Matzoh balls, or knaidlach, are a classic Ashkenazi soup dumpling. As their name suggests they are made from matzoh, the flat bread that is eaten on Passover instead of leavened bread. While they are certainly a traditional Passover food, it wouldn’t be unusual to see matzoh ball soup on the menu on any major Jewish holiday. I don’t think I am wrong in saying it is one of the more beloved foods in the Jewish arsenal.
Matzoh balls are made of some combination of matzoh meal (ground matzoh), eggs, and fat. The fat is traditionally schmaltz, or sometimes the vegetarian replacement, Nyafat. More recently, many families have replaced the schmaltz with ostensibly healthier oils. The mixture is rolled into balls and then boiled in chicken soup. But lest you think there is any uniformity in matzoh balls, I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. As the joke goes, ask two Jews, get three opinions. The major debate: some prefer a light, fluffy, melt-in-your mouth matzoh ball; others like a chewy, dense one. If you grew up on fluffy matzoh balls, you might assume that dense matzoh balls are a mistake – a badly followed recipe, a poorly beaten egg – but there are plenty of people who prefer their matzoh balls to have a little bite. I come down firmly in the dense matzoh ball camp, myself. Which is lucky, since gluten-free matzoh ball mix is pretty dense.
Making a vegan and gluten free version of matzoh balls turned out to be a more difficult proposition than I had imagined. The problem is, making a gluten-free matzoh ball is hard enough. I will say that over the past few years there has been an increasing number of gluten-free passover products available, including gluten free matzoh meal. (I have yet to try to make a matzoh ball out of gluten free matzoh meal). And Streitz makes a gluten free matzoh ball mix that’s pretty decent. But if you don’t want to use a mix, or if a mix isn’t available, you have to get a little creative.
The most common replacement I have seen for matzoh meal in gluten free matzoh balls is almond flour. This produces a tasty and dense matzoh ball. But those recipes rely on egg, so I needed to find a binder. I have also seen recipes making gluten free matzoh balls out of potato, and there is a traditional German dumpling made this way. Ideally, potato would make the matzoh ball a bit fluffier. I also saw a few recipes calling for quinoa flakes. I thought using a combination of almond flour, mashed potato, and quinoa flakes might produce a passable matzoh ball, but when I pulled out the quinoa flakes they were expired and smelled a bit off. So I had to make do with just the potatoes and almond meal, and a bit of extra potato starch. I figured that would still work.
It didn’t. Try boiling it for even 5 minutes and the whole thing literally disintegrated. I was able to fish out a small, dense matzoh ball that had what looked like tiny tapioca balls stuck into it. I tried more almond flour. Same thing. This was depressing. Time to go back to the drawing board? And then I had a thought – what if I baked it? One of the recipes that I saw – the one that used quinoa for a binder – actually did call for baking the matzoh balls. So inspired by VegKitchen’s recipe, and a few potato-puff recipes, I baked the matzoh balls. I used a mini-muffin tin, which worked out nicely to keep their shape, but I expect a cookie sheet would work just as well.
Success! After 25 minutes they were firm on the outside but still fluffy and held together fine. They don’t stick much in a greased pan, but if they stick a bit, just slide a spoon underneath to release. Unfortunately, if you drop them into boiling soup they soon disintegrate, but it’s not an unpleasant disintegration. If you’re a fluffy-matzoh-ball lover, you might actually want to soak these in the hot soup for 2-5 minutes. If you like your matzoh balls with a bit more texture, drop them into your soup just before eating.
Incidentally, the matzoh balls make kind of amazing snacks, all by themselves.
The “chicken soup” is nothing fancy, but a bit of nutritional yeast and some soy curls elevate it from just a basic veggie broth. It’s not a clear broth, owing to the nutritional yeast. If you prefer your soup to be thinner, use only half of the veggies and soy curls, and maybe dilute the broth out a little bit more. This was a big hit at home; my daughter actually took a bite and exclaimed “yum!” (well, actually it was “yum, chicken!”) and ate almost all of it. This soup would also be great with rice or noodles instead of matzoh balls.
- 2 russet potatoes
- 2 tbsp vegan butter spread or shortening
- ¾ c almond flour
- 2 tbsp potato starch
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- Peel and chop the potatoes. Add to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes or until tender when pricked with a fork. Mash the potatoes with the butter and then cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking pan, or a mini-muffin tin.
- Add the almond flour, potato starch, salt, and pepper to the mashed potatoes. Stir well until combined. Roll into small balls of 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter. Place on prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
- 8 cups water
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 potato, chopped
- 8-10 baby carrots or 2 large carrots
- 2 bay leaves
- 6-8 mushrooms
- 2 tsp chopped garlic or 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 1 recipe of broth
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup of carrots cut into coins or half-moons
- ¼ yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped tarragon, dill, or parsley, minced
- 1 cup soy curls
- Place broth ingredients up to garlic in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Add nutritional yeast and salt to taste and boil for another 10-15 minutes. Strain out the vegetables and discard.
- Pour the strained broth back into a large soup pot. Add 1-2 cups of water, or more, to taste. Add the fresh chopped carrots and onions to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes. Carrots should be soft and onions should be transparent.
- Chop up your herb of choice and add to the broth in the last few minutes of simmering.