Matzo ball soup is a Jewish phenomenon. It all started thousands of years ago when the Jewish people enslaved in Egypt were granted their freedom. Moses led them out of Egypt in a hurry, afraid that Pharaoh would pursue them. In their haste, there was no time to let their bread rise. Matzo is the unleavened bread that resulted. Passover is the holiday that commemorates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt and fittingly, matzo plays a starring role. During Passover, Jews all over the world honor the memory of the exodus by foregoing any leavened foods. When flour and water mix, fermentation can occur, which in turn causes leavening. Matzo is produced in accordance with very specific conditions that ensure no fermentation. Thus matzo, and its derivative products, are the only flour-based foods allowed during Passover.
This year Passover starts on Monday March 25th. The first traditional Passover meal, or Seder, is Monday night. I made my chicken soup and matzo balls a week early. They freeze well and I love to cross things off the long list of things I have to do to prepare for a Seder. The next thing I’ll make is the brisket, which also freezes well. By the way, if you’re undecided about what brisket recipe to use, my favorite brisket recipe ever (and I’ve tried dozens) is Nach Waxman’s brisket.
After you pour the soup through a strainer, you will have a whole tender chicken to use for something else. I often make BBQ Chicken Enchiladas or chicken salad.
Matzo balls consist of matzo meal (ground up matzo), eggs, oil or chicken fat, water, and salt. It’s a pretty simple formula. There are differing opinions on the ideal texture of a matzo ball. Some like sinkers – dense and chewy. Some like floaters – light and fluffy. It all probably has to do with what you grew up with. I like my matzo balls somewhere in the middle – substantial, but on the light side.
There are a good number of steps involved in making a beautiful pot of matzo ball soup, but it so worthy the effort. It’s is always a star of the meal. The kids at the table often request seconds and thirds on matzo balls plus I send them home with a bunch.
I’m curious if most non-Jewish people have tried matzo ball soup. If it hasn’t transcended its Jewish roots, I think it should. It’s absolutely delicious and everyone should have it!
- 1 chicken (3½ - 4 pounds) cut into 8 pieces
- 3 carrots, peeled and chunked
- 3 stalks celery with leaves, chunked
- 2 parsnips, peeled and chunked
- 2 small onions or 1 large, cut in half
- 1 medium turnip (white & purple) cut into large chunks
- ½ bunch parsley, rinsed
- ½ bunch dill, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- Matzo Balls
- 4 Eggs
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 4 tablespoons cold seltzer or sparkling water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- ⅔ cup matzo meal
- A medium bowl of ice water (for dipping hands)
- A large pot, half filled with lightly-salted water
- Salt and pepper
- Prepare the chicken soup: Put the chicken and vegetables into a large soup kettle or dutch oven. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 10 cups cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered. After 10 minutes skim the white foam that rises to the surface. Continue to simmer, uncovered, for an hour longer (or up to two hours for a more concentrated broth)
- Remove chicken from the pot. Reserve for another use, such as bbq chicken Enchiladas or chicken salad.
- pour the broth and vegetable through a strainer. Vegetables will not be needed for this recipe. Defat the broth either by skimming the fat that comes to the surface or by chilling the soup in the refrigerator over night. The chilled fat will form a solid layer on the top, which is easy to scoop off.
- Make the matzo balls: Once the soup is cooking, start the matzo balls. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and oil until combined. Add the seltzer, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Slowly sprinkle in the matzo meal while whisking with a fork, until it's fully combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water on the counter near the stove. Take the matzo meal mixture out of the fridge and set it near the ice water. Dip your hands in the ice water. Scoop a heaping teaspoon of matzo dough into the palm of your hand and roll lightly with wet hands. It should be about the size of a ping pong ball. (It will get much bigger when it's cooked) Drop the ball into the boiling water. Repeat with all the matzo dough. You should have about 15-18 balls. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook the matzo balls for 45 minutes.
- Bring chicken soup to a boil. Ladle 1-cup portions into bowls. Using a slotted spoon, add 1 or 2 matzo balls to each bowl. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with a sprig of dill or parsley, if you like.
- Matzo balls can be cooled and stored in the fridge in their salty water for 24 hours. They can also be frozen in salty water. Chicken soup can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. It also freezes really well. To reheat: heat soup and matzo balls in separate pots. Serve in bowls, as above.