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Flavorful Matzo Ball Soup

Flavorful Matzo Ball Soup

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In a small pot, add the 4 tablespoons of chicken broth and set over medium flame until it is reduced in half to 2 tablespoons. Pour into a glass and set in fridge until it reaches room temp.

Whisk eggs, 1 ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, ginger, and chopped herbs in a bowl until well mixed.

Stir in matzo meal and reduced chicken broth. Add duck fat or schmaltz and stir in well. Cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge overnight.

In a large pot, set 5 quarts of water along with the chicken broth, carrot, celery, and parsley or dill over a high flame and cover until it comes to a boil.

Add a small handful of salt to the boiling water/broth as if it were pasta water... it should taste salty like the sea.

Using wet hands, form the matzo meal into imperfectly shaped balls, about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place each one in the boiling water/broth. Stir to make sure they don’t stick.

Cover and cook for 50 minutes.

Cut one open to make sure it is fully cooked. If not, cook them for a few minutes more.

Lift out of water with a slotted spoon and place 1 or 2 in a serving bowl.

Garnish with a little chopped parsley.

Note: If you are not serving them immediately, just keep drained matzo balls in a covered glass bowl until you are ready to use them.

I Thought I Hated Matzo Balls Until I Made Them with Fresh Herbs and Seltzer

A cross-country relocation away from family in 2011 left me, as the stay-at-home parent, suddenly responsible for replicating traditional Jewish foods for our holiday celebrations. The only problem? I… don’t like most traditional Jewish foods.

From noodle kugel to smoked lox to sweet potato tzimmes, I couldn’t stand my own people’s comfort food. I felt like an impostor. A poser. A fraud. Especially because — plot twist! — I’m a rabbi. I mean, what kind of rabbi doesn’t like matzo balls?

I know! Kneidlach (aka matzo balls) are an Ashkenazic classic that I long detested for their lackluster flavor and unyielding density. When I requested my soup sans kneidlach, the disapproving looks from my mother and grandmother were deafening. It was as if I was rejecting them and not their carefully crafted homemade matzo balls.

When we left California for the cornfields of Pennsylvania, food, especially Jewish food, became the vehicle for connecting us to a sense of home and to our people. I was determined to make tasty kneidlach from scratch.

Reader, you might be wondering why I didn’t overnight matzo balls from Zabar’s or use a boxed matzo ball mix. There’s absolutely no shame in doing so, but to me, outsourcing felt like it would only reaffirm the illegitimacy I already carried from not liking Jewish food in the first place. I wanted to feed my Jewish family Jewish food that I cooked with my own two hands. And I wanted to like eating that food.

A recipe for onion-stuffed kneidlach by Geila Hocherman got me thinking: What if it wasn’t that I hated matzo balls but that I just hadn’t eaten one flavorful enough to satisfy my palate? What if the problem was that my family’s matzo ball recipe relied solely on salt and pepper for seasoning? I found them “a little one-note,” as Tom Colicchio from “Top Chef” might say (though I’d dare him to try saying that to my mother and come out unscathed).

But Hocherman’s onion-stuffed version was a more revolutionary take on kneidlach than I was looking for. I just wanted a classic, savory matzo ball that would satiate my taste buds.

I began to experiment with flavors, pulling tips from my favorite cooking shows, magazines, and cookbooks. I discovered that shmaltz made for a richer, more flavorful matzo ball than canola oil and that a dash of ground ginger added a subtle complexity to these spherical dumplings. Seltzer water made them fluffy and light, and the addition of fresh dill and garlic powder transformed these moist, heavy lumps of matzo meal into the centerpiece of the soup course.

Who knew that a few humble spices and herbs would be the portal to my rediscovery and love of the kneidel? I certainly didn’t see it coming. But the journey was worth it for the destination. Kneidlach, as it turns out, were just the tip of the iceberg. Once I felt free to abandon my family’s recipes, I discovered a whole world of Jewish foods that I had thought I didn’t like.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 (3 pound) whole chicken
  • 2 (48 ounce) containers chicken broth
  • 4 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 large turnip,cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 parsnips, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • ½ cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 ½ cups matzo ball mix
  • 4 eggs
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 pinch salt and ground black pepper to taste

Place chicken into a large pot and cover with water bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken meat is very tender and falling off the bones, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove chicken from pot and pick chicken meat from bones when cool enough to handle, discarding skin and bones. Shred chicken meat.

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a large soup pot stir shredded chicken meat, carrots, celery, turnip, parsnips, leek, onion, and dill into broth. Turn heat to low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir matzo ball mix, eggs, vegetable oil, and 1/2 cup water together in a bowl. Form mixture into 1-inch balls using wet hands to prevent sticking. Return broth to a boil and gently drop matzo balls into the boiling soup. Reduce heat again and simmer soup until matzo balls have increased in size and are cooked through, about 20 more minutes.

I Thought I Knew How to Make Perfect Matzo Balls, And Then I Tried These

During the Passover holiday, there’s a lot of talk of the ten plagues that were cast down upon Egypt: Thunder, blood, locusts, slaying of the firstborn—it wasn’t a good time. The year is now 2019, Passover is only a few weeks away, and there’s something new plaguing us: The realization that we’ve been thinking about our matzo balls all wrong.

