We compare styles to find the "right" one.
Matzo balls are a staple at every Passover seder. Typically served in chicken soup, they are made from matzo meal and some combination of eggs, liquid, fat, and herbs.
Indeed, one of the most special things about matzo balls is the fact that no two families make them exactly the same—recipes have been tweaked with time and with each new generation to take up the mantle. That’s why for us, the secret to the perfect matzo ball is not the ingredients or the technique (though those certainly play a part), it’s why we use those ingredients and those techniques and the people whose love they represent.
"I prefer fluffy, soft matzah balls. That's how Cousin Joyce always made them, and that's what she's taught all the younger generations of our family. They must be like big, fluffy pillows floating in flavorful broth," says Southern Living Senior Digital Editor Rebecca Baer. For further proof, we spoke to writers and editors about their perfect matzo balls.
The best matzo balls are those that are…
Huge and cuttable
"Though there are plenty of ingredients flavoring the soup as it cooks, you’ll find just a carrot here and there in the bowls of my mom's matzah ball soup. The reason? The ball itself takes up almost the entire bowl, which is just the way I like it. My mom’s often asymmetrical matzah balls are soft on the outside but dense enough that you can slice it into pieces with a bit of pressure from the side of your spoon, and those pieces won’t fall apart as you enjoy the soup. Plus, they’re so big that you never have a broth-only bite.
Not only do I love eating them, but since I’m not making them yet I also love helping serve the bowls of matzah ball soup to my family. I love seeing their greedy eyes mirroring my own as I set down the soup in front of them, knowing that they and I are about to share in the experience of savoring every spoonful.” — A.S.
They're the same thing. We're using them interchangeably here. These are unleavened breads that are eaten during Passover. For matzo balls, the breads are turned into meal and combined with a variety of ingredients to make matzo balls, often to accompany soup.
Light, fluffy, and big
"If you can’t slice the matzah ball perfectly with a gentle press using the edge of your soup spoon, then I don’t want it! Matzah balls should be fluffy and light as a cloud. I like them pretty big, too. Big enough that you really only need one per serving, but not too big that it dominates the bowl and leaves no room for the soup and other goodies floating around in there like tender carrots, herbs (dill and parsley!), and Manischewitz extra fine egg noodles.
"My maternal grandmother is the matzah ball soup matriarch. She’s been making them that way for as long as I can remember, and it’s what everyone looks forward to for each Jewish holiday. She’ll break some out of the freezer from who-knows-when if anybody in the family is sick, too, which almost makes being sick worth it. My mom has unsuccessfully tried to take on the soup torch several times, watching her mother make her famed concoction and taking studious notes since the woman herself refuses to write down her recipe. Grandma measures with her heart rather than any metric, so no attempt at replication ever tastes quite right.
"Matzah balls remind me of comfort and holidays with my grandparents growing up. I think because they’ve been made the same way and served on the same occasions for as long as I’ve been alive, they’re a fairly stable marker of special moments with family to me. They make me feel nostalgic.” — Hallie Milstein, Southern Living Editorial Fellow
Dense in the middle and filled with care
"I have strong opinions about matzah balls, and they are my daughter’s favorite food. She can absolutely make it herself, now, if she wants to, but it's such a symbol of my caring for her that I don't think she's made it in quite a while. There are literally two single-serving containers of it in the fridge right now from a batch I made on Sunday. I even wrote about it in my memoir that came out last year!
"My (unpopular) take? Matzah balls should be fluffy on the outside and have a denser core. I’ve found the best way to achieve this is by using packaged matzah ball mix and chilling the batter for at least 20 minutes before adding the matzah balls, rolled between wet hands, directly to the pot of soup. The instructions for matzah ball mix do include a step for chilling the batter in the fridge for 15 minutes, but years ago, I discovered that a longer wait makes for a denser middle. When I roll the balls, I try not to do it too tightly so that the outside retains a little air—then, when they hit the water, the outside gets fluffy while the middle stays firmer. I won't put the matzah balls into the broth until the soup's flavors have developed.” — Debi Lewis, journalist and author of Kitchen Medicine: How I Fed My Daughter Out of Failure-to-Thrive
Cooked often and always different
"I make matzo balls once a week and am obsessed with my recipe. I just like having them on hand and having some at the ready if anyone gets sick or needs a pick me up. My recipe is 100 percent my own, although based originally on the version my sister makes every year for Passover. She’s very particular that it looks just so, which I love.
"I personally think the old-school classic style is for Passover, but the rest of the year can be as whimsical as I want. I like mimicking the kind of Southern variation from Birdie G’s in Santa Monica—they add pecans, and it’s fabulous. I also do a lemon-turmeric version with carrot-dill matzo balls." — Rachael Narins, chef, culinary educator, author of Cast Iron: The Ultimate Cookbook and founder of culinary company Chicks with Knives
Those shared with friends (while thinking about others)
"I grew up with both the light-and-fluffy style—especially in the soup at seders with my mom's Eastern European family—and with the dense version prepared by my German-born paternal grandmother. In fact, having recently reconnected with a lot of my grandmother's relatives, I've realized that the dense version is definitely a German-Jewish tendency. This version can easily be its own side dish, which is how we typically consumed them. One year, when a blizzard prevented the (otherwise catered) seder meal, including soup with the fluffy version, from getting to our doorstep, the 'dense' version my grandmother had prepared and brought to our house became our main course. 'Good thing I brought my balls,' Grandma said, to giggling from the adolescent peanut gallery.
"These days, I'm usually a guest at seders. My grandmother has been gone for 20 years, and I tend to attend seders where the lighter ones are served in the soup. But I do miss the heavier ones. — Erika Dreifus, author of Birthright: Poems and fellow in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute
Mixed just so
"I follow the proportions on the matzah meal can with the following idiosyncrasies: Use only Planter’s peanut oil. Use seltzer for the liquid. You can also separate the eggs and add the yolks to the oil and water and add the meal. I beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then fold them to the mixture, then refrigerate well. I figured out the part about separating the eggs and beating the whites to soft peaks. It was an experiment, and it worked well, but the rest came from my mom and grandmother. The seltzer was from my Russian grandmother, and I still do it—as opposed to my English grandmother who added white pepper to her matzah ball mix. That, I never cared for." — S.J. Schwaidelson, author of The Pomegranate
Made with a secret ingredient
"I make fluffy matzah balls, to a recipe that I got from my grandma—but she probably took from a can or box somewhere, we all know how that goes. It's still my grandma's recipe, and that's that. The so-called secret ingredient is a little bit of powdered ginger. I make them separately, then add them to the soup—but leftovers get frozen in the soup for next week, which is how my husband likes them best, when he can get them. — Maya Resnikoff, rabbi and Jewish educator
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