Served in chicken soup, matzo balls are dumplings made of matzo meal (ground matzo), egg, oil, water and flavoring. Also known by their Yiddish name, kneidelach, they are considered a staple Ashkenazi Shabbat food. The word kneidel (singular for kneidelach) is a cognate of the English word “knead,” which makes perfect sense considering that they are kneaded into shape.

Matzo Ball Tips From an Experienced Kneidelach Kneader

  • You can purchase matzo ball mix at the grocery store and follow the instructions on the box, which are generally very simple, or you can make your own out of matzo meal (ground matzo). The choice is yours.
  • Matzo balls are: a) boiled and b) served in chicken soup. Many people just boil them in the soup. This is both easy and ensures a flavorful kneidel. The problem is that it may alter the flavor of your soup (and render it glutinous to boot). For this reason, some people prefer to boil their matzo balls in a separate pot of hot, salted water. This is great except that the kneidelach are somewhat less flavorful, and you are left with an extra dirty pot to wash.1
  • When you knead your kneidelach, your fingers will get sticky, so you might want to use disposable gloves.
  • Any good chef can tell you that a chicken soup needs to boil for a long time to become really flavorful. Not so the matzo ball. When cooking for Shabbat, it is a good idea to get your soup simmering on Thursday night, and then let it cool overnight, but only toss in the matzo balls on Friday afternoon.
  • You want your matzo balls to be fluffy? Knead them with seltzer instead of water. Also, make sure the soup is boiling when you drop them in.

Check out our favorite chicken soup and matzo ball recipes

Matzo Balls on Passover

In many Jewish homes, matzo balls are a Passover specialty. Since many of our regular sources of carbs are forbidden for the duration of the holiday, matzo balls floating in Bubby’s chicken soup is the stuff of childhood memories.

But there is a problem. Many communities, chassidic ones, in particular, have the custom to refrain from eating gebrokts during the first seven days of Passover. Gebrokts is a Yiddish word that refers to matzah that has come in contact with water. It literally means “broken,” and it has come to mean “wet matzah” because matzah is usually ground or broken up into crumbs before it is mixed with water.

Thus, many chassidic families either forgo kneidelach on Passover or make them out of ground chicken or potato starch.

Here is a classic mock matzo ball recipe

Yet, on the eighth day of Passover (which only occurs in the Diaspora), even these communities eat gebrokts, and kneidelach are restored to their place of honor in the golden chicken broth.

Read more about the custom of gebrokts