There are a lot of important considerations when it comes to Passover. Red wine or white? Hand-baked or machine-made matzah? Streit’s or Manischewitz macaroons?
But one of the top considerations in every household before the seder is this: Should matzah balls be heavy or light? This year though, you may want to start asking more questions. Like spicy or plain? Whole wheat or regular? Stuffed or unstuffed? With so many options, any number of kneidl varieties could grace your seder table.
Joan Nathan, the prolific Jewish cookbook author and TV personality, tends to make traditional matzah balls at her Passover seder. But that doesn’t stop her from experimenting with recipes for historical varieties, like a Lithuanian version stuffed with beef.
“I first encountered them in the South in Mississippi,” said Nathan. “I’d never heard of them before.” Eventually she traced them from the Bible Belt back to South Africa and then back to Lithuania. The matzah balls have a “little bit of cinnamon in the filling to let the Shabbos live on,” Nathan said.
For Tamar Genger, executive editor of JoyofKosher.com, kneidl experimentation started simple, by adding lots of fresh herbs.
“My dad has always used to add herbs; he has an herb garden and we all really loved that,” said the registered dietitian and mother of three. “Then he started adding prunes to them,” she said laughing, “which was more of a love or hate relationship.”
And last year, she got even more adventurous, trying out whole wheat spinach matzah balls, and “matzah-tons” — a play on wontons with ground meat inside. “I like to try and incorporate whole wheat as much as possible” for health reasons, said Genger, noting that there are more whole wheat products for Passover today than ever before. Genger said using whole wheat matzah meal doesn’t change the texture much, but “you definitely taste the whole wheat flavor.”
And as for the ultimate kneidl question?
“I try to make them al dente, firm but not too firm,” said Nathan.
As for Genger, “when I was younger I always liked them hard, as I got older I now like them light and fluffy and a little firmer in the center.”
But no matter what varieties you try out over the years, said Nathan, “you always remember your mother’s.” •
Whole Wheat Spinach Matzah Balls
- Makes 16
From Tamar Genger
2 eggs and 2 egg whites
1 ¼ tsp. coarse kosher salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 10-oz. package frozen
chopped spinach, thawed
2 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. seltzer
½ cup whole wheat matzah meal
½ cup regular matzah meal
Process spinach in a food processor (you can skip this, but it won’t look as nice), then add in eggs, egg whites, salt, pepper, oil and seltzer and pulse a few more times to combine. Pour into a bowl and mix in matzah meal. Cover and chill for at least one hour or overnight; the longer it sits the fluffier it will be.
Bring large pot of generously salted water to boil. Using wet hands, shape matzah mixture into 16 balls; drop into boiling water. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer matzah balls to the soup.
Lithuanian Beef-Stuffed Matzah Balls
- Makes 8-10
From Joan Nathan’s
“The Jewish Holiday Kitchen”
¼ pound ground beef
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp. softened chicken fat
2 tbsp. matzah meal, approximately
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 cups water
10 tsp. chicken fat or margarine
plus more for greasing pan
1 ¼ cups matzah meal
1 tsp. salt
3 quarts rapidly boiling salted water
2 tsp. cinnamon
For the filling, heat the oil in a medium skillet and sauté the beef until brown. Drain and cool and then mix with the egg yolks, chicken fat, matzah meal, salt and cinnamon. Refrigerate at least one hour.
For the matzah balls, begin by beating the eggs well in a bowl. Add the water and chicken fat and mix well. Add the matzah meal and salt to make a soft mass. Refrigerate at least one hour.
Divide the matzah meal mixture in to 8 to 10 balls of equal size. Flatten them and place a teaspoon of the filling in the center of each, before pinching the edges together to form balls.
Place the matzah balls in to the boiling water, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Drain the matzah balls and place in a pan greased with the remaining chicken fat and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Serve each matzah ball in a bowl with chicken soup.
Austrian Apple-Stuffed Dessert Dumplings- Makes 12
From Joan Nathan’s
“Jewish Holiday Cookbook”
1 medium-sized apple, peeled, cored and grated
3 tbsp. coarsely chopped almonds
2 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. grated lemon zest
3 squares of water matzah
3 large eggs
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup finely chopped almonds
grated zest of one lemon
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. softened chicken fat,
butter or margarine
3-4 tbsp. matzah meal
vegetable oil for deep frying
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
For the filling: Combine the apple, almonds, sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest in a bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For the matzah balls: Crumble the matzah and soak in warm water until soft. Drain and squeeze out the matzah as well as possible.
Combine the matzah with the eggs, 1/4 cup of the sugar, almonds, lemon zest, salt, chicken fat and matzah meal in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Form the matzah mixture in to walnut-sized balls. Flatten them and place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each ball, then close the ball up and pinch to seal around the filling.
In a heavy frying pan, heat two inches of oil to about 375 F. Fry the dumplings several at a time, turning after a minute or so, until they’re golden brown.
Remove to a paper towel to drain.
Mix the remaining two tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon together and roll the balls in the mixture. Serve immediately.