Thursday, April 24, 2008

Modern yet Comforting Matzah Ball Soup, by a first-timer

Let's do the sensual before the esoteric for once, shall we? Sort of retroactively taking up Psychgrad's suggestion to do the food before the ritual. :)

Do is now addicted to this Matzah ball soup. He has literally eaten it for three out of the last four meals, and has added it to his mental "must repeat once a month" list. Which is about as successful as a recipe can get in our house!

The soup itself is scarily easy to make (more on that later) and yet has a surprisingly deep chicken-y flavor. This is no insipid liquid that barely hints that someone may have once waved a chicken over it. This is punch-you-in-the-face chicken flavor. This may be because you add chopped roasted chicken late in the game (Thank You, local super market rotisserie!), which comes with its own set of spices and flavors that boiled chicken just doesn't have. The behind-the-scenes support staff, the veggies, are also doing more than their fair share of the work in the flavor department, I speculate because they get chopped very very finely in the food processor. As a result, more flavor leaches out of the veggies into the soup and you aren't distracted by hunks-o-veggie while eating. Oh and I speculate that my soup (above) would have been almost as clear as the Food & Wine photo (below) had I not spontaneously added chopped mushrooms to mine.

The Matzah balls, Do assures me, were also a success. They're spongy and light, yet they soak up chicken soup like a camel in the desert (Manna for my Men and Matzah ball soup for my Horses? No? No one listens to Toby Keith here? Maybe that's just Do's bad taste rubbing off on me). So it's like biting into chicken soup in solid form. I think they look kinda ugly, maybe like brains, but Do assures me that Food&Wine must have used golf balls in their photograph (see left), because no one's Matzah balls look that good. I think that this was my first attempt ever at Matzah balls, so they'll only get prettier with more attempts.

The last component, the dill-horseradish pistou, was really what took this version of the age-old classic to the next level. It was brilliant. It's essentially a pungent sauce exploding will dill and horseradish flavor. Extremely refreshing, extremely interesting, and forcefully inserts a light, fresh flavor into the otherwise heavier flavor of chicken soup. It reminded me of Scandinavian flavors. And it's beautiful. An impressively insightful modification to the classic: it takes chicken soup from the realm of the stuck-in-bed-with-the-flu and elevates it to High Holy day mode. Congratulations, Food & Wine, you really outdid yourselves on this one.

It was scary as shit to make though; at least 4 times during assembly I was convinced that it would be a total failure. The pre-cooked Matzah balls had an odd consistency and wouldn't really hold their shape. And then, I was convinced that they would stick to each other while simmering, and that I'd wind up with one giant glob-o-Matzah at the bottom of my pot. And then, I was pretty sure they looked like brains. And then, the chicken soup itself is so scary simple that I was sure it would taste just like tinned chicken stock. Let us say, it was an experience replete with adrenaline rushes.

Now for the mildly esoteric. I think it really says a lot about Judaism as (interchageably) a religion, a faith, and/or a family heritage/identity that Chicken Soup, chicken soup, is traditionally served on one of the High Holy days. It's in no way glorious, awe-inspiring, or intimidating. Instead, the focus is on a dish that is comforting and home-y, that creates the feeling that you are taking care of/being taken care of by the family and friends around you. I mean, it's soup, for goodness sake! It excels at producing warm and fuzzy feelings! How cool that it's traditional to serve a dish that brings out and prioritizes those sentiments. I dig that. I'm a-ok with religious observances that revolve around chicken soup.

(And yes, Matzah Ball Soup is traditional only among a subset of Jewish families, particularly those of Ashkenaz descent. For all I know, other Jewish cultures may serve a different dish that is equally warm and fuzzy. Me and my WASP-y preconceptions are taking this all in from a very subjective point of view. Speaking of which, if you want to read more about our intimate Monday night Seder, be my guest!)

The original version of this recipe comes from the Food & Wine magazine, but the version below represents my improvements (er, modifications).

