Back in the days of the shtetl, Lithuanian cooks would make their kneidlach (matza balls) stuffed with pieces of fried chicken fat in the center – oy vey! The name they gave this dish was kneidlach with “neshoma,” or matza balls with soul. There’s something touching about this name, which symbolizes that even in the simplest things in life we can add a spark of spirituality. The seder meal is so filled with meaning and symbolism that it’s nice to be able to add another layer of meaning to the food we eat on that night.
There are many ways to make these kneidlach. I have amalgamated a few recipes and methods to come up with what I think works well. And mine have no fried chicken fat in them!
I kept the filling flavors relatively simple in keeping with the Ashkenazi kitchen. You can, of course, add whatever spices you enjoy, and even add a little chili powder or cayenne pepper for a little zing. Some recipes call for baking the kneidlach in the oven after you’ve boiled them. I am not sure what the logic is if you’re going to be serving them in the soup, as they will get wet again. This is also an unnecessary step that adds time to your already packed pre-seder cooking schedule.
For me, the most important part of making these is getting the filling in the freezer before you stuff the kneidlach. I give credit to Israeli chef Haim Cohen for this excellent technique, which he uses in his kube soup recipe (not Kosher for Pesach). By making small balls of filling and freezing them, you make the stuffing process so much easier, and you won’t have to fiddle with bits of filling that fall all over the place and make it hard to seal the balls properly. It’s an extra step, but pays off in the end. You can also make the stuffing a few days in advance.
STUFFED MATZA BALLS (KNEIDLACH WITH NESHOMA)
1-2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 small onion very finely chopped
1 small stalk of celery very finely chopped
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
90-100 g (3 oz) ground beef (for vegetarian, you can use finely chopped mushrooms – saute them separately and drain well before adding to the rest of the ingredients)
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons potato flour
¼ cup water
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons margarine
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon baking powder (if you can find kosher for Pesach baking powder you can make it without)
Salt and pepper
2/3 cups boiling water
About 1 cup of matza meal
How to do it
1. In a small pan, heat the oil. Add the chopped celery and onion and saute until very soft. Add the garlic and parsley and stir until the garlic has just cooked (about 30 seconds).
2. Add the ground beef and saute until it’s all cooked (no pink), making sure to separate the bits of beef so no large chunks form. (Or add the sauteed, well-drained mushrooms for vegetarian)
3. Add the seasoning and stir till combined.
4. Add the tomato paste, potato flour and the water and mix. Simmer until the mixture is no longer watery (this won’t take very long – about 2 minutes). Allow to cool completely.
5. On a small baking tray or any pan that can go into the freezer, lay out some baking paper. Form small balls of the filling that are just under one teaspoon each. Place them on the tray and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours or overnight. Once they are frozen, you can transfer them to a sealed container and keep them in the freezer for a few days.
Making the Kneidlach
1. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg well with a whisk. Add the margarine and beat it in as well as you can (it will stay lumpy but try to separate it as much as possible at this stage)
2. Add the boiling water and whisk till the margarine has melted. Add the seasoning and baking powder.
3. Slowly add the matza meal, stirring the mixture with a spoon. You need to do this slowly and in stages, as the matza meal hardens the egg mixture quite quickly and you don’t want your mixture to get hard. Once the mixture starts to be less runny, start testing the consistency by dropping spoonfuls into the bowl. As soon as it stops being runny and falls from the spoon in a blob, then you are done. You will always use a slightly different quantity of matza meal because the sizes of the eggs vary.
4. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or until the mixture is well set. You can leave this overnight as well.
Stuffing the kneidlach
1. In a medium-large pot, bring about 4-5 liters of water and add a tablespoon of chicken soup powder to a rolling boil.
2. Remove the filling balls from the freezer; take the kneidle mixture out of the fridge and prepare a bowl of water for dipping your hands.
3. Take about 1½ tablespoons of kneidle mixture in your wet hands (about the size of a small golf ball) and flatten it a little until it’s about 1 cm (½ inch). Take a filling ball and place it in the middle, then work the kneidle mixture up around the filling, making sure not to make the kneidle too thin. If you can’t get it all around the filling, then add a little bit of extra kneidle mixture to close the ball. With wet hands, smooth the kneidle so that you make a ball shape. Carefully place into the boiling water. Keep going until you’ve used up all your kneidle mixture.
4. Once all the balls are in the pot, cover, make sure the water comes to the boil. Then reduce the flame and simmer, cooking for 25-minutes.
5. Serve the kneidlach in bowls of chicken soup.
Makes about 18 balls.