matzo balls + holidays

PASSOVER

Huge Food is Love news - we are working on our book, no wait, Our Book! there that's better, combining the life stories and recipes of the grandmothers featured in this blog :-))))

Doing that has landed me in Sydney for Passover for the first time in years, with the added joy of all my far-flung family gathering here too. At my yoga class this morning they repeated the mantra, "May all beings everywhere be happy and free," which fits perfectly with Passover, the festival of freedom.

Preparation, both cooking and cleaning, is in its final intense phase, but I managed a moment of freedom of my own, heading to my friend Karen's holiday house in Killcare for the weekend. There we enjoyed (final?) sunny days, swimming in the warmest water I remember, though you do feel autumn in the air when you celebrate this spring festival in the southern hemisphere.

I cooked up Israeli Food is Love grandmothers dishes of matboucha (recipe here on our website) and green hot sauce to add to a grain bowl with quinoa, broccoli and pine nuts. Why not go for healthy and tasty? (You will find the green sauce in the book.)

All our favourite local birds came to visit -- including the baby kookaburras. One pulled up to land when he saw us feeding the other! And rainbow lorikeets and magpies too... all saying 'Welcome Back!'

  Killcare, sunset before the storm

Killcare, sunset before the storm

MATZO BALLS

And now, no more wiggle room, it's time to knuckle down and make matzo balls for tonight's Passover meal.

Naturally, I am consulting a Food is Love blog post, since nothing says Jewish grandmother like matzo dumpling soup! Soft pillowy parcels swimming in home made chicken stock is a profoundly successful combination and one of the Ashkenazi Jewish kitchen’s great inventions. There are as many recipes as there are Jewish grandmothers. In fact, almost every Food is Love grandmother has made dumplings for us and given us a slightly different recipe.

HANIA JOSKOWICZ

Melbourne Holocaust survivor Hania Joskowicz is now in her 90’s. That doesn't stop her making a vat of chicken soup, almost as tall as she is, every Friday. Plus she doesn't taste the soup, because she’s a vegetarian! 

Hania has the widest smile and is full of beans. All her grandchildren come over Friday afternoons and they all cook together. Meat for the few remaining carnivores. Vegetarian for Grandma Hania and some grandchildren. Vegan for the rest.

So relax about making the matzo balls... you could be smiling like Hania soon :-)

  Hania's matzo ball pot, almost as tall as she is!

Hania's matzo ball pot, almost as tall as she is!

HISTORY

Hania was one of four sisters from a village near Krakow in Poland. During World War Two, she was separated from her family and sent alone to a slave labour camp in Czechoslovakia. It was her good fortune not to be sent to the Auschwitz death camp, which was geographically much closer.   

Hania survived in the Czech labour camp for more than 3 years, and after the War she discovered that almost no one else from her family was alive. Only one sister survived. One of the few survivors form her village was a friend who’d been in kindergarten with her. When David Joskowicz heard Hania was alive, he came looking for her. They married in a German refugee camp in 1948 and were together till the day he died, decades later.

  Hania's favourite photo of her and husband David, in Europe after the War

Hania's favourite photo of her and husband David, in Europe after the War

AUSTRALIA 

A friend sponsored them to come to Australia. Her husband worked at Smorgon's meats, and then the two of them opened a milk bar and fruit shop in the city, before settling in to the sandwich bar in Lonsdale street which they ran for many years.

Hania and David had 3 children. Neither spoke about their war time experiences. 

To this day, that fabulous smile temporarily disappears when Hania remembers the past and she becomes too sad to talk.

"Better you shouldn't know."
  Hania Joskowicz

Hania Joskowicz

EVA ENGEL 

Sydney grandmother Eva Engel also made kneidlach for our cameras, with two of her grandchildren. Eva remembers the rise of Hitler as a child in Vienna, but hers is an easier story, because her parents managed to leave Europe before the War.

  Eva Engel with 2 of her 6 grandchildren

Eva Engel with 2 of her 6 grandchildren

Eva's father was politically active, campaigning with the social democrats against the Nazis. This meant it was too dangerous for them to stay after Nazi Germany "unified" with Austria in March 1938. In August, her father managed to obtain a visa for a business trip to Switzerland. It was their escape route, though as it was meant to be just a short trip, they were not allowed to take anything valuable with them, including money. 

Eva's uncle came to the airport to see them off, and pressed a small coin into Eva's mother's hand, as a token of good luck. He was spotted giving her "money" and that coin almost derailed their escape. Eva's father was already on the plane when his wife and daughter were taken away to be strip searched.

Luckily, they had brought no other valuables. In the end, the Nazis allowed them to leave. 

REFUGEES

They were now penniless refugees in Switzerland, searching for their next stop. 

"If you didn't get a visa to another country, you were sent back," says Eva. "Nowhere in Europe would take us. My father applied to lots of countries, and because he was a highly regarded engineer, Australia accepted us. But many of the other refugees who were there with us weren't so lucky and the Swiss did send them back."

Jewish Welfare paid for their passage on a boat to Australia. Eva's father worked in a service station, until once World War Two began, he was offered a job in his field in New Zealand. That's where Eva spent the war.

Today Eva works with Holocaust survivors, and dedicates her life to telling the stories of Christians who saved their Jewish neighbours during World War Two.  She also loves cooking with her grandchildren.

