My mom makes the best matzah ball soup. So good that it was the standard of comparison for all matzah ball soups, not just in my family, but in other’s too. “These aren’t as good as Bev’s,” was a comment made on more than one occasion by a friend or neighbor when the Passover hostess had tried to make her own matzah meal dumplings. We’d all try laugh it off and inwardly gloat over the soft and perfect matzah balls waiting in the soup at home; never dense or chewy in the middle.
My mom’s recipe came from a box. During the year she made things from scratch but when Passover rolled around, the star of the meal came from a box mix made by Manischewitz. Matzah balls made from scratch were never as good. I kept up the box mix tradition when I went to college and would make matzah ball soup for friends in my dorm. Even on the uneven and sloping burners, the soup came out perfect every time with the matzah balls soft and light all the way through.
The first Passover that Jeff and I lived together he informed me, that in fact, his mother made the best matzah balls and that she made them from scratch. I scoffed; no one made them better than my mom, he just needed to try them and see. But even after eating the sacred box-mix dumplings, he insisted that his mother’s were better. He even got her to write out her recipe. It’s brevity was both encouraging and discouraging – it wouldn’t take too long to make but the lack of detail clearly indicated that these would be “sinkers,” too dense and heavy to float on the soup.
But for the sake of domestic harmony, I agreed to try making them. “These are terrible. They won’t roll properly and they’re sinkers.” He agreed that what I’d made was terrible but insisted these weren’t his mother’s matzah balls. Some investigation proved him right. I’d read the recipe for matzah meal pancakes instead, which use the same ingredients with different proportions. We laughed. I tried again.
Turns out these matzah balls are everything Jeff promised. They’re light and airy and actually take less time to make than the box mix since they don’t need much time to rest. Are they better than my mothers? Of course not. Well, actually, they’re probably just as good. Maybe if you aren’t as biased as I, they’re a little bit better. But mostly it’s nice to finally ditch the box.
Matzah Ball Soup
Makes about a dozen matzah balls
The real trick with matzah balls is to make sure they’re soft and fluffy all the way through the center. And the way to ensure that, besides making sure the dough is light enough, which this recipe takes care of, is to avoid rolling the dough too tightly. When you form the little dumplings, roll them lightly between your hands to form a sphere. It mostly forms itself; you don’t have to press much at all.
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup matzah meal*
1 tsp kosher salt
A few spoonful of oil for your hands to making rolling easier
3 quarts stock (chicken or vegetable, pick your preference)
Soup additions – I like carrot coins (about 3 carrots worth) and shreds of chicken (from 2 roasted thigh) but add whatever you like in soup.
In a large pot, bring the stock to boil. You want to make sure the pot is wide so that when the matzah balls go in they’ll have space to float on the top. If it’s too narrow to form a single layer, the ones that are forced under may turn out gummy and dense.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to medium peaks. In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the yolks to lighten them up a bit. Don’t worry too much about overmixing yet. When that bit of white is mixed in, gently fold the rest of the white in. Don’t stir it, instead lift the bottom contents of the bowl up and fold them onto the top, then turn the bowl and repeat until the whites are mostly mixed. Then add the matzah meal and salt and repeat the folding process until everything is mostly mixed.
Let the dough rest for a few minutes. Then give it two or three final stirs and bring it over close to the boiling pot of soup so you can easily drop the matzah balls in. Oil your hands and then take about a ping pong ball sized amount of dough and roll it into a ball between your two hands. Roll gently and try not to squeeze too much. They’ll get bigger while they cook, so keep it at around 2 tablespoon per matzah ball.
Form the balls and drop them in the soup one at a time. Then, keeping the soup at a low boil, cover and let the matzah balls boil for 30 minutes. Halfway through cooking add any extras you want in the soup, like carrots or chicken. When the time is up you can test a matzah ball by cutting it in half to check the center. It should be the same fluffiness all the way through. Serve immediately but if you have leftovers, you can keep them for up to a week and reheat them whenever you need. Once they’re cooked, the matzah balls can be reheated without much affect.
* You can find containers of matzah meal around this time in the kosher section of your grocery store (generally near the asian foods, oddly enough). If you can’t find matzah meal you might be able to find matzah and just grind it up into a fine meal, similar to corn meal. Yes, I’ve done this before.