Thursday, January 22, 2009

Matzo Ball Soup



Though I am a shiksa, raised by a shiksa, matzo balls did make the occasional appearance in my house growing up. My sister's godfather is a Jew (ponder that one for a minute!) and there was a period where ToastMom was in charge of the soup at his Passover festivities. But I didn't really understand the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into a real Passover matzo ball until I married one of the Chosen People.

I awoke in New York on the morning of a seder and emerged from the bedroom to find the Human Vacuum's mom on the floor of her kitchen trying to strain chicken broth through cheesecloth, which involved lifting the biggest stock pot I have ever seen. She was on the floor because she's 5 feet tall on a good day and 100 pounds on a bad day, so the counters were too high for this activity.

I chipped in that day, and have helped make the soup for every seder hosted by ToastMom-in-Law ever since. I may be a gentile, but I have known the anxiety of waiting for the matzo balls to float on Passover. I have strained chicken broth in the early morning. I have suffered for this marvelous, perfect soup. Which is it should be.

Tales of soup-based heroism aside, matzo ball soup should not be reserved for Passover. It has all the healing powers of chicken noodle soup (indeed, it is known in some circles as Jewish Penicillin). And it's not hard to make if you have the chicken broth already on hand.

You should give it a try. Or, in the idiom of the ethnicity responsible for the soup: Eat! You look thin!

***
Matzo Ball Soup

For the soup:
In a large dutch oven with a lid, warm over medium heat:
1 Tablespoon olive oil or schmaltz (chicken fat)

Add and saute until soft:
2-3 large carrots, cut into coins
2 medium onions, minced
2-3 ribs celery, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

Then add:
2-3 quarts chicken stock
(NOTE: If there is one place to use real, homemade stock, this is it. That said, broth from a can or box is fine. I personally wouldn't bother with bouillon broth, but it would work in a pinch--if, say, the sun is going down on Passover and you have no soup.)

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add:
1 teaspoon dried dill, or 1 Tablespoon fresh dill
Generous salt and pepper

You can leave this simmering as long as you like, or no additional time at all. Whatever your schedule demands.

For the matzo balls:
Start these about an hour before you want to eat, though most of that time does not require your attention. I buy a box of matzo ball mix (not the soup mix, just the balls), but you could also buy matzo meal in its raw form. Both will have directions about how to turn the mix into matzo balls.

When the directions call for refrigeration, don't skimp. That part is important to the eventually fluffiness of your creation. The recipe will also call for oil. If you have homemade chicken stock and, like me, you've been too lazy to skim it before freezing, scrape off the fat and use that instead.

Make the matzo ball mix, refrigerate as instructed, then form into 1 inch balls. Wet or oil your hands before rolling the balls. It's less sticky that way. Drop them all in the simmering pot with the broth and close tightly. Cook for 20 minutes.

Serve piping hot. Eat. Feel happy. Then guilty. Then happy again.

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Iveta Ramallo said...

I loooove matzo ball soup! so salty and delicious. My mom simmers her matzo balls directly in the stock instead of boiling them separately, which is something you might try. Never heard the seltzer thing – great tip! I’m seriously craving some matzo ball soup now. I always find myself eating bits of the matzo batter before I have cooked it. I’m not sure if my mom ever made it! I like to experiment with new things though.

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