When I started thinking about this post, I had some really grand plans about a thorough discussion surrounding Jewish foods, how we are losing this vital tradition, and what we can do about it. Well, the fact is, I’m not Jewish, and I don’t know much about Jewish foods and traditions. I’ve read a few books, been to my fair share of Seders (because it’s Northern California, these Seders usually involved a haggadah with surfing rabbis and vegan “lamb” shanks), eaten at the 2nd Avenue Deli, and know just enough to understand why you don’t mix dishes in a kosher kitchen.
And, thanks to a great friend of mine, what I also know is matzo (or matzoh, as your style demands) ball soup. And here’s the thing, like this post, matzo ball soup is simple. Straightforward. And like all simple and straightforward things, it is infuriatingly complicated and varied, because for as many Jewish grandmas are out there, there are just as many methods of producing this elixir of comforting golden goodness.
There is a ton of meaning behind the matzo, why it is the way it is, and why we use it the way we do. I’ll beg your indulgence in the following extremely simplistic explanations. The most common historical reason that matzoh continues as part of the tradition is as a reminder of the exodus from Egypt, when such haste was required that they could not wait for the bread to rise (this has led to a rule that if your batter for matzo sits for more than 18 minutes, it is no longer kosher for passover). It also symbolizes humility, servitude, redemption, and freedom. While matzo is used in a variety of ways (kosher for Passover cakes, as a substitute for flour or pasta, etc.), one of the most common ways of using matzo is to make dumplings with the ground up crackers. It’s fast, and it’s easy, even for an Irish girl like me.
So, how do you get your hands on some of this action? Slide on over here, bubbeleh, and let me let you in on the big secret:
What you will need:
- One bowl
- 1 good-sized pot
- 1 medium pot
- Measuring spoons
- Wooden spoon
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ cup matzo meal
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. seltzer water or club soda
- 1 qt. chicken stock
In your mixing bowl, beat the eggs and oil together. Then, add the matzo meal, salt, and seltzer water. Mix with a wooden spoon until just combined (don’t over mix, or you’ll lose the bubbles from the seltzer, which keeps your matzo balls a little lighter). Cover the bowl and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
While the dough is chilling, fill your good-sized pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rapid boil. You want a pot that is relatively large for the purpose, so that the matzo have room to move around and grow to their full potential. If you only have a smaller pot, make a smaller batch of matzo. You can’t fake this step, and you can’t do it in stages (because who wants to be sitting there, staring at someone with soup, while they wait another 40 minutes for their bowl of golden deliciousness?).
Once your dough is chilled, get yourself set up with some counter space. Wet your hands, and using the tablespoon, scoop out some dough and roll it between your palms until you have a nice, golf ball sized matzo ball. Repeat until you have used all the dough, wetting your hands when they get dry, or the dough will stick to your hands, and then you just have a big ol’ mess. On your hands. Ba dum dum.
Now that you have all of your balls (and really, I’ve gotten this far without making a ball joke?), put them all in the boiling water, and slap a lid on that pot. Let them go for at least 40 minutes. I know, it will feel like foreva, but trust me, you can hold out. It’s totally worth it.
While your matzos are boiling, take your second pot, and use it to heat your chicken stock, and taste for seasoning. If you want to add chicken, mirepoix, bay, or whatever, now is your chance. Personally, I’m a purist, and go for just the matzo and the stock, preferring to forgo obstacles.
Once your matzo balls are done, place the requisite number into your preferred vessels (soup bowls, cereal bowls, and if you are me, a TUREEN), and ladle the stock over them. Garnish with parsley if desired.
I like to eat this soup in front of a mirror so that I can enjoy the shining glow on my face while I consume it.