Saturday, 11 August 2012

What the heck is a matzo ball?

The other day I was chatting to one of our neighbours while our children played footy in the street. As mothers often do, we discussed our fussy eaters and what we were planning to cook for them that evening. I told her I was making kneidlach - otherwise known as matzo (or matzah) balls - and she asked me what matzo balls are made of. 'They're made of matzo meal,' I answered, but not being Jewish, she had no idea what that was. 'It's crushed up matzo,' I said, 'kind of like breadcrumbs.' But what is matzo, she asked, puzzled. I ended up explaining that if you got a pack of table water crackers and smashed them you'd probably have something closely resembling matzo meal. And that these balls are quite easy to make, and, served in a bowl of soup, are one of the few things that we all love to have for dinner.

Our Friday night dinners are special, because that's when we celebrate Shabbat with blessings and a delicious (hopefully) family meal. Kneidlach/matzo balls (usually served with chicken soup) are a very traditional Jewish food. Being vegetarian we have them in a somewhat untraditional way, with minestrone. And this unusual combination is really, really good.

Every Jewish woman who cooks kneidlach has her own way of preparing them, but the ingredients don't vary much: eggs, oil, water, matzo meal, seasoning. My grandmother's recipe included two tablespoons of boiling water ('it MUST be boiling!'); the recipe I use specifies cold (I suspect it makes no difference). So, adapted from The Spice and Spirit of Kosher Jewish Cooking (which has three recipes - 'easy', 'fancy' and 'special'), here is how I make kneidlach:

Beat two eggs lightly, then add two tablespoons of oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), two tablespoons cold water, a pinch of salt and a few shakes of pepper. 

Stir in about 3/4 cup coarse matzo meal (I have no idea what anyone uses the fine matzo meal for, but don't buy it). The mixture should be a bit runny, so you freak out and think 'I will never be able to make these into balls!' Add a bit more matzo meal if it's dripping-off-the-spoon runny. 
Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes (longer is OK too. Sometimes I leave them in the fridge all day before cooking them at night and they turn out fine). 

The mixture will now be much thicker. With wet hands, roll little balls the size of walnuts. I get about 17 or 18 from this recipe, but you can make a smaller quantity of larger ones if you prefer. They do expand a fair bit when boiled.

Cook in a large pot of boiling water for 40 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. You can then put them straight into a soup, or let them cool before refrigerating or freezing them (they freeze very well). 
Here is K's bowl of strained soup with kneidlach. If you have a fussy eater, statements such as I DON'T WANT VEGIES IN MY SOUP may be all too familiar. We're hoping he'll grow out of it, because what sort of vegetarian doesn't like vegetables? R, pleasingly, has hers with plenty of vegies. And extra cannellini beans. 

Shabbat shalom!

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