Arts and Culture | National

How to Make Knishes, Cuban Style

Jennifer Stempel's recipe was inspired by the similarities between a knish — pictured here from New York's Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery — and an empanada. (Eric Hunt/Wikimedia Commons)

(The Nosher via JTA) — When I think of knishes, like most people, I think of New York Jewish deli-style discs of creamy potato or savory meat enveloped by a flaky crust. Potato knishes are my favorite because they act as a vehicle for as much good, grainy mustard as I see fit.

The last time I enjoyed a potato knish, the dough reminded me of the empanada, a classic Latin dish. Each Latin country has its own version of empanadas, and the variety of fillings are endless. With that in mind, I set out to create a Cuban-inspired knish that pays homage to both the New York Jewish delis of the past and the aromatic flavors from my family’s kitchen.

In Cuba, and many other Caribbean countries, green plantains are often used interchangeably with potatoes as the starch component of a meal, so adding them to a knish felt like the natural thing to do. Of course, it is written in the laws of Cuban grandmothers everywhere that all savory dishes must contain at least a hint of garlic, and thus smashed plantains covered in a citrusy garlic mojo sauce seems like the perfect filling to a Cuban-inspired knish. Feel free to dunk these knishes in mustard if you’re more traditional, but keep in mind that even this mustard-loving girl can’t resist the pull of a good Cuban mojo sauce. The special filling inside these savory discs has just a hint of sweetness that makes them a winner for the dinner table.

For the dough:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 large egg, beaten, for egg wash

For the filling:
2 green plantains and 1 semi-ripe plantain, peeled and sliced into 1-inch rounds
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup of mojo sauce (*recipe below)
salt and pepper to taste

For the mojo sauce:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
8 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 small sweet onions, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon of fresh chopped oregano
3/4 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice (about 3 navel oranges)
1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make the dough, combine all dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir. In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients and whisk to combine. Carefully stir in the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients (you can use a stand mixer for this), and once the dry ingredients are moistened, knead about 1-2 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. Cover and set aside for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the mojo sauce, which you will need for the filling. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over low to medium heat. Fry the garlic until it becomes slightly golden, stirring constantly (this step can happen very quickly, so don’t take your eyes off it), and quickly add the onions before the garlic has a chance to burn. Sweat the onions until they are translucent, and add the fresh juices, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup for the filling and the rest as a dipping sauce for knishes.

Next, prepare the plantains. In a large pot, cover plantain slices with cold, salted water, add the lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Cook until plantains are fork tender. Drain the plantains, and return to the pot. Using a potato masher, smash the plantains until they make a thick paste. Stir in mojo sauce, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit until it is cool enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

On a floured surface, roll out half of the dough mixture into a large rectangle shape, approximately 9 by 12 inches in dimension (it does not have to be perfect). Spoon half of the plantain mixture along the bottom edge of the dough, forming it into a log. Roll the dough over the filling, jelly roll-style, and pinch the dough to close the seam. Cut off the excess dough on the 2 edges and slice into 12 even pieces. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently pull up the sides of the dough and twist to cover the filling. Using the palm of your hand, press down on the knish to form into the shape you want. Brush dough with egg wash, and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

(Jennifer Stempel is a TV development executive who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. To read more about her culinary adventures, check out:


The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at