Warm, seasonal and tasty Pumpkin Soup
The prevalence of New World fruit and vegetables Old World cuisine in is a continual source of wonder to me.
Stop and think for a moment what Italian cooking would be like without tomatoes, Szechuan, Indian or Thai cooking without the various forms of chili peppers, and of course some much of the cooking of Northern Europe would feel empty without the ubiquitous potato. We should add to that list the pumpkin. A member of the squash family, it finds many places in the cuisine of North Africa. From the many slow cooked stews served with couscous to the wonderfully sweet and satisfying pumpkin soup. [For more pumpkin ideas check our our kugel, pie and challah]
As you try to add a bit of Jewish flair to your Thanksgiving celebration, let me urge you to chuck those poor, tired (and perhaps even huddled) matzo balls and whip a bit of this seasonal soup that was a staple of the Sephardic kitchens of Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. This soups appears in several forms in both Joan Nathan and Claudia Roden’s cookbooks and even makes an apprearance in Gourmet’s last collection of recipes published just before the magazine was shuttered.
In this recipe I added butternut squash to the mix, but feel free to experiment with what is in season and tastes good. Some recipes call for chunks of meat- if you go that route, use something tough and fatty that will braise in the soup. Beef chuck, or veal shoulder are both great choices. Stay away from turkey though- except for the legs, it really doesn’t braise well and you should really save that for the entrée.
Links of raw sausage
“It tastes like chicken”- how any times have you heard that? The implication of course is that chicken is so tasteless that any bland tasting meat (rabbit, squab, etc) could be easily substituted for it. Just take a look at the chicken sausages that populate the supermarket with their array of strong seasonings (basil garlic, Gouda apple, teriyaki). This runs counter to the principle of a good chicken soup. A good soup tastes definitively like chicken. My question was could I create a sausage that tasted that much like chicken that there would be no mistake about what it was made from.
mmm... matzo ball soup
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”)
kreplach in soup
The weather in Nor Cal has turned chilly and I have been nursing a cold for the past few days, which has been making me crave soup. My mother used to make giant vats of vegetable soup on Sundays and then expect me to eat it for the rest of the week, which I found to be somewhat tedious. Due to this trauma (I’m totally joking, mom), I like a little something of substance in my soups, like meat or seafood, and will rarely eat the same kind two days in a row. I started the week with creamy tomato with grilled cheese, then Thai Tom Kha Gai, followed by clam chowder, and today I am making kreplach in chicken soup. Kreplach are basically Jewish wontons or ravioli. They are a simple egg pasta dough filled with meat, cheese or potatoes. They can either be boiled in broth and then served as a soup or boiled in salted water and then sauteed and browned in schmaltz to serve as a side dish. (According to my dad, this was my Bubbie’s preferred method) Kreplach are popular as a pre-fast dish on Yom Kippur and the cheese versions are traditional at Purim. I made beef stuffed kreplach in chicken soup (aka Jewish Penicillin). Kreplach originated in Eastern Europe as a way to use up leftover meat and sure enough I had all the makings in my kitchen already. I had about 1/2 pound of ground short ribs in the freezer left over from burger making and a gallon bag of frozen chicken stock cubes from my last batch of stock. (Gordon has a good recipe for chicken stock under his schmaltz post) Every Jewish cookbook I consulted had a kreplach recipe and there was little variation in the dough recipes with the exception of quantity. Some were enough to feed an army but given how finicky I am about soup I went for a smaller portion. The filling variations were endless, including chicken liver, and mushrooms, but I went for the basic ground beef.
recipe after the break