Some people call them kneydlakh … but in my family, my parents always referred to Matzoh balls as “Matseh Klays (Matzah Kleis)”. Some like them small and floaty, others like them huge and heavy. One of the strongest food memories of my childhood was going to 21 Restaurant in Double Bay in the 1970s, having my cheeks squeezed by the owner Janczi, receiving a packet of chewing gum, and waiting for my father to order Matzah Ball soup.
Back to the present: I have been experimenting with recipes for matseh klays for some years now. As a novice, I started using the instant Osem brand of Matza balls. They are extremely consistent, but fairly bland in character. And having made them, I figured out that it was probably just as easy to make from scratch.
First rule: I use coarse matseh meal. Fine matseh meal will produce a much more dense dumpling, if that’s what you want (bleh). Vary the meal (coarse+fine) if you like. I prefer Snider’s coarse matseh meal, but the Australian Solomons brand is just fine.
Second rule: separate the eggs, and beat the whites to stiff peaks. This will give you a lightness to the dumplings, even if you want the heavy sinker types. Oh, and use the BEST eggs you can possibly get. Free range, organic, biodynamic – this will make a huge difference to the taste.
Third rule: you may add any spices that you like … but the most traditional besides the regular salt and pepper is ground (powdered) ginger. I used white pepper this time instead of black, and also grated in some nutmeg. Finely chopped fresh parsley is often added.
Fourth rule: you need to add a fat to bind them more thoroughly. Shmalts (chicken fat) is traditional); but olive oil is perfectly acceptable. You can fry a chopped onion in either, and add that to the mixture if you like. I didn’t add the onions this time, but I did add a slug of oil. I think it gives a lighter feel to the dumplings than shmalts.
Fifth and most important rule: after having beaten the whites until stiff, you beat the yolks lightly with the spices, and then fold together with a large metal spoon. Then add the matseh meal, and mix extremely sparingly (i.e. only barely combine). Put the mixture into the fridge, and let it rest for 30 minutes minimum.
Sixth rule: boil a light stock (using powder will be fine); when it comes to a rolling boil, take the mixture out of the fridge, wet your hands, and form the balls into the size of a 20c piece (US – size of a quarter; UK – size of a 50p coin). Drop them straight into the stock, turn the flame down. Roll the dumplings around so they absorb the stock evenly. They will take 30 minutes to cook.
Once the klays have been made, they can be refridgerated and then heated in the boiling chicken soup (goldene yoykh) before being served. Klays take up a lot of liquid in the initial stage, so if you have an excess of stock then by all means, use that during the initial stage … but if not, instant stock will do just as well. It won’t take long to reheat the klays in the fresh stock.
Special credits and thanks to the great Claudia Roden, upon whose recipe I based my own matseh klays (Roden uses the term kneydlakh). Her work, “The Book of Jewish Food” (Penguin, 1996) is one of the greatest cultural resources: a comprehensive history of the Jewish diaspora as well as a superb cooking book.