In our quest to develop BA’s Best Matzo Ball Soup (read all about that saga here), we dug into one of the holiday’s most essential components, parsing through the generations of lore to see what really makes the best ball. After weeks of testing (and eating lots and lots of matzo balls), we discovered that, while every family makes theirs a little differently, a few common misconceptions prevail—and a few small changes can really make a difference.

The first of many A/B matzo ball tests

1. The great seltzer debate: A lot of matzo ball recipes will tell you to add baking powder or seltzer, which is said to curb the density of matzo balls and make them lighter and fluffier. We did a side by side—by side by side—comparison for both of these factors and decided that adding it in didn’t affect the texture enough to pop open a can of plain La Croix.

2. Get schmaltzy: Schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat, is like gold. And you deserve nothing but the best. The flavor and texture that schmaltz gives a matzo ball is nothing that vegetable oil can really compare to, which is why if you can get it (or make it!), use the good stuff.

3. Herb is your friend: The first time I heard about someone adding fistfulls of herbs directly *into* their matzo ball batter was when senior editor Sasha Levine waxed poetic about her family’s recipe—packed so full of dill and parsley, they’re practically green. Intrigued, Molly added some chopped dill for a nice speckled effect, but didn’t go as far as Sasha.

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

4. Salt not stock: Matzo balls are like sponges, and they take on the flavor of whatever liquid they’re cooked in. You’ll see some recipes call for simmering them in chicken stock, while others ask for salty water—but how salty is the question. Molly tested a bunch of different ratios and found that if your water is too salty, your matzo balls will be too, but if your water isn’t seasoned enough, all of the flavor in the balls will leach out into the water that you’ll eventually discard. Three quarts of water to three tablespoons of salt is the perfect ratio, and results in an even more flavorful ball than balls cooked in stock.

5. Hard to handle: Jewish grandmothers will pinch your shayna punim (yiddish for beautiful face) until your cheeks turn red, but will hardly even touch their matzo balls lest they turn out dense—the sin of all matzo ball sins. So Molly set out to find the perfect texture, trying one batch where she shaped them til they were *just* spherical and another batch where she rolled them to form perfect spheres. Though the extra surface tension gave the second batch a more textured bite, it didn’t make them tough or springy. The moral of the story? Don’t worry about over handling the batter too much just get the balls to the size and shape you want.

6. A quiet murmur: You don’t have to worry too much about over-handling your matzo balls, but you should consider the vigorousness of your boil. Molly says it’s incredibly important that your matzo balls cook at a simmer, because a roiling boil will be too harsh and could cause them to disintegrate. And if you’ve already gone through all this trouble, you definitely don’t want that.

Homemade Broth for Matzo Balls:

The broth is made from roasted chicken wings. It's a clear broth with a nice golden color that has a rich and flavorful taste. You can cook broth on the stove, in an electric pressure cooker, or in a crock pot.

Step 1. Transfer the roasted wings into a pot. Cover with 6 cups of water.

Step 2. Cut an onion in half and put the halves into the pot.

Step 3. Simmer the broth slowly at low heat for 4-6 hours on the stove, or 30 minutes at high pressure in an instant pot, or 8 hours at low heat in a crock pot.

Step 4. Strain it through a mesh strainer and discard all the bits and pieces. Also, skim any fat that rises to the top of the broth, transfer it to the bowl of schmaltz and put it in the fridge until solidified.

Keep an eye out for "floaters"

It's an age-old debate when it comes to matzo balls, but most will agree: you don't want any "sinkers" in your soup. According to Taste With the Eyes, a "sinker" is a dense matzo ball that likely wasn't fully cooked before serving. If you're aiming to make "floaters," or light and fluffy matzo balls, then you're going to want to start by looking for one thing: floating.

You should let your matzo balls simmer completely covered for about 20 minutes (and don't open the lid, because that's when they might firm up on you). While that's the average time range to shoot for, according to Cooking Tips, you'll know that the matzo balls are done once they've floated to the top of the soup. Don't panic when they sink first, though — once they hit the bottom of the pot, they should rise back to the top of the broth, perfectly cooked and ready for serving.

The Matzo Balls

There is a big debate about what makes the ultimate matzo ball. Should it be light and fluffy, or firm and substantial? We are on Team Fluffy, and we have a few tricks that will help you get just that. First, skip regular water and use seltzer water instead to moisten the batter. The bubbles will help keep the batter airy and light. The next trick is to make sure you don&apost over mix the batter you want to keep all of that lovely air the seltzer just added intact. You will notice that the batter will be pretty wet. To help it from sticking to your hands when forming the balls, run them under water and shake off the excess. Then, using damp hands, roll the batter gently between your palms into balls. Again, remember not to press too hard, but just enough to gently form the balls.

Begin by placing the chicken and vegetables in a large 12-quart soup pot.

Add water to fill the pan almost to the top.

Boil gently for 20 minutes, skimming any foam or scum that rises to the surface.

Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 3-1/2 hours more. If you want to use the chicken (either in the finished soup or for another purpose), remove the whole chicken after 90 minutes and pull the meat off the bone, then place the carcass back in the soup and continue cooking.

Let the soup cool in the fridge overnight. In the morning, skim most of the fat (but not all) off the top. Pull out the chicken, then strain the soup into a smaller pot through a large colander. Discard the veggies, as they will be very mushy.

Strain the soup one more time through a fine sieve. This will ensure the broth is golden and clear.

At this point, the soup is done except for the seasoning, so refrigerate until ready to serve.

Now, make the matzo balls. Simply follow the directions on the box: Combine the eggs with the oil, then stir in the matzo ball mix. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes, then roll into walnut-sized balls. For the lightest and fluffiest matzo balls that float, use a very light hand when forming the balls — do not compact!

Drop the matzo balls into a large pot of boiling water. (Note: definitely do not cook them in your chicken soup, or the broth will become cloudy and the matzo balls will soak up all your soup!)

Cover the matzo balls and simmer for 30 minutes.

When you’re ready to serve, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Add the powdered bouillon, salt, and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that you’ll need a lot of seasoning — without it, the soup will be very bland.

Next, drop the chopped carrots and matzo balls into the simmering broth. Cook until the carrots are tender and the matzo balls are hot throughout. You’ll know everything is ready when the carrots and matzo balls float to the top.

Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with some fresh parsley or dill and serve.

Grandma’s Matzo Ball Soup

For this first time this past December, I hosted a Hanukkah dinner at our house for a few close friends. While I’m not observant, I can acknowledge and appreciate the culture that that side of my family brings to the table (quite literally, because so much of any culture centers around its food.) But more than anything it was an excuse to break out my grandma’s recipe box, making latkes, brisket, matzo ball soup, and a cocoa torte for dessert (I’ll be sharing that recipe next).

Every time I open the box of her recipes the mere smell of it transports me back to her house. Maybe that’s why I don’t open it more often: I get too darn emotional every time I do. And yet, I hope that smell never goes away.

I always have a hard time writing about her recipes, mainly because they are so meaningful to me and I want to do them justice, but, unlike the latkes and the cheesecake, this one doesn’t really have a story. It’s not something we ever cooked together, and actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had her matzo ball soup at all. Probably because it is traditionally more of a Passover dish, and we would always visit my Grandma around Hanukkah, stuffing ourselves with as many latkes as we could fry in the tiny Florida kitchen. So I don’t associate her with matzo balls the way I do with latkes. Still, I thought it fitting to serve it at our dinner (along with a heaping platter of latkes, obviously).

It’s my goal to share more of these heirloom recipes, and I know Grandma would approve. She wasn’t one to keep ‘secret’ recipes… rather, food was, and still is, all about sharing.

This recipe for traditional matazo ball soup is just as she wrote it, in her perfectly precise script on that 3 by 5 index card. I’ve expanded the instructions a bit, but otherwise, this recipe is true to the original.

This was my first time making matzo balls, and I honestly didn’t know how they’d turn out. I should have expected they’d be great, grandma has yet to let me down. With her recipe in front me I felt like she was there with me in the kitchen, rolling little balls of fat and flour and smiling the entire time.

For traditional matzo balls the secret is in the schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). If you don’t trust me then please at least trust grandma on this one: schmaltz is the difference between a bland matzo ball and a rich, flavorful one. If you have a large Jewish community where you live you’ll probably have no trouble finding it. I ultimately found a little tub of frozen chicken fat at Kroger of all places, in the freezer case of the Kosher aisle. Check with your local butcher too, if they don’t have any they may at least be able to point you in the right direction. If you still can’t find it, you can always make it yourself using leftover scraps of chicken fat and skin. It’s not a quick process, but I imagine it’s well worth it.

You’ll also need matzo meal (finely ground matzo crackers), which, again, should be fairly easy to find in any store worth its (kosher) salt.

We simmered our matzo balls in homemade chicken stock, though I’ve seen recipes that have you cook the balls in salted water and then add them to the broth for serving. This later method would work better if you are cooking the entire batch of matzo balls at once. While we served ours in a simple bowl of broth, you could also add some vegetables if you wanted a more filling soup.

The matzo dough can be made a few hours ahead of time, as can the balls themselves. Keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to boil them. I tried freezing a few spare balls, but they weren’t quite the same once they were thawed and cooked. I’ve read you can freeze them after cooking, which might work better if you want to make a big batch and save them for later (and once you try them, trust me, you’ll want to make them over and over again).

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup matzo meal, (see Shopping Tip)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, or parsley

Whisk eggs, egg white and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in matzo meal, oil and water. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Bring broth to a boil in a large pot. Add parsnips, carrot and onion reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Gently roll level teaspoonfuls of the chilled matzo dough into balls, dropping them into the simmering broth as you work. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Do not lift the lid: the broth must simmer rapidly to allow the matzo balls to expand properly.

Add broccoli and mushrooms and simmer, uncovered, until the broccoli is just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with dill (or parsley) and serve.

Make Ahead Tip: Prepare through Step 1 cover and refrigerate overnight.

Shopping Tip: Look for matzo meal in the kosher section of the supermarket.


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