DUMPLINGS - THE FACTS

The big question with matzo balls is the ratio of egg to matzo meal, and the kind of fat you use. After that you have to decide whether to add a 'new-fangled' raising agent, like soda water or baking powder.

We've featured a lot of the recipes of Food is Love grandmother Agi Adler who makes hers straight down the line. No soda, no baking powder, and also pretty frugal: 1 egg per 1 cup of matza meal.  Eva Engel uses soda water and melted margarine (or butter) instead of chicken fat, and even less than 1 egg per cup of matzo meal. So far the Sydney grannies are pretty frugal, and their results are good! 

The results with 3 eggs was verging on too eggy for me, so frugal it is. Less is more. I did use the chicken fat which I had skimmed off the soup, and that was a good addition - though not vital. Oil plus soup mix is also just fine. 

The dumpling mix contains chicken fat skimmed from the soup.

So here it is: the final version, a mix of all the grandmothers' recipes, which produces a large fluffy dumpling, including variations for those who like them more substantial.

Matzo Dumplings

Makes 12 fluffy dumplings, Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large fresh eggs (can also use 3 eggs)
  • ¼ cup fat - either a neutral cooking oil, or fat skimmed off the top of the chicken soup mixed with 1 tablespoon oil, or rendered fat, schmaltz, the apex of the pyramid
  • 1/3 cup soda water
  • 1 cup coarse matzo meal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chicken soup powder
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¾ - 1 teaspoon baking powder 

Note: For a sturdier dumpling, which offers something to hold onto, use regular water or chicken broth in place of soda water, and omit the baking powder.

 

 

METHOD

  1. Beat eggs with a fork. Mix in other liquids.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together and add. Do not overmix. As one American cooking writer says, think of them as muffins! Mix as little as possible.
  3. Allow to rest in fridge for at least 2 hours.
  4. Wet your hands, and roll the mix into golf ball size dumplings. If you don’t crowd them in the pot, the ones with baking powder will expand quite a bit.
  5. All the grandmothers do the following: they put the dumplings in a pot of gently boiling salted water – NOT in the soup. They do this so that the soup won’t be cloudy when they serve it. It’s a visual thing. But the dumplings are more flavourful if you cook them in stock. So perhaps separate out a portion of the soup for cooking the dumplings and eat it “cloudy” the next day when your guests have gone!
  6. Whatever you boil the dumplings in, water or stock, they should take about 30 minutes. Test one to make sure they're cooked through. Leave them to rest for 15 minutes and then serve in soup. Or cover once they are cool and add to soup later in the evening, when you are serving dinner. 
  7. Any left-overs can be frozen in a ziplock bag and re-heated when you next need them.

NOTES

When I first posted about matzo balls 15 months ago, I made a few different versions, including whole wheat matzo meal, chicken fat v oil, chicken broth vs water or soda water, and using baking powder for the first time. The ones made with regular matzo meal were a lovely yellow, light, fluffy and delicious. Almost too fluffy. I think the impossible-to-locate-in-Jerusalem coarse matzo meal would give a better result!

Food is Love photographer Dave Mane, whom you could easily describe as a matzo ball maven, insists that taste is as vital as consistency. And he's right. So even if you are using chicken fat or schmaltz, add salt, pepper and chicken soup powder. I used an anaemic parve chicken soup powder, whatever that is, and it really made a difference. The ones without it simply weren't as good.

WHOLEWHEAT

A word of advice. Don’t bother with the whole wheat matzo meal. It makes a very heavy dumpling, even if  you use half whole wheat and half regular. It will need more liquid, both fat and water. I would estimate 1/3 cup fat, ½ cup water – but possibly more. They don’t puff up as much. And there’s no getting around it. They were beige, verging on grey, a downer for a pretty small health benefit. I say go purist on the matzo meal front.

CHICKEN SOUP

This is a quick refresher, just in case you need it, and because my friend Ellen’s mother makes simply outstanding chicken soup. Mary Stewart Krosney is a Southern Belle who converted to Judaism more than half a century ago, when she married Ellen’s dad. Once she did, went about finding all the best Jewish recipes. This chicken soup is a tribute to her determination.

Her secret ingredient is – wait for it - turkey!  Don’t know why turkey bones so ramp up the flavour, but there’s no doubt they do. This is the best chicken soup I've ever made.

This recipe also calls for an entire chicken. But if you have 2 marylands, and other bones from a roast chicken and the turkey necks – toss them all in. This is a forgiving, inclusive soup.

Mary Krosney’s chicken soup

  • 1 chicken, cut into pieces
  • 4 turkey necks
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 onions
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 1 celery root and leaves
  • Optional: parsley, any other greens or veges you have at home
  • water to cover

NOTE: Use a big pot, as this makes a large quantity. The turkey necks will take up most of a small pot just for starters!

METHOD

  1. Cover ingredients in your pot with water (filtered is best) and cook over a moderate flame till it boils, then lower the flame and simmer uncovered for an hour or so. Skim off any dirt you see rising to the top. Leave to cool and then strain.
  2. Put the stock in the fridge overnight. In the morning, skim off the fat. This leaves you a lovely tasty clear broth, as well as providing chicken fat for the matzo dumplings :-)

Happy Passover! Hope this recipe reaches you in time :-)