I completed my doctorate degree at Yeshiva University in the Bronx. One of the things I remember most, (aside from the cost), was not the education, but the extraordinary matzo ball soup in the cafeteria. I never had lunch in the cafeteria without enjoying it. This was years before my culinary interests took a more serious turn so I never queried how it was made. At the time I was more than satisfied to simply savor the soup and temporarily escape the grueling schedule, the horrendous commute, and the prospect of student loan payments for decades to come.
Matzo, also spelled matzoh, but either way pronounced maatsa, is a flat, brittle unleavened bread. It is the traditional food of Passover. Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates the exodus and freedom of the Israelites from Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of Nisam, the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar. This important event hallmarks the birth of the Jewish nation. Matzo commemorates the unleavened bread eaten by the Israelites. As the story goes, the Israelites fled so hurriedly that they didn’t have the time necessary to allow leavened bread to rise. According to the Halakha, the compendium of Jewish laws, matzo is made from only flour and water.
Matzo meal is ground matzo. It is used for a variety of preparations including thickening soups, stuffings, cakes, breading foods, and latkes, the delicious Jewish potato pancakes. Matzo Brei is the equivalent of Jewish French toast or scrambled eggs depending on the technique you choose. The former is made by soaking matzo in water, dipping it in egg and then pan-frying it. Like French toast, it is sweetened with sugar or honey and served with syrup. The latter combines the soaked matzo (sometimes in milk instead of water), with beaten egg and then cooked like scrambled eggs.
And that brings us back to my favorite; namely matzo ball soup. Matzo balls are made from matzo meal, eggs, some form of fat, and seasonings. They are then served in chicken broth to complete the soup. Although water can be used they taste best when simmered in the chicken broth they are to be served in.
An ongoing matzo ball debate is whether the balls should be “floaters”, (light and fluffy) or “sinkers” (heavier and firm). An even greater debate is the deliberation over which techniques to employ to create floaters and sinkers. After perusing many websites and discussing the issue with other food writers and Jewish cooks, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no consensus of opinion. For sinkers recommendations include chilling the mixture for less time, using more eggs, reducing cooking time, increasing the amount of matzo meal, and intermittently leaving the lid open during cooking. For floaters the advice runs the gamut of rapidly beating the egg, separating the eggs and beating the whites, mixing the eggs into the meal gently, and adding seltzer to the mix.
I did try the seltzer approach and produced a meal so loose that it would not even form balls let alone floaters. With the exception of the seltzer technique I have not tested all the different permutations, nor am I inclined to. I like sinkers and my recipe below is sure to give you little Titanics. My recipe adds more egg, and particularly egg yolk to the traditional mix. Although I prefer heavier matzo balls, what I’m really after is a richer taste. The yolks do both however. Egg yolks which are higher in fat, not only add more flavor, but also contain lecithin, a natural emulsifier. The extra lecithin intensifies the binding of the ingredients and hence the heftiness of the matzo balls.