Snowy with a chance of matzah balls


IT IS a lit­tle-known fact that it is more likely to snow at Pe­sach than it is at Chanu­cah. Well I think it is a fact — I cer­tainly re­call read­ing some­thing along those lines a cou­ple of years ago dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly chilly early April, when matzah ram­bles were in­ter­rupted by icy gale-force gusts and frozen flur­ries. The thing is, when it is parky in spring it some­how feels colder than sim­i­lar weather in De­cem­ber. By the be­gin­ning of April I am al­ready men­tally shed­ding lay­ers, turn­ing down the ther­mo­stat and pre­par­ing for those long, balmy evenings, so when that last cold snap of the year kicks in, I am al­ways caught by sur­prise.

Well, not this year. The wool­lies and win­ter coats will be at the ready as will a steaming casse­role for­ti­fied with kosher-for-Pe­sach rib-stick­ers. As far as I am con­cerned the high­light of Pe­sach is knei­d­lach. These heav­enly dumplings are far too good to be re­served just for the chicken soup. They are also won­der­ful in most stews. The one I have in mind is a Hun­gar­ian goulash — a tra­di­tional cen­tral European dish which has been fully em­braced by Jews over the gen­er­a­tions. In Bu­dapest they of­ten serve the stew with home-made dumplings and it also goes beau­ti­fully with a kneidl or two.

Tra­di­tion­ally Jewish goulash is made with beef, but back in Hun­gary they use any meat they can get their hands on. So I tried it with lamb and it worked a treat.

To make enough for four, start by fry­ing a finely chopped onion and a cou­ple of cloves of gar­lic, to soften but not brown them. Mean­while, in a sep­a­rate pan, fry 1kg of boned lamb shoul­der, cut into cubes. Best to trim off any ex­cess fat first, oth­er­wise the sauce could end up too oily.

Add the meat to the onions in a casse­role and sprin­kle over a gen­er­ous cou­ple of ta­ble­spoons of pa­prika, a tea­spoon of crushed car­away seeds (these are kit­niot, so omit them if you go by the Ashke­nazi tra­di­tion) and two sliced roasted red pep­pers — you can roast your own pep­pers but the shop­bought va­ri­ety is per­fectly OK). Add a ta­ble­spoon of tomato purée and 100ml of white wine.

Sim­mer for a cou­ple of min­utes, then cover with wa­ter, bring to the boil, sea­son well and pop the goulash into the oven (pre-heated to 150°C/gas mark 3) and leave it for a cou­ple of hours.

Mean­while, pre­pare your knei­d­lach. Jewish cooks can be sep­a­rated into two groups — those who make their knei­d­lach purely with matzah meal and those who add ground al­monds. I’m in the ground al­monds camp — they add flavour and make the matzah balls so light and fluffy they al­most float out of the pot when you open the lid.

The recipe is sim­ple. Beat two eggs and whisk in two rounded ta­ble­spoons of soft­ened chicken fat (prefer­ably) or mar­garine. Add 100g matzah meal, 50g ground al­monds, a pinch of salt and white pep­per and half a tea­spoon of ground gin­ger. Then stir as you mix in enough warm wa­ter so the mix­ture re­sem­bles a thick cake bat­ter — the con­sis­tency should be a lit­tle too sloppy to form balls. Cover the mix­ture with cling­film and cool in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

When the goulash has half an hour left to cook, take the kneidl mix­ture out of the fridge, form into golf-ball-sized spheres and place them on top of the stew. Re­place the lid and cook for 30 min­utes un­til the knei­d­lach are fluffy and im­bued with goulash flavour.

Serve the steaming goulash and eat while watch­ing the snow set­tle in the gar­den. And if, by any chance, Pe­sach co­in­cides with an un­sea­sonal heat­wave, well I sup­pose you could try put­ting the knei­d­lach on the bar­be­cue.

Pip­ing-hot goulash: ideal food for April weather

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