My dear friend, Krista, recently shared with me that she is battling brain cancer. After going through a wave of emotions and expressing appropriate concern, my first instinct was to make her matzo ball ball soup. While what she is dealing with is way beyond the rumored healing powers of Jewish Penicillin, and since I have no training in oncology, it seemed an appropriate way to to provide a small amount of caring and comfort while she recovers from her surgery. Also the incessant rain called for something warming and cozy. She also requested my matzo candy, and a brain tumor seemed like a pretty good reason to make an exception to my rule of only making it during Passover, but she is the only one getting it. The rest of you will have to wait until the end of March. I’ll also wait until then and let Gordon give you the history of matzo (the bread of affliction), and share my theory that the only reason we don’t eat grain during Passover is because our ancestors ran out of it by that time of year, so today I’ll focus on the soup itself.
Pretty much any Jewish cook worth her salt should be able to make matzo ball soup. It is a staple at any Jewish deli, the Passover meal, many a Shabbat dinner and basically anytime a Jewish kid shows any sign of the sniffles. The soup should be a chicken broth, possibly with some veggies like carrots or celery, and the matzo ball are made with a combination of matzo meal, oil or schmaltz and eggs. Beyond that there are a plethora of variations for what is ultimately a very simple dish. There have been long running battles over the preferredness of “sinkers vs. floater” which is usually an indication of the density of the dough, and “big vs. small”. Krista claimed to like them all, but I fall into the big, floater camp and have concluded that the key to floaters is baking powder. Others will claim using seltzer water, but I fail to see how the carbonation will continue to provide levity after 20 minutes of boiling, but many people swear by it.
Hidden among her otherwise rational and delightful qualities, Krista has a phobia of eating chicken with the bone still in, or pretty much any meat that reminds her it was once an animal. She will seriously only eat boneless breasts or cut up pieces of chicken and I have managed to scare her out of a kitchen with the sight of raw chicken thighs. I had a fleeting thought that this might have been a symptom of the brain tumor but alas… even with the cancer removed she is still clinging to this habit. So as not to risk her being unable to enjoy her soup, I am going to refrain from posting photos of making the stock and my flying chicken routine and refer you back to Gordon’s schmaltz and stock recipe. Here’s hoping she is on her way to a full recovery and “a gezunt ahf dein kop” (a Yiddish health blessing that literally translates to “good health on your head”)
If you are making stock specifically for this recipe, I recommend using a few thighs as they render out a good bit of fat for the schmaltz and then you can use the meat in the soup. Also, if you can’t find matzo meal you can grind up a few matzo crackers in a food processor until it is a coarse powder.
Matzo Ball Soup
for the soup
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- chunks of chickens
- cut up carrots and/or celery
for the matzo balls
- 3 eggs
- 3 Tbs schmaltz or vegetable oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/3 cup matzo meal
- 3-6 Tbs chicken stock
- In a medium bowl beat eggs. Add schmaltz or oil, salt, pepper, onion, garlic and baking powders and whisk until combined with eggs. Gently stir in matzo meal and add stock until it is completely moistened. Let dough stand for 30 minutes or you can refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
- Bring your stock to a soft boil and add chicken and vegetables.
- Using wet hands roll the matzo mixture into balls (they will double in size when cooked, so I make mine about 2 inches)
- Gently place the balls into the boiling stock. Cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes.
- They are then ready to be served. Store leftover balls separately from the stock otherwise they will continue to absorb the stock and turn into monster balls. Alternately you can freeze them in a single layer in a zip-top bag and reheat them in stock.