I am so lucky to count Nava Atlas (and her talented artist husband Harry C. Tabak) among my close friends. With her many talents – multi-cookbook author, non-fiction author, fine artist, book designer and more – I may have been expecting a bit of a diva when we met but this brilliant, clever woman is absolutely down to earth. Her cookbooks offer recipes that are simple enough for everyone to make, satisfying and delicious.
Nava has been writing and illustrating her cookbooks since 1984. Her first cookbook, Vegetariana: a Rich Harvest of Wit, Lore and Recipes, was her first and her newest book will be launching fall 2019. I cannot wait to see it. I use many of Nava’s cookbooks and on my bookshelf, too, is Nava’s Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife: All the Dishes You’ll Need to Make from the Day You Say “I Do” Until Death (or Divorce) Do You Part. It is a hoot! Get this book if you can find it!
I am thrilled that Nava is the February guest blogger in my Fabulous Women in Food series. She chose a perfect recipe for this snowy day. With my sniffles hanging on, I will be making this soup for dinner. Look for Nava’s new website new website, The Vegan Atlas, and her forthcoming book, 5-Ingredient Vegan, to be published in the fall of 2019. Don’t miss the giveaway for her book Wild About Greens at the bottom of the post.
Vegan Matzo Ball Soup
When Fran Costigan asked me to guest post on her blog, the first thought that came to mind was to share my recipe for vegan matzo ball soup. I know that Fran has served this to her family for Passover on occasion, which flatters me greatly! It’s still a few weeks away from Passover, which this year starts on April 19th. But matzo ball soup is one of those comforting, traditional dishes that can —and should — be enjoyed any time, not just during the holiday. Same goes for latkes, tzimmes, and hamentaschen. And you don’t have to be Jewish to love these traditional foods, which are all so easy to veganize.
Veganizing matzo balls
Veganizing matzo balls, simple as they are when all is said and done, was surprisingly challenging. I first started to explore ways to make vegan matzo balls when I was developing recipes for Vegan Holiday Kitchen(2011). What I found all over the web were vegan matzo ball recipes made with tofu. For many Ashkenazi Jews, even nonreligious ones, this isn’t acceptable, as beans and bean products (including soybean-derived tofu) aren’t consumed during Passover week. Not only that, but tofu-based matzo ball tend to fall apart when cooked in broth, resulting in an unappealing slurry at the bottom of the pot.
Egg is what binds traditional matzo balls together, and that’s the tricky ingredient to replace. Powdered egg replacer doesn’t work. Normally, cooked oatmeal is a great binder in place of eggs (that’s what I use for latkes) —but oats aren’t allowed for Passover, either. After almost giving up on the task, Seth Branitz, co-owner ofin New Paltz, suggested that I tried quinoa flakes for making vegan matzo balls, and they worked like a charm. That’s what I’ve been using ever since.
Quinoa, ancient grain that it is, has become the new kid on the block for use during Passover, a holiday week when many (if not most) grains and grain products aren’t used. In the Sephardic tradition, there’s more leeway. Why quinoa is acceptable and other grains aren’t has a complicated answer that I’m not equipped to give. Suffice it to say that quinoa is now just as welcome at the Passover table as it is at any other meal of the year. Ancient Harvest®; some are Kosher for Passover, but it’s not clear whether that utmost designation applies to their quinoa flakes. ® also offers Kosher for Passover quinoa products, and that includes their quinoa flakes.
Vegan matzo ball recipes on the web have evolved since my initial research, thanks to the explosion of food blogs run by curious and determined vegan cooks. Some use potato starch (which is fine for Passover), which seems like a good solution and one I’d like to experiment with.
But for now, I’m sticking with my quinoa-based matzo balls. And since I’m already being non-traditional, they’re baked rather than cooked — I’m still nervous about the falling apart factor. I’ll admit that these aren’t like your Bubbe’sbig, fluffy matzo balls. But neither are they cannonballs. They’re easy to make and quite tasty, adding a huge comfort factor to any kind of broth-y soup.
Vegan Matzo Balls
- 1 cup quinoa flakes
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 cup matzo meal (or see gluten-free variation, below)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil (such as safflower)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- A few grindings of black pepper
- Pinch each of onion and garlic powder
- In a large mixing bowl, cover the quinoa flakes with the water. Let stand for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Stir in the matzo meal mix along with the remaining ingredients, and mix until well blended. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
- Just before baking, preheat the oven to 275º F.
- With clean, dry hands, roll the matzo meal mixture into approximately 1-inch balls; don’t pack them too firmly. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, carefully turning the matzo balls after 10 minutes, until firm to the touch; don’t let them brown.
- If making ahead of time, let the matzo balls cool completely, then cover until needed. Warm them briefly in a medium oven and distribute them among the soup bowls, allowing 3 or 4 matzo balls per serving.
- Variation: To make these gluten-free, substitute 1 1/4 cups quinoa flakes for the matzo meal. Don’t add them to the original quantity of quinoa flakes; this is a separate measure to use dry. A bit more is needed than the quantity of matzo meal for the purpose, as the quinoa flakes are less dense.
Simple Vegetable Soup with Vegan Matzo Balls
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- One 32-ounce carton vegetable broth
- 6 medium potatoes, peeled and finely diced
- 6 to 8 medium carrots, sliced
- Handful of celery leaves
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose seasoning blend
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, or to taste
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Vegan Matzo Balls (above)
- Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and celery and sauté over medium heat until golden.
- Add the broth, potato, carrots, celery leaves, seasoning blend, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a rapid simmer, then cover and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
- Stir in the dill, then season with salt and pepper. If time allows, let the soup stand for several hours off the heat to develop flavor. This can also be made a day in advance.
- Just before serving, bring to a simmer. Adjust the consistency with more water if need be, and taste to adjust seasonings. Add warmed matzo balls to individual servings of soup.
Nava Atlas is the author of many vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. Her books went vegan at the same time she did — the early 2000s. Her most recent titles are Plant Power, Wild About Greens, Vegan Holiday Kitchen, and Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for all Seasons. Her forthcoming book, 5-Ingredient Vegan, will be published in the fall of 2019.
Nava’s new website, The Vegan Atlas, just launched in January of 2019. Wearing her nerd hat, she also runs Literary Ladies Guide, a site dedicated to women’s classic literature. In addition to her involvement in all things vegan, she creates visually driven nonfiction books for the trade and limited editions for public and university collections.
Wild About Greens
Nava is generously offering a copy of her book Wild About Greens to one lucky blog reader. Follow the instructions below to enter. Contest ends at midnight on February 27th. U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!