Untraditional Matzo Balls for an Untraditional Passover

April 10, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Passover is one of those holidays where you don’t change up the menu. After all, many of the foods we eat during this time are part of the seder itself: Dip herbs in salt water. Taste spicy horseradish. Pile charoset on matzo. Leave a cup of wine out for Elijah.

But when it comes to the meal, it doesn’t have to be the same saccharine macaroons or ketchup-drenched brisket. And again with those limp, bland matzo balls floating in unseasoned broth? Oy.

If you’ve eaten them, you either love or hate matzo balls. Though they look like turkey meatballs, they often lack the same level of seasoning and fat. If you try to form the balls immediately after mixing the batter, the matzo meal will be too wet to work with. When overworked or undercooked, they turn out tough and dense. Skimp on the eggs, seltzer, or baking powder and the balls will sink to the bottom of the pot while poaching.

As in many religions, tradition is of utmost importance in Judaism. There are some things you just don’t mess with, and I know a great many people who would argue that classic Ashkenazi Jewish food is one of those things, especially during Passover. But I did anyway. Because I believe that if you can make something taste even better, you should. And I’ve always felt that if you consider your own palate while cooking traditional dishes, you might make some changes, but you'll ultimately find the meal more meaningful.

Here are five ways to rethink matzo balls this Passover, whether you’re hosting a holiday on Zoom, or enjoying a bowl of soup by yourself.

Chicken Soup-Stuffed Matzo Balls (Or, Inside-Out Matzo Ball Soup)

Though a recipe for xiao long bao–style matzo balls bursting with chicken soup would probably win me a Pulitzer, I just don’t think the physics is there (I tried, then my brain started to melt). Instead, I made a stuffed version of the original, with all the flavors of matzo ball soup (chicken, onion, carrot, celery, dill) inside a matzo ball. If you’ve had the Iraqi meatball kubbeh, this is a similar vibe.

Super-Herby Matzo Balls

Many classic matzo ball recipes call for a couple tablespoons of chopped herbs, but I invite you to ignore that. Finely chopped parsley, dill, and/or chives bring bright color and brighter flavor. Add a bit of lemon zest to the batter while you’re at it. For a recipe yield like Joan Nathan’s, increase the chopped herbs from 2 tablespoons to 1 cup (yes, really).

Fried Matzo Balls

Traditionally, matzo balls are poached in simmering water or broth, but there’s nothing stopping you from cooking them in oil (or chicken fat). Deep-fry your favorite matzo ball batter in 2 inches of vegetable oil at 350ºF for 5 to 8 minutes. Alternatively, treat them like fried ravioli: First poach the matzo balls as usual, then dry them well, and pan-fry until golden in a slick of olive oil or chicken fat. Either way, finish with a shower of flaky sea salt.

Not-Matzo Matzo Balls

Chickpea flour and chicken gnodi are often called Persian matzo balls, but they’re definitely more meatball than the Jewish dumpling. You could simply swap in chickpea flour for matzo meal in your go-to recipe (its nutty flavor will taste best with soup)—but almond, oat, brown rice, and buckwheat flours will all work in a classic recipe as well.

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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

1 Comment

witloof April 11, 2020
I have never used baking powder or seltzer in my matzo balls and they don't sink to the bottom of the pot.