This year’s Passover holiday ended almost a month ago and, much like the thrifty shopper who stocks up on wrapping paper the day after Christmas, this thrifty cook headed to Jewel and came home with a year’s supply of matzah.

Matzah (there are other spellings, but this is a preferred one) is the flat, unleavened bread that is central to the seder, the ritual banquet that occurs on the first night (sometimes first two nights) of the eight-day Passover celebration. The primary observances of Passover relate to the Exodus from Egypt after years of slavery. Matzah recalls the haste in which the Israelites fled. Incidentally, leavened foods of any kind, called chametz, are strictly forbidden during Passover, and in the days leading up to the holiday, orthodox Jews must clear their homes of all chametz.

Matzah is made from nothing more than wheat flour and water, rolled out and baked crisp. It comes in various forms, including thin flat crackers, matzah meal and matzah flour. It can be made with salt, eggs, onion or garlic, but trust me, plain, unsalted matzo is the best one to use in your cooking.

Matzah is used in a variety of foods, including matzah balls, gefilte fish, potato pancakes (latkes) and matzah brei, another Passover dish in which pieces of matzah are soaked in hot water, squeezed dry, then dipped in beaten egg, fried, and typically served with honey or cinnamon sugar.

Matzah balls (knaidlach), are round, small dumplings, traditionally made with matzah meal, whole eggs, chicken fat (schmaltz), water and a pinch of salt. They’re one of my all time favorite foods, especially when I find them in a steaming hot bowl of homemade chicken soup.

Almost every box of matzah meal has the recipe printed on the back, and you’ll find numerous variations in which chicken stock or seltzer replaces the water, or margarine or vegetable oil is substituted for the chicken fat. Chicken fat (my first choice) gives the best taste and is available at specialty stores and some supermarkets.

Deborah Silberstein, my former student and colleague at Kendall College, gave me this delectable recipe for an Eastern European version of matzah balls that was handed down to her by her grandmother, Edna Zacharias. Whole sheets of matzah are used in place of matzah meal (which makes a denser dumpling), and Deborah’s aunt, Fran Zacharias, later substituted margarine for the schmaltz. Here’s the original recipe.

What else can I say? Enjoy!

Grandma’s matzah balls

Makes 9 to10 balls

9 sheets of matzah

1/2 cup melted chicken fat

4 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup matzah meal (approximately)

Soak the sheets in cold water until soft.

Squeeze out the water.

Add the melted fat to the matzah.

Add the eggs and salt.

Mix until completely combined.

Gradually add enough matzah meal to be able to
form a dumpling.

Roll into balls about racquetball size.

Place in boiling salted water and simmer
10 minutes.

Remove and add to hot chicken soup.

Note: You can keep matzah balls, “dry” in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to one week. Any leftovers should not be stored in the soup.

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...