Matzah Ball Soup with Dill-Horseradish Pistou (F&W claims that it serves 4, we found it served 6)

For the Matzo Balls:
4 large eggs, beaten
Half of 1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup seltzer or club soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cups Matzo meal

For the Pistou:
1/2 cup extra-virgen olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped dill
2 Tbs finely grated horseradish
1 garlic clove
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper (we used Lemon pepper, since we had some on hand)

For the soup:
Carrots, finely diced (I used all our leftover carrots, which was probably 1/2 pound. Allow me to recommend the food processor)
Other veggies, finely diced (F&W used a medium turnip and a celery rib; I used 4 leftover button mushrooms).
3 quarts chicken stock (F&W recommends homemade; we are lazy and used storebought)
4 cups diced chicken (3/4 inch) (we highly recommend buying a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, as it saved you time and tastes better than boiled chicken)
  • Make the Matzo Balls: In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the olive oil, salt, seltzer, pepper, and ginger. Add matzo meal and stir until moistened. Refrigerated until firm, at least two hours.
  • Line baking sheets with wax paper. Scoop the Matzo meal mcture into 1" balls (really. Keep 'em small. Unlike with cookies, bigger isn't better.). Using lightly moistened hands, roll the matzo balls until smooth. Transfer to the baking sheets and refrigerate the matzo balls briefly.
  • Meanwhile, make the pistou: In a food processor, pulse the olive oil with the dill, fresh horseradish, garlic, salt and pepper until the dill is finely chopped and a sauce has formed. (At this point, you can stop and fridge everything overnight if you wish).
  • In a large pot of boiling salted water, simmer the matzo balls over very low heat, covered, until they are plump and cooked through, 25-30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat the stock. Add the finely diced vegetables, cook 5 min until crisp-tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the matzo balls to the soup; simmer for 5 more mnutes. Add the chicken and cook until heated through.
  • [You may want to let the chicken sit in the soup for a bit (10 min), to let the flavors mingle. I had to because Do was late coming home, and I think it made a big difference]
  • Serve the soul in bowls with a dollop of dill pistou.


Psychgrad said...

Ok...I'm going to be a chicken soup snob. Yeah, I know...coming from the one who posts hashbrowns and canned cream of mushroom soup...I have a lot of nerve.

Homemade chicken soup broth is all the rave. Well, not really. But it's better than store bought cannned stuff. I recommend using kosher chicken - it gives a much better flavour. I also include some turkey bones (with or without meat on).

Good job on the matzo balls. It is fairly easy to screw them up - but usually it only results in hard-as-puck-like balls of matzo.

melissa said...

mmmm. between you and psychgrad I'm set! I did get seltzer for the matzoh balls, I heard it makes them light and fluffy. wish me luck!

That Girl said...

You hit the nail on the head with the description of the usual broth. I love matzah ball soup - but I only eat the matzah balls and leave the broth because its always so tasteless.

giz said...

I second Psychgrad's comment about a kosher chicken. Of course I think I drilled that whole concept into her head after it was drilled into mine so who knows - we could both be out in left field. BTW - after a gazillion years of making matzo balls, mine turned out like golf balls this year and everyone looked at me like I had committed the cardinal sin of the century.

katiez said...

Well done!
I have not only never cooked with Matzah - I've never even tasted it...
Can't imagine why not. Yours looks and sound delicious
And, I'm assuming, nothing caught on fire??? (previous post)
Mon mari did some lovely sausages last year that turned into such good charcoal they could have been used for the next fire!

Shaun said...

Neen ~ When I first made matzo ball soup last year, I thought my matzo balls looked ridiculously (and, like you, I posted my experience). Since then, I have gotten a handle on making the knaidlach, which look as good as the ones from the magazine you cite (yours will, too!). I am tempted to make a variation recommended by Claudia Roden that uses chicken fat...maybe when Winter has well and truly enveloped my Auckland home. As for making chicken stock, I always use the carcass of one chicken for flavour and a few extra wings on for their gelatinous-giving properties and added flavour (all in the fat). I hope this becomes a new ritual, cultural observation or otherwise.

Pixie said...

Hi Neen,

I may just possibly add this to my long list of challenges.

Glad to hear you're interested in baking along with us as for making pie - I say get ready made puff pastry lol and try the apple pie recipe I have on my blog. ;)