The best matzo balls I've ever eaten are made by my grandmother, Nana Melonosky. They are light as cumulus clouds with a deep flavor and an "al dente" bite. On a recent visit to Brooklyn, I spent a few glorious hours in my Bubby's kitchen making the perfect bowl of Passover matzo ball soup.
Leaden versus fluffy? Sinkers vs. floaters? Nana has a strong opinion. She reminded me that a hard-centered matzo ball killed my Uncle Murray Mazer back in 1987. An autopsy revealed that a leaden matzo ball had become lodged in his colon, causing "blockage and such pain, you shouldn't know from." Carbon dating traced the ball back to April 1957. The traces of dried parsley and club soda identified my Aunt Sheila as the most probable suspect.
I asked Nana if her secret was club soda.
"Uch! That farshimmelt idea wasn't new in the 50's. Drek mit leiber. Come tatelleh, let Bubby show you how to make the best matzo balls ever."
So that you may serve your family a bowl full of love and deliciousness during the coming holidays, I have translated my Nana's pinches of this and handfuls of that into a recipe you can duplicate in your home.
Nana's Perfect Passover Matzo Balls
Preparation Time: 6 hours
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup matzo meal
4 eggs separated, whites beaten to soft peaks
A shmear of chicken schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
1/2 cup finely minced white onions (use a grater)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1. In a large bowl combine all ingredients except the egg whites and onions.
2. Carefully fold in the egg whites.
3. In a large frying pan render down 1/2 pound bacon, preferably wood-smoked. Discard bacon. Cook the onions in the bacon fat until translucent. Add everything to the bowl and barely combine.
4. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.
5. Fill your biggest pot with water and bring to boil. With wet hands, form the mixture into the size and shape of one of Natalie Portman's pert, Jewish breasts. Put gently in the pot. Repeat. Cook for 45 minutes.
Serves: 6 hungry bulvans, 4 drowsy alta kockers, 3 gentiles, and 4 kvetching yentas with their "Uch, can I get a half a ball, bubbellah? They go straight to my hips and no carrots, they give me gas."
I was shocked when I saw Nana use the flour and the bacon. Nana explained, "The goyim know a thing or too about making dumplings so I borrowed some ideas. The flour lightens up the matzo balls. You add matzo meal to water, whatta you get? You get cement! Good for making pyramids, not so good for fluffy matzo balls. And the bacon? What isn't better with bacon?"
I asked her about keeping Kosher, especially during Passover. Nana gave an argument worthy of a Talmudic scholar, "Everyone starts out being good but by the third day? Enough with this matzo already. If you're gonna cheat anyway, why ruin a perfectly good seder? As Rabbi Jose, the Gallilean said, "What they don't know, won't hurt them."
Given that this is my Jewiest post ever I'm providing my non-Jewish readers with a Yiddish glossary.
Bubby - grandma
Farshimmelt - confused, mixed up
Drek mit leiber - shit with liver
Tatelleh - little father, affectionate
Schmear - dollop
Shmaltz - in this instance, chicken fat
Alta kocker - literally, an old shit or old fart
Bulvan - man built like an ox
Kvetching - complaining
Yenta - gossipy female
Uch - oh my
Bubellah - sweatheart usually used for grandchildren
Goyim - gentiles
Leybikhe - lioness