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