Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Emily's Kitchen in Seattle: The Fluffiest Matzo Balls West of the Mississippi

Everyone knows that not all matzo balls are created equal. I started experimenting with matzo balls in Jerusalem, and even though I use the exact same recipe, they are different in the US. In Jerusalem they were a little more dense and took a lot longer to lighten up, whereas they practically hit the water fluffy here. Maybe that is a metaphor for something.

On the other hand, one should not be intimidated by the matzo ball. I link the myth of the matzo ball to the myth of gardening and writer's block: Everyone can have a green thumb, and everyone can write, and likewise everyone can make a matzo ball. It may take a few tries, but plunging a spoon into that perfect, moist, melt-in-your-mouth matzo ball is worth the effort.

As part of the Matzo Ball Soup Off here in a Kitchen in Brooklyn, check out these matzo ball masters: Sasha's Matzo Ball Soup and Eric's Matzo Ball Soup.

Here is the recipe I use. I got it off of and I have never looked back. I, as usual, have changed a few things. Perhaps I should keep them secret like a good old crafty Jewish cook. But for you, I tell the truth.

4 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup matzo meal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
pinches, up to 1/2 tsp., of the following:
black pepper, cumin (optional - my addition), dill (optional - my addition), garlic powder

I know, you're thinking cumin AND dill? I am one of those people who puts cumin in everything. Just a little.

Mix up the dry and wet ingredients separately. Add the wet to the dry and combine - without over mixing! Over mixing is death to matzo balls.

Refrigerate the mixture for an hour.

This is a good time to get a broth going. I do not make a traditional chicken broth because I'm a vegetarian. You, however, may choose to make one, chicken neck and all. Alternatively, I like to make a vegetable broth with fresh vegetables, lots of salt, pepper and cumin (yes). I brew the stock veggies for a while, then strain them out and start adding spices until it tastes a little like chicken soup. I swear, people who eat my soup can't always tell it's vegetarian (salt is key).

Another option is to buy a soup mix - either a packaged broth or a "chicken flavored" powder mix, like the one by the brand Osem, which can be found in the kosher aisle. It is kind of toxic stuff, but it tastes, well, like chicken. Add chopped celery and carrot to your broth for the total experience.

What I do is once my balls are in the fridge for about half an hour, I get my broth ready to receive them. Bring the broth to a rolling boil. Add the chopped carrots and celery about now.

Remove your mixture from the refrigerator, and with the broth at a high simmer, form small balls (about 1 inch in diameter) and drop them into the broth.

Side note: I have a moment of panic right about now. The gates of heaven are open and my balls are undergoing judgment: who shall sink and who shall float. If you have faith, treat the balls with love and respect, and follow the recipe, they will float. I'm not joking.

The balls will, at first, hit the bottom of the pot, but in a few moments they will spring up to the surface and bob there, absorbing broth and getting bigger. Let them hang out there in the simmering broth for about 20 minutes.

If you have a few hours before dinner, I suggest boiling the balls in a separate pot of salted water so that they don't absorb all the broth first. It is sort of embarrassing to run out of broth when you have dinner guests, and these suckers will just keep on growing off the life force of broth like Audrey II. As my mother has been known to say, "this matzo ball is the size of a head of a small child!" On the other hand, letting the balls sit in the broth for a long time is a pretty good cure for dense sinker-types.

Matzo ball soup is somewhat labor and emotionally intensive, but once you have the hang of it it's very easy. I make it just about every other week for my shabbat table, and it's always a crowd-pleaser. It is warm, hearty, salty, a tribute to the old days and it just makes people feel good.


  1. wow, nice work! Those look great!

  2. Baking powder......must be a secret ingredient. I love knaidlach.

  3. Can you believe it? In Italy we don't use matzo balls. I eat them the first time in a Seder just 2 or 3 years ago. Here we use to eat rice even in Peasch......(you know, we are italians!!)
    However, since when I try the matzo balls i was looking for a good receipe to do them (I like them!).
    I will try with your!!

  4. great recipe...they look delish!!



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