicious helzel. This comforting winter recipe is a great accompaniment to almost anything!
Apparently, I was mistaken about Spring’s arrival. It’s gone back to being FREEZING, and the wind seems to have come here from somewhere in the arctic. I actually got sleeted on yesterday. Ugh.
However, it does give me a good excuse to make helzel potatoes. Delicious, warming stodge is just about all I crave when the weather is cold and vile, and I’ll certainly be enjoying these a lot before Spring actually arrives. Hopefully for good, next time.
Traditional Jewish food
Helzel is a very traditional Ashkenazi Jewish food. It’s a simple mixture of fat, onion, flour & matza meal and is typically used to stuff chicken.
When I was little, my Mum used to make helzel potatoes – soft, fluffy pieces of potato baked in the oven under a layer of delicious helzel. She cooked it in a red enamelled casserole pot with a lid. The potatoes got deliciously soft, the helzel fluffed up, and then she would remove the lid for the last part of the cooking so the helzel became brown and crispy and delicious on the top. Mmmmm.
At some point when I was around 10, we did a car boot sale to clear out a load of stuff from home, and Mum put the red enamelled casserole pot in with the stuff to sell. We asked her what she was going to make helzel potatoes in, and I suppose she must have had some idea of another suitable pot. Or maybe she didn’t. Either way, I don’t really remember her making them after that. No red pot, no helzel potatoes. Sadness.
Craving comfort food
Recently, I found myself longing for these delicious helzel potatoes again. Deeply savoury, with lovely contrasting textures, they are a wonderful winter comfort food. They also score points as they can be made ahead and left in a pre-set oven to cook. Perfect.
The fat in the original recipe is schmaltz – rendered chicken fat. Obviously, not being a meat-eater, I substituted something vegetarian instead. I considered using butter, which I bet would have tasted amazing, but having been thoroughly indoctrinated with the Jewish dietary laws, which prevent mixing milk and meat products, the idea of using butter in helzel was completely unacceptable, even if my version wasn’t going anywhere near an actual chicken.
Practice makes perfect
I made these a couple of times before I perfected the recipe. You need more liquid than you imagine, and also more helzel – the first batch used only half this amount and it really wasn’t adequate. This version of the recipe is pretty darn close to what I remember from childhood, and is totally delicious. Even DH, not normally a lover of traditional Jewish foods, was quite taken by it, and my daughter Kipper couldn’t decide if she liked the potato or the helzel more. A success all round.
- 1 kg potatoes (2 ¼ lb)
- 200 ml hot vegetable (or chicken) stock (scant cup)
- 80 g flour (3oz or ⅔ cup)
- 25 g matzo meal (approx. 2-3 tbsp)
- ¼ tsp ground pepper
- 1 small onion
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
- Peel the potatoes, rinse, and cut into smallish dice - around 1.5cm (¾ inch). Place the cut up potatoes in an ovenproof casserole dish with a lid.
- Pour the hot stock over the potatoes, and set aside.
- To make the helzel, mix the flour, matzo meal and pepper in a bowl. Peel the onion, then grate it on a coarse grater. Cook the grated onion in the vegetable oil in a small pan for a few minutes until soft and beginning to brown, then add to the dry ingredients. Mix well - the mixture should clump together into moist crumbs.
- Sprinkle the helzel over the potatoes and stock in an even layer. Put the lid on the pot and bake at 190°C (375°F) for around an hour.
- Remove the lid from the pot, reduce the oven temperature to 180°C (350°F), and bake for a further 30 minutes to brown the helzel.
- Serve and enjoy!