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, N.Y., correctly spelled k-n-a-i-d-e-l, he was crowned winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But the news was not all good, at least for the knaidel. The Jewish food was defined in many accompanying stories as a “small mass of leavened dough.” [http://bit.ly/knaidel1] That sounds more like something you’d want removed surgically from your body, rather than what you’d hope to find floating in steaming bowl of chicken soup.
So for Arvind – and anyone else in search of the perfect knaidel, a.k.a. matzah ball – here are some ideas. Start with the Jewish Food Matzah Ball Archives where you’ll find recipes for more than three-dozen varieties, including Golden Centred, Herbed, Gluten Free and Cajun with Green Onion. [http://bit.ly/knaidel2]
To prepare the perfect knaidel, you need more than just a recipe – you need technique. If you don’t have a bubbie handy, there are dozens of videos online, but the one I found irresistible is titled “You’re Doing It All Wrong – How to Make Matzah Balls.” [http://bit.ly/knaidel3] Advises Joyce Goldstein:
• 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 Goldstein. [http://bit.ly/knaidel4]
Could a food really be Jewish without some kind of debate? Thankfully, knaidlach 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.” Read her article to find out how things turned out. [http://bit.ly/knaidel5]
As you’re preparing matzah balls, I suggest watching the spelling-bee video as Arvid 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, 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 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]
Go Arvind! Go knaidel!