The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz
It may not be a famous Jewish food like challah, blintzes or latkes. Heck, it may not be even be the most famous Jewish food that starts with a “k” like kugel, kishka or kreplach.
But thanks to an odd conjunction of one quiz and one whiz kid, the lowly knaidel has been catapulted into the stratosphere of international media.
When 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali of Bayside Hills, NY, correctly spelled k-n-a-i-d-e-l, he was crowned winner of the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee.
But the news was not all good, at least for the knaidel. The somewhat obscure Jewish food was defined in many accompanying stories as a “small mass of leavened dough (http://bit.ly/knaidel1).” To me that sounds more like something you’d want removed surgically from your body rather than what you’d hope to find floating in a steaming bowl of chicken soup.
So for Arvind — and anyone else in search of the perfect knaidel, aka matzah ball — here are some ideas.
Start with the Jewish-food Matzoh Ball Archives where you’ll find recipes for more than three dozen varieties including Golden Centered, Herbed, Fat Free, Gluten Free and Cajun with Green Onion (http://bit.ly/knaidel9).
To prepare the perfect knaidel, you need more than just a recipe, you need technique. If you don’t have a bubbie handy, you can watch videos of experts only too happy to tell you their secret tips (http://bit.ly/knaidel3). There are dozens of videos but the one I found irresistible is titled You’re Doing It All Wrong — How to Make Matzoh Balls.
Joyce Goldstein advises:
• Don’t overbeat the batter!
• Don’t over compact the mixture!
• Don’t cook them directly in the chicken soup!
For advice on what you should be doing, you’ll have to spend three minutes with Joyce (http://bit.ly/knaidel4).
Could a food really be Jewish without some kind of debate? Thankfully, knaidelach fit the bill with a controversy between proponents of “floaters” and advocates of “sinkers.” Sarah Kagan grew up with floaters, “about two inches in diameter and as light as clouds, they disintegrated into a delicious fluffy mass in her chicken soup.”
And then she married into a family whose “matzah balls were the polar opposite of my mother’s: The size of golf balls and almost as hard, they had to be skewered with a fork while digging in with a spoon, to avoid shooting them out of your bowl and across the room.” You’ll have to read her article to find out how things turned out. And don’t get Sarah started on using schmaltz versus oil (http://bit.ly/knaidel5).
For many people, the perfect knaidel activates more than just the salivary glands. It brings back memories, as we hear from food writer Norene Gilletz who relates a knaidel story from her friend, Monty.
“My mother’s matzah balls were huge and wonderful. I can still remember exactly how they tasted. They were light and fluffy, bigger than a golf ball, but slightly smaller than a tennis ball. If her matzah balls were good, then all would be right with the world for the next year. But if her matzah balls weren’t good, there would be worry and concern over what might befall us until next Pesach!”
Gilletz continues, “Monty still likes his matzah balls to be big and fluffy, but he makes them from a mix. They come close to his mother’s version in appearance, but he admits they are missing that special something that only a mother’s touch can produce (http://bit.ly/knaidel6).”
As you’re preparing your own matzah balls, I suggest watching the spelling bee video as Arvind Mahankali ponders how to spell knaidel. He asks for information about the word’s etymology and for usage in a sentence.
This was the example provided: “Max hoped to find at least one more knaidel in his soup bowl but all he discovered was his missing lower denture.”
After some giggling, and a bit of hemming and hawing, Arvid gives it a shot and scores (http://bit.ly/knaidel7).
If Arvind is looking for just one more knaidel-related challenge, here’s a suggestion. According to the International Federation of Competitive Eating, Joey Chestnut walked away with the top prize at the Kenny & Ziggy’s World Matzah Ball Eating Championship in Houston a few years ago. Chestnut ate 78 matzah balls in eight minutes. “They were just under the size of a baseball. I was as full as heck (http://bit.ly/knaidel8).”
Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.