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Perfect matzoh balls

25 Mar

Passover Matzoh BallsIt’s time to start thinking about Passover. (I know — ugh!) With less than three weeks left, those of you who observe this annual frenzy of cleaning and eating are probably planning your seder menus. For almost everyone, matzoh ball soup will be featured prominently. In case anyone out there doesn’t already have the perfect matzoh ball recipe, I thought I’d tell you how I do it.

But first of all a caveat: I can give you instructions, but getting a perfect matzoh ball is almost more a matter of intuition than a recipe. Ask my daughter; she followed my recipe a few times with disastrous results, because she didn’t yet have the “feel” for it.

The secret is to make the matzoh ball mix just firm enough. Too soft, and your matzoh balls will fall apart. Too hard, and your matzoh balls will bounce. (Of course some people like them chewy. Me, I like them so fluffy that they seem to melt in your mouth.) Because of the size of the eggs, or because some of us don’t measure exactly, the mixture can be different from time to time. After you mix the matzoh meal into the egg mixture, it should feel firm but loose — not soupy, and not hard to stir. If it seems too loose, add a sprinkle more of matzoh meal. Too firm, add a teaspoon or so more water or broth. After you’ve made matzoh balls a few times, you’ll know what this mix should feel like, and your matzoh balls will be perfect every time.

The best matzoh balls are made with rendered chicken fat (schmaltz). But how many of us cook with chicken fat any more? I used to use fake chicken fat called Nyafat that you could buy in the grocery store, but they stopped making it a few years ago. I’ve seen recipes with oil, which I think is too liquidy. You can use margarine, which is what I do at Passover, though during the year I prefer to use solid vegetable shortening, which has the same consistency, if not the flavor, of chicken fat.

I like large matzoh balls and serve one per person. If you prefer, you can make them smaller and give everyone two. This recipe makes eight large matzoh balls. It can easily be halved if there are just a few of you or doubled to serve 16.

Ingredients:

4 eggs at room temperature
4 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. chicken fat, shortening or margarine, melted
4 Tbs. chicken soup or water
2 tsp. salt
1 cup matzoh meal
1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped fine, optional (or 1/2 tsp. dried)

Directions:

Beat the eggs and then beat in the fat, the chicken soup or water and the salt. Sprinkle in the matzoh meal and the chopped parsley if you use it,  and stir quickly with a fork so that there are no lumps. Add a sprinkle more matzoh meal if the mixture seems too loose.

Place plastic wrap on the surface of the matzoh and press down to remove air. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, and up to a few hours.

Fill a large saucepan (a Dutch oven is good) with water and heat to boiling.

Wet your hands and form round balls with the matzoh meal mixture. You can drop them in the boiling water as you make them, or place them on a plate or board until you’ve made them all to assure a uniform size.

Put the balls in the boiling water. Within a minute or two, they should float to the top. If any balls stick to the bottom of the pot, give them a little nudge with a wooden spoon to loosen them. When the water returns to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover the pot loosely.

Cook for 40 minutes. Remove the matzoh balls with a slotted spoon to a pot of chicken soup. You can serve immediately, or reheat the matzoh balls with the soup. (If you haven’t made the soup yet, place the matzoh balls in a large covered container, cover them with water, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.)

Serves 8

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Passover Granola

28 Mar

Passover GranolaI was a little hesitant about trying to make granola out of matzo. If you’ve ever tried one of those Passover cold cereals you’ll understand! But there’s a new product out this year called Matzola, a granola-like snack. I had a sample at a women’s event a few weeks ago and it’s very tasty. Only problem is it costs about $7 for a small can. So I went online to look for a recipe for Passover granola and found this one that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. It’s very nice mixed with yogurt for breakfast — and it’s also a tasty snack!

Ingredients:

2 cups matzo farfel
1 cup unpeeled almonds, cut in half or coarsely chopped
½  cup shredded sweetened coconut
½ cup honey
¼  cup oil
½ cup raisins
½ cup diced dried apricots

Directions:

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the farfel, almonds and coconut in a large bowl. Pour in the honey and oil and mix well. Let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (It tends to get cooked faster at the outer edges of the baking sheet. Check it frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn.)

Add the raisins and apricots and toss well. Transfer to a platter and cool completely. (It will seem a little “wet” when it comes out of the oven, but it gets more solid as it cools.) Store in an airtight container.

Israeli Carrot Salad with Parsley and Pomegranate

24 Mar

Israeli Carrot SaladI got this recipe from a newspaper article on Rosh Hashanah foods, but it’s also great at Passover!

Once you peel the carrots, separate the pomegranate seeds from the pith and separate the parsley leaves from the stems, it’s a snap to make this salad with a food processor! (Helpful hint: cut the pomegranate in half and then put the pieces into a large bowl of water before breaking them apart. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the pith will float to the top. Skim off the pith, and then drain the seeds in a strainer or colander. This will keep your hands, clothing and counters from getting stained with pomegranate juice! Or you can splurge and buy pomegranate seeds at a specialty food store like Trader Joe.)

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic
½ bunch flat parsley, divided
1 lb. carrots, peeled
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. orange juice
4 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. salt
Several grinds of black pepper
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup golden raisins

Directions:

Place the garlic and all but 2 Tbs. of the parsley in the bowl of a food processor and chop well. Add the carrots, lemon juice, orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pulse until the carrots are chopped into small pieces but not pureed. Mix with raisins and pomegranate seeds and sprinkle with reserved parsley.

Serves 6

Almond Cookies (OK for Passover!)

18 Mar

Almond CookiesHooray, I made a recipe last week that can be used on Passover! But you don’t have to be kosher-for-Passover or even Jewish to enjoy these delicious almond cookies.

We had a friend coming for lunch who is gluten intolerant, which limited our options for dessert. I decided to make this very easy recipe for Passover almond cookies, even though it wasn’t Passover yet, because they really are good enough to eat all year round. They contain no matzo flour, so they don’t “taste like Passover.”

This was the first time I made them with cardamom, because I don’t have kosher-for-Passover cardamom. It gave the cookies a very pleasant, distinctive flavor. I also make them without the almond flavoring for the same reason. I planned to add it this time, since it wasn’t Passover yet and I have lots of almond extract in my pantry — but I forgot! During Passover, I often add a bit of cinnamon to the mix.

If you use a food processor to grind the almonds yourself, pulse it in short bursts. You want the almonds to be very finely ground, but you don’t want them to turn into a paste! I usually splurge and buy packages of ground almonds, even though that’s a lot more expensive.

This is adapted from a recipe in The Jewish Holiday Cookbbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

Ingredients:

2 large egg whites
⅔ cup sugar
½ tsp. almond flavoring (optional – may be hard to find for Passover)
2 cups very finely ground almonds
1 Tbs. potato starch
¼ to ½ tsp. ground cardamom or cinnamon (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Whip the egg whites until they turn white and start to increase in volume, but not until stiff. Stir in the sugar and mix well, then mix in the remaining ingredients. The “dough” will be a very thick paste. With moistened hands, form small balls and place them on ungreased baking sheets about 2 inches apart. (You might want to put parchment paper on the baking sheets to make it easier to remove the cookies.) Flatten the cookies slightly with moistened fingers.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cookies are firm and very lightly browned. Use a metal spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheets (I’ve found turning the spatula upside down is helpful here) and cool on wire racks.

Makes about 24 cookies.