Monday, April 11, 2011

Kneidalach (Matzo Balls)

In my family, Pesach is not Pesach without kneidalach in clear vegetable soup. When I was a teen I used to help my mother make these, and I found myself wondering why it is that the balls sink when they are put in the water, but somehow float when they are cooked. I asked my physics teacher about this, and after asking some of his colleagues he told me that apparently the cooking changes the chemical composition of the matzo balls, altering their relative density to the water or something like that. So there you go - this is not just cooking, it's also science!

Like most traditional foods, each family has its own version  and the "correct way" to make kneidalach is subject to much contention.

One source of disagreement is the appropriate size for a matzo ball: some people like to serve a bowl of soup with one huge matzo ball at it's center. Other people like to make them delicate and petite. I like them somewhere in the middle, so I roll them to just under the size of ping-pong ball (they do grow later). But if you prefer them larger or smaller, by all means do it your way.

The second major source of disagreement is the texture: some people like their kneidalach to be really light and fluffy, and this is often the more "gourmet" approach. However, I admit I fall with the crowd that likes the kneidalach to be soft (never hard!) but dense. I just find them more satisfying this way.
However, if you prefer your matzo balls softer, don't give up on this recipe. Instead, before you add the eggs simply separate the whites from the yolks and beat the whites to a stiff foam. Then add the yolks to the matzo meal and fold the egg white foam in as well. 

Finally,  a small holiday tip: since cooking for a large family meal is often time consuming, I like to do it in little bits. Therefore, I always cook my kneidalach a week or even two before the Seder, after which I immediately freeze them. On the morning of the seder I simply pull them out of the freezer and allow them to defrost. Then I quickly reheat them in the soup or the microwave, and they are ready to serve.

Kneidalach (Matzo Balls) 

Ingredients (for about 14 medium balls): 

- 1 cup matzo meal 
- 2-3 tbsp of canola oil (this is actually optional. They work pretty well without it) 
- 2 eggs 
- Pinch of salt 
- Vegetable broth or bullion powder for cooking (optional)


1. Put the matzo meal in a large bowl. Add the salt, oil and eggs (again - if you prefer a fluffier matzo ball, separate the eggs and beat the whites to a foam, then fold them back in), and stir. 

2. Begin adding lukewarm water - add a few tablespoons, then stir. Then add a few more and stir. Continue doing this until the mixture sticks but is also a little loose (you don't want a really hard mixture at this point). Allow the mixture to sit for about 20-30 minutes. This will allow it to set and make it easier to work with. 

3. Meanwhile, heat up the cooking liquid. You can cook the matzo balls in the soup in which you'll serve them, but I prefer not to do that because it murks up the soup. Instead, I use boiling water with a few tablespoons of vegetarian bouillon powder. If you prefer, you can also use boiling vegetable broth, or simply boiling water with a little bit of salt. 

4. When the liquid is boiling, take a bit of the matzo meal mixture in your hands and roll it into a small ball (as I said, I like to roll them into a ball slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball). Carefully put the ball in the boiling liquid. Continue to roll the balls and add them to the liquid (how many balls at a time depends on how large a pot you are using. For a medium pot I put about 5 at a time). 

5. It is generally understood that the matzo balls are cooked when they float to the surface of the water. However, I like to leave them in there for about a minute longer, just to make sure they are properly cooked. When they are ready, take them out with a slotted spoon.  I recommend tasting the first one to come out of the water: this allows you not only to gauge how well it has cooked, but also to make sure that the mixture has enough salt in it. 

Traditionally these are served in a clear soup such as chicken or vegetable soup. However, they are also delicious served as a side dish with some fried onions.

1 comment:

  1. Very similar to my approach as well. I also like mine to be soft but dense, with a little chew. I also cook mine in broth for extra flavor.

    Some recent alternatives I've been experimenting with:
    -Olive oil instead of canola, gives a nice fruity flavor. Infused olive oils (garlic, lemon, truffle?) also add nice variety.

    -Curry powder in the matzoballs (the tumeric turns them a beautiful yellow), and ginger in the veg broth.

    Yay for Pesach! I can't want to start cooking next week - although Pesach for two is much less cooking intensive than for 12.