You know those packets of instant matzah ball mix? The ones that instruct you to mix in eggs and oil? So, basically, they're just pre-portioned matzah meal (that is, regular coarse-grind matzah flour) with seasoning added. Making your own matzah balls from scratch—that is, using plain matzah meal—is just as easy. (These are also called kneidlach, the Yiddish word, which is what my family always said growing up.)
Floaters & sinkers
We can't reasonably go on any longer without addressing the elephant in the room, one of the great Jewish food debates: should your matzah balls puff up and float (be "floaters") or be dense and packed together ("sinkers")? People of the floater school will swear up and down that the secret to great matzah balls is seltzer, as in plain, carbonated water. I'm not going to beat around the bush, those people are wrong. Seltzer will ruin your matzah balls faster than a mother-in-law. They will be weirdly feathery and all wrong #TeamSinkers. However, if you insist, you can replace the water in the recipe with seltzer.
The real secret to great matzah balls? Celery salt
I can't thumbs-down matzah ball mix entirely, because it gave me the consummate insight into how a good matzah ball ought to be seasoned. Yes, I pilfered this secret ingredient directly from the ingredients list on the mix packet. After some experimentation with plain matzah meal that led to batch after batch of bland matzah balls (Not Okay), I gave in and bought the mix again. That was when I read analytically throught the ingredients panels and discovered that the crucial missing bit was celery salt, an erstwhile spice cabinet staple that wholeheartedly deserves a comeback.
As you can see, celery salt generally comes in old-school tins and can be found hanging out with the Old Bay and Szeged paprika in the supermarket spice aisle (both of the latter being worthy real estate holders in your spice cabinet, by the way, even if Old Bay is sadly ditching the tin for plastic). Look, I love and support single-origin, ethically sourced spices as much as the next person, but if you can't find it elsewhere, you should still buy the celery salt in the tin. Because it has magical umami properties, especially in matzah balls, but also in fried chicken coating, to name just one other stellar place to put it.
Okay, so how to make matzah balls
Apart from matzah meal and spices, all you need are some eggs and a few tablespoons of fat--I prefer the flavor of a good olive oil, but canola or another vegetable oil are more commonly used. (Disclaimer: Far and away the best option here is schmaltz, and naturally there is a post coming dedicated exclusively to schmaltz matzah balls; but since schmaltz not something that everybody keeps around, I thought we'd start with oil.) One more word about seasoning: use a non-skimpy amount of salt and black pepper. Don't forget the pepper, it's got the supporting actor role here.
You start by cracking eggs into a mixing bowl. Two eggs for a small crowd; four for a larger crowd; eight for a barn-burner. Scramble them with a fork or a whisk and stir in the oil and spices. When it's all combined, stir in the matzah meal: again, ½ cup for a small group, 1 cup for a bigger one, and 2 cups for the barn. You can multiply away and everything turns out fine. The final step is stirring in the water (or seltzer, if you must) and sticking the bowl in the fridge for at least half an hour.
How to shape and cook matzah balls
After some chill time, the batter will be easy to roll into balls. Make your matzah balls smaller than you think you should, because they will get a bit bigger as they cook, maybe 20-30%. I make mine about 1" / 2.5cm in diameter.
Matzah balls cook fast, about 5-7 minutes in vigorously boiling water. They're ready a minute or so after they float to the top of the pot. (All matzah balls will float to the top; that doesn't make them the aforementioned floaters, which describes how they sit in the final bowl of soup.) You can boil them directly in the soup you plan to serve them in, but I recommend boiling them in a separate pot of hot water. It's partly vanity, because matzah balls will cloud up your soup with their starchiness and it won't look as pretty. But also, I find that matzah balls keep better until you serve the soup, when you pluck them out of the water with a skimmer and keep them aside in their own bowl until you're ready to put them in the soup. I also like to store matzah balls in their own separate container in the refrigerator. (You can make matzah balls ahead of time; they are fine in the fridge for a few days, and can be reheated in the soup or just tucked cold into hot soup. I sometimes freeze them if we have a lot of extras, but like most things, they taste better fresh.)
Oh yeah, and if floating hunks of carbs aren't enough for you, feel free to add some soup almonds, little diamond-shaped bits of crispy dough (shkedei marak in Hebrew). My husband calls them soup croutons, and my kids consider them mandatory.
Matzah Balls (Kneidlach) from Scratch (parve)
- 4 eggs
- ¼ cup oil, olive recommended - 60ml
- 1 ½ tsp celery salt
- ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 cup matzah meal - 125g
- ¼ cup cold water or seltzer - 60ml
Make and chill the matzah ball mixture:
- Crack the eggs into a mixed bowl, and beat with a fork or whisk.
- Stir in the oil and the spices.
- Add the matzah meal to the bowl and stir until evenly combined.
- Then, add the cold water and stir again until well combined.
- Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes and up to overnight.
Shape and cook the matzah balls:
- Fill a medium-sized pot filled ⅔ of the way with water. Bring the water to a rolling boil.
- When the water is boiling, remove the matzah ball mix from the fridge. Working next to the cooktop, form the mixture in balls about 1" / 2.5cm in diameter by rolling them in your hands. Drop them one by one into the boiling water.
- When the matzah balls float to the surface of the water, about 5 minutes, let them cook for 1 more minute and remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon.
- Serve in soup; you can set these aside until ready to serve or store in the refrigerator and reheat in the soup.