The Real Deal Matzah Ball Soup

20 Mar

“Of soup and love, the first is best.” ~Old Spanish proverb

I have to confess, I don’t have a family recipe for chicken soup. Nothing has been handed down from generation to generation. No one carried a recipe over to Ellis Island sown into the lining of their coat.

Not my actual family

Not my actual family

There wasn’t a magic formula with my name on it either. Until now.

Matzah ball soup with the works

Matzah ball soup with the works

I did have my grandma Esther’s knedelaich recipe, in her handwriting too! But one day I was reading the recipe and measuring the matzah meal from the box, and noticed that her recipe was THE SAME EXACT ONE AS ON THE BOX!!! Well, either she was a trendsetter, or she got it from there as well. So much for my family recipe!

Grandma's recipe on the back

Grandma’s recipe on the back

There are many different permutations for matzah balls, light and fluffy, egg white only, ginger and almond, baking soda and seltzer. Well my friends, you could use ol’reliable on the side of the box of matzah meal, or you can use this recipe for matzah balls seasoned with Herbes de Provence which I make for special occasions. If you aren’t keen on something so adventurous (it is pretty subtle, really), then just leave out the herbs and you will have a light yolk-free matzah ball.

Herbs de Provence

Herbs de Provence

As a child, I would do anything for soup. It didn’t matter if it had noodles or rice or kneidelach (Yiddish for matzah balls). I would eat it from a package or pot or can.

My childhood comfort food

My childhood comfort food

Almost everyone in my family made soup, and thanks to some sort of wonderful mutant food related super-power, I can remember the taste of them all.

I come from a long line of cooks that cook by eye, throwing in this or that, although all had a signature style.

My dad would overload his with root vegetables and fresh dill, while my mom showed restraint–except when it came to green peppers.  My grandmother Esther’s was simple and straightforward, just like her. My aunt Becca would add spoonfuls of turmeric to turn her soup golden.  I loved them all, the people and the soup. Their style said a lot about them, and I think about them every time I make my own soup.

I’ve been making chicken soup ever since college, when I would occasionally put aside the ramen noodle.

College staple

College staple

I don’t think, in the years since, that I’ve made two soups that were the same. Sure they all had similarities—it is soup of course—but they varied greatly. I’ve ranged from following in the footsteps of my parents to spanning the world to my exotic aunt’s golden soup, and I even have tried a few vegetarian versions. Most were good, some even great, all dependent on the quality of the chicken and the veggies.

Kosher chicken is the best for soup

Kosher chicken is the best for soup

I vary the recipe slightly depending on what in the fridge needs to go. Sometimes I will save up leek greens, or parsley stems, or celery leaves. I vary the ingredients slightly in amount—more carrots and parsnips for a sweeter soup, russet potatoes or yams for a heartier one.

Sometimes at the end I will snip fresh dill and sprinkle it on, especially in the spring (my Dad would approve).

Dill-icious!

Dill-icious!

But good news, folks—I’ve finally found myself. And this is the soup I will pass down to my grandchildren.  More or less.

Aura’s Chicken Soup

  • 12-16 cups water (note: less if it is just for my family, more if company is coming)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt now, plus more later
  • 4 to 6 chicken thighs and legs (quarters), preferably Kosher, with skin and bones (see note above)
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 6 green onions or 1 large leek, washed well and chopped
  • 4 to 6 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (on the diagonal is pretty), preferably organic

    Carrots on the bias

    Carrots cut on the bias

  • 1 or 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, cut into chunks (to add a little umami)
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks (optional)
  • 10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup tiny noodles (alphabet, stelline, orzo, or for Passover Manischewitz KFP noodles, cooked separately

    With alphabet noodles

    With alphabet noodles

  • Double batch of yolk-free matzah balls (recipe follows)
  • Fresh dill, optional, but not to my dad
  • More kosher salt, up to 1 tablespoon, to taste depending on size of soup
  1. Fill a large soup pot with the water. Put in the chicken and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes without stirring. After 20 minutes, skim off any foam that rises to the top.
  2. Add all of the other veggies: onion, green onions or leek, carrots, turnip, sweet potato, celery, tomato, parsley, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and turn down heat to medium-low and simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 ½ hours, until the soup has reduced a bit and become more concentrated.
  3. Taste and add more kosher salt.
  4. If you like clear soup (we do on holidays or for company), then let soup cool a bit and strain the soup through a large fine mesh colander into another large pot or bowl. If you like carrots or chicken in the soup, then pick those out of the colander and add them back to the soup. In my house we eat it chunky-style with everything in the bowl (except for the chicken skin and bones).
  5. At this point you can refrigerate it (it will keep for a few days, just bring it back to a simmer for 5 minutes before serving. You can also freeze it.
  6. And as for that bay leaf, in my house, whoever gets it in their bowl has good luck. But who needs luck when you have someone to make you soup. 🙂

Herbes de Provence Mini-Matzah Balls

  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Herbes de Provence (sold in the spice aisle)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup cold water
  • 1 ½ cups matzah meal
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, using a fork, mix together the oil and egg whites.   Then add the herbs de Provence, salt and pepper, and mix well. Stir in the water, and then the matzah meal, mixing well. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the mixture, and let chill in the fridge for an hour or more.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then add a tablespoon of salt. Wet your hands and a small spoon, and make balls of the mixture about 2 inches in diameter. Roll them until they are smooth and then drop them gently into the boiling water. Repeat until all of the batter is used up.
  3. Cover with the lid partially vented and simmer for 30 minutes. With a slotted spoon transfer the matzah balls to a pot of your favorite chicken soup or store in the fridge, covered for up to 2 days. Makes about 30 mini-matzah balls or 6 servings. Feel free to double the recipe or even double the size of the matzah ball.
Matzah balls cooking

Matzah balls cooking

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4 Responses to “The Real Deal Matzah Ball Soup”

  1. Kathy Seifert March 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    I’ve never dared to make this–can’t imagine competing with Benji’s Deli–my childhood favorite for corned beef sandwiches and matzah ball soup! Thanks for encouraging me to try! Wonder if I have to go to Rochester to find matzah meal?

    • pomegranatesandhoney March 20, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

      You just can’t beat a good deli! I used to get it somewhere in town there…it was in the ethnic section!

  2. Lindsey March 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    I love your writing. Even more I love that the manufacturers use your family recipe. How cool?! It’s like my cookies from our French friends nestle toll houzz.

    • pomegranatesandhoney March 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      Thanks Lindsey! How cool for you too! It is good to have family connection. LOL.

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