The Passover seder is said to be vegans’ toughest event, especially for the more stringent types who don’t eat kitniyot (legumes). And even harder for those who avoid gluten.
This year I decided to crack the riddle of the seder for vegans. In the first and most difficult stage, I called Gal Barzilai of Tel Aviv’s Mezze restaurant and asked him to teach me how to make a happy chicken soup (very happy as far as the chickens and eggs are concerned, since they are left out of the soup). I went to him because he is a vegan, an expert on soup, and because his wife, Efrat, is sensitive to gluten.
First we made a soup that looks and tastes like chicken soup, but with no trace of chicken in it. Knowing that the two of us had long forgotten what real chicken soup tastes like, we invited three experienced and discriminating tasters (whose identities and skills will be revealed later). There was total consensus among the three – All agreed that the soup was marvelous.
Then came the matza balls
Gal and I were raring to go on. I said matza balls reminded me of my early childhood, a magical time when I didn’t turn up my nose at anything. How time flies. For Gal, however it was a case of better late than never. He had no idea what matza balls were supposed to taste like – both because he grew up in a Mizrahi family in the days when each ethnic group only ate its own foods, and because he became a vegetarian before he began to remember flavors, such as the flavor of chicken soup and the things that float in it.
And as I suddenly wondered what I was thinking when I chose Gal of all people to assist with this very Ashkenazi journalistic assignment, and what I could do about it, I heard a loud derisive snort followed by a big laugh from our photographer, Tomer Appelbaum. He had agreed to be a taster, but couldn’t lie, and bluntly reported that what he’d just eaten was no matza ball and nothing like a matza ball.
Taken aback, but not ready to give in, we took our poor, disparaged matza balls to my brother, who has been known to make and eat matza balls himself. We served him a bowl of soup with the aforementioned spheres and this is what he had to say: “The soup is good. The matza balls are awful.” Still not deterred, we went to my father – the man who taught my brother how to make matza balls according to my late mother’s recipe. I expected him to be a little more compassionate regarding our honest attempt at modification. But still sharp as a tack at 95, he too decreed: “This is not a matza ball.”
Dejected, Gal and I returned to the kitchen and he got busy adjusting the concoction. Then we went back to our tasters, and this time they sang a different tune: “It’s better than the original,” said Appelbaum, my father and brother. The latter also asked for the recipe. And Gal and I, after eating these new matza balls, had to admit that the first batch was – let’s say – a tad problematic. A happy ending? Well, not quite. Because our new and improved version of the matza balls won’t work for those who don’t eat legumes on Passover.
For the soup:
Vegetables (peeled and diced):
2 large onions
1 large celery root
2 medium potatoes
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 heaping tsp ground
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp salt
a little ground white pepper
Saute the onion and carrot in a little olive oil, then add the celery root and parsnip. Cover and continue sautéing for five minutes; this will bring out the sweetness of the carrot and onion and enhance the flavor of the root vegetables. Add the seasonings and potatoes, then add a liter of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for half an hour on low heat.
For the matza balls:
110 grams rice flour
20 grams teff flour
30 grams potato flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 scant tsp aluminum-free baking powder or baking soda
50 grams diced celery root (about half a medium-size head)
50 grams onion (about half a small onion)
100 grams cooked whole-grain rice (1/2 cup)
80 ml water
50 ml olive oil
2 tsp minced parsley
Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Grind the celery root, onion, rice, water and oil with a mixer until you obtain a smooth mixture.
Combine the dry and wet mixtures. Add the parsley, knead gently and set aside for 15 minutes.
In a large, wide soup pot, boil some water (at least 7 centimeters deep) with a little salt and a bay leaf added. With wet hands, shape the matza balls (they should be slightly smaller than ping pong balls) and gently drop them into the pot one after the other. In less than a minute, they will float. If any get stuck to the bottom of the pot, use a wooden spoon to free them.
Continue cooking at a gentle boil (so they don’t fall apart) for 15 minutes, then drain and set aside.
The sooner they are eaten, the tastier they will be.
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