From Constantinople to Ellis Island: One Family's Secret Passover Dumpling Recipe

My great-grandmother's prized possession - a special metal pan for frying bimuelos - has been used to make this once-a-year delicacy for over a century.

Bimuelos (Turkish Passover dumplings) frying in a modern cast-iron pan.
Liz Steinberg

Sometime after the Young Turk Revolution a century ago, my great-grandmother Rose Behar, a recently orphaned young teen in Constantinople, followed her siblings onto a boat bound for Ellis Island. She packed only a few possessions for the voyage - including a specially shaped pan that had belonged to her deceased mother Solange. 

And thus, my family’s culinary history was made. That large metal pan with its seven rounded indentations, now blackened with use, has now been used once a year for more than a century in order to make bimuelos, a little-known Turkish Passover delicacy. 

The word bimuelos simply means dumplings in Judeo-Spanish, a variation of the Spanish word bunuelos. There are probably as many bimuelo/bunuelo recipes as there are people who cook them; the term, being a very general one, includes all sorts of matzo- or flour-based sweet and savory dumplings prepared for both Passover and Hanukkah. 

Growing up in a Maryland suburb I didn’t know any other Turkish or Greek Jews, so bimuelos seemed like my family’s little secret. Our bimuelos are rich and decadent, and we’d eat them every morning for the week of Passover, ever since I’ve been old enough to recall. Little wonder that my favorite Passover meal has always been breakfast. 

I’m not sure we would have taken the same interest in Rose’s antique pan if the bimuelos didn’t taste quite so good. A batter of matzo meal and egg is scooped into the wells of the pan and fried in a generous quantity of oil, until it puffs up into plump, fluffy dumplings. The fried balls are then boiled in a syrup of sugar and honey until soft. The finished bimuelos are refrigerated in their syrup, and served every morning for breakfast with a generous squirt of cream on top. 

True, it’s not the epitome of a healthy meal. But we eat them only one week out of the year - and this is the dish that makes the holiday special for me.

Bimuelos - sweet Turkish Passover dumplings

You don’t need a special pan to make this recipe, but bimuelos fried in a regular pan will be somewhat free-form instead of spherical. 

Makes approximately 30 bimuelos.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup matzo meal
10 medium eggs
oil for frying
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey

Crack eggs into a bowl. Slowly beat in matzo meal. Let sit several minutes until thickened into a cake batter consistency.

Prepare the syrup: Add sugar and honey to a large pot, and top with 2-3 inches (6-8 centimeters) of water. Bring to a boil, and lower the flame to a simmer.

Heat a frying pan, preferably one with round indentations such as an aebleskiver pan. Pour oil into the pan - either a bit of oil into each indentation, or a half inch to an inch (1-2 centimeters) if using a regular frying pan. Add a spoonful of better to test - the dumpling should puff up and turn golden without browning or burning first. Adjust heat accordingly. 

Fill pan with spoonfuls of batter, and fry for a few minutes on each side, until golden. Use a fork to flip. 

Once golden, transfer the dumplings to the syrup and simmer until soft - they should offer no resistance when pierced with a fork. 

Store the finished dumplings and syrup in a large container in the refrigerator. Serve with cream.

Recipe adapted from Cafe Liz.