Kneidlach, revised

Put aside Jewish guilt and enjoy innovative matza balls.

matzah ball 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
matzah ball 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What could be more Eastern European than little balls of tasteless dough cooked in a simple broth? I can easily imagine a Jewish Ukrainian housewife, 400 years ago, staring at an empty winter pantry right before the Seder and desperately asking herself: "What could I possibly make with a little matza meal, a couple of eggs and some old root vegetables?" The answer was kneidlach. The truly curious thing is that we still make kneidlach today as if we were Ukrainian villagers centuries ago. I love tradition, and I'll probably make my mom's kneidlach for a long time to come, just for the sake of all those warm childhood memories. Yet, putting aside all that Jewish guilt if I didn't follow my family's traditions, I feel that updated, truly tasty kneidlach can be a fun part in every Seder. FLUFFY HERBED KNEIDLACH The key to really delicate and fluffy kneidlach, not unlike a good cake, is introducing lots of air into the dough by folding in whipped egg whites. The results are wonderfully light morsels that are a refreshing change from all the other dense Pessah fare. For the dough 1 cup matza meal 3 Tbsp. olive oil 2 cups boiling chicken or vegetable stock (or water) 1 tsp. salt Freshly ground black pepper 5 Tbsp. parve pesto (recipe follows) 1 medium egg, separated For the "pesto" 1 cup fresh basil, parsley or cilantro leaves, washed and picked 2 Tbsp. pecans, walnuts or pine nuts 1 garlic clove, peeled 3 Tbsp. olive oil 1⁄4 tsp. salt and freshly ground pepper Method 1. Place a large casserole type pot filled with well salted water to boil. 2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the matza meal, oil, stock and the salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Rest, covered, for 15 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, make the pesto: a. By hand: mince everything and combine in a bowl and mix well. b. In a food processor: Add the oil and garlic, and blitz until smooth. Add the herbs and the nuts and blitz into a paste. Season, mix gently, and taste to adjust the seasoning. It can be either be chunky, adding little nut and herb pieces to the kneidlach's texture, or smooth, leaving the kneidlach delicate and refined. 4. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the pesto into the matza meal mixture. 5. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks for a minute to incorporate some air, and then stir into the matza meal mixture. Whisk the egg whites to a light foam, and gently fold into the dough until combined well. 6. Working quickly, dip the tip of a teaspoon or a tablespoon (depending on the size of kneidlach you want) in the pot of boiling water, and then gently scoop out some of the dough. Use a second spoon to drop it into the water. Repeat with the rest of the dough. 7. The kneidlach will surface after a short while. Simmer gently for 15 minutes more. 8. If you plan on storing the kneidlach before serving, cool completely before storing and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Reheat in simmering salted water or in the soup they will be served in. KNEIDLACH STUFFED WITH SAUTÉED MUSHROOMS AND THYME For the dough 200 gr. matza meal 3 Tbsp. olive oil 2 eggs, separated 3 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, washed and picked, chopped finely 1 cup water 1 tsp. salt Freshly ground pepper For the mushroom filling 3 cups mushrooms of your choice (portobello, wild mushrooms, button mushrooms, etc.) - cut into small cubes 4 Tbsp. olive oil or goose/chicken fat 3 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, washed and picked 2 shallots or one small onion, peeled and minced 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced Method 1. In a large bowl, mix the matza meal, olive oil, egg yolks, thyme and seasoning. Pour in the water slowly, while stirring. Whisk and fold in the egg whites as described in the previous recipe. Refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes. 2. In the meanwhile, place the oil or fat in a skillet over low heat and sauté the shallots gently to a light golden color. Increase the heat to high and add the mushrooms, thyme and garlic. Sauté until mushrooms are soft and the liquids have evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool. 3. With wet hands, form little balls out of the dough. Use your thumb to create a dent in each ball and spoon in (with a teaspoon) some filling. Close the hole and roll again to create an even round ball. Cook in simmering salted water for 20 minutes. Store and serve as described above.