Good for Body and Soul
I slurped my first bowl of matzo ball soup when I was 40-some years old. It was at Westwood and our host insisted that those at our table each have a bowl. I wasn’t sure. But after inhaling the heavenly aroma and downing several spoonsful, I was hooked.
Our host referred to the soup as “Jewish penicillin.” He said it was especially good for sniffles and scratchy throats that were unable to be treated successfully by modern medicine. (Data now confirms the soup is good for a cold.)
I thought of the magical medicinal broth recently, when I needed some throat and nasal relief. Hmm . . .where to begin? I wrote to my friends Rachel Storch and Inda Schaenen to get the low down from those, who grew up on the chicken-vegetable soup.
A Soup for All Seasons
Inda emphasized the preferences of families. When it comes to the traditional soup, she said that there are firm adherents to different cooking methods and ingredients. Some want their matzo dumpling the size of a tennis ball. Others prefer a more petite size. Fluffy orbs floating in the broth are favored by some rather than an al dente version.
Inda offered to have me over for soup some cold, wintry day. And Rachel sent her family’s favorite recipe. I felt like I was standing in her kitchen in New York as she recounted a typical version of the soup.
Here’s How She Put It . . .
“First, I get a big pot, so I can make enough broth to freeze. The matzo balls can be made ahead and frozen, too. I cut up a whole chicken and cover it by 2-3″ of water. Then I add a full tablespoon of kosher salt, bring to a boil, and let the broth simmer at least 30 minutes.
During that time, she strains off some of the fat, known in the Jewish world as ‘schmaltz.” Both Rachel and my friend, Wilma Pasternak, emphasized the importance of taking time to do this step.
Below is the broth recipe that Rachel sent me. A similar version is shown in both Bon Appetit and The New York Times.
Matzo Ball Soup
- 1-2 large onions, with skin on (important)
- 1 whole head garlic
- 2-3 large peeled carrots
- 2-3 stalks celery
- 1 turnip, peeled and quarters,
- 2-3 peeled parsnips (sometimes I use leeks)
- Dill and flat parsley tied in a bouquet garni
- Salt & pepper to taste
Rachel continued: “Sometimes I add a potato, but my aunt prefers a sweet potato. And sometimes I add a peeled and quartered rutabaga. (I forgot to leave the onion skins on, since my lifelong habit is to peel them. I don’t know what extra goodness they bring. If you do, let me know.)
Rachel said she simmers the mixture for a few hours, or more, straining off the fat as needed. “Once its cooked, I take the chicken from the pot, remove the meat from the bone, and discard the herbs.
“I sometime turn the veggies into a pureed soup. Before serving, I like to roast carrots, celery, and onions to add back to the broth to further enhance the flavor.
Fluffy or Firm?
Rachel also noted: “If you like the fluffy version of matzo balls, The Second Avenue Deli here in New York City offers a fabulous take on the recipe. But a store-bought mix calling for eggs, oil, and water is perfectly acceptable. My kids love this soup.” Note: Matzo balls are made with matzo; dumplings with flour.
An Ancient Soup Still Enjoyed
It’s been said that “matzo ball soup is the chicken and dumplings that Moses ate.” Maybe that’s why the ancient soup reminds me of my mother’s fluffy dumplings floating on top a rich, chicken broth. Hmm. . . maybe I grew up eating a version of matzo ball soup and didn’t realize it.
Be on the Lookout!
Acclaimed chef-restauranteur Ben Poremba is opening a Jewish deli on Delmar in the spring of 2023. Deli Divine will be located on the street level in space where St. Luke’s Hospital used to be.
Along with other deli favorites, he’s offering matzo ball soup! I’m looking forward to getting some of the therapeutic broth for my refrigerator and maybe my medicine cabinet as well.