Holy chicken soup with matzoh balls

Today I am making chicken soup with matzoh balls. One of my kids requested it as a birthday meal, and even though we usually reserve this soup for Passover, I couldn’t say no. I’m also making two giant challahs, because it’s not Passover and we can have yeast! My goal was to have the house smelling wonderful by the time the birthday girl woke up, and I achieved that goal. 
 
Let me tell you about this soup. When I was little, my mother would cook and bake for a full week before Passover, one or two dishes a day, slowly filling the freezer with tinfoil-wrapped packages. We kids would help with simple tasks like washing the sprigs of parsley or chopping the nuts for charoset, but my mother still did the actual cooking and baking: tzimmes and pot roast, charoset, spinach pie, latkes, garlic-studded lamb, chocolate sponge cake and lemon sponge cake, and of course a vast pot of chicken soup with matzoh balls. By noon on the day of the feast, the air would be shimmering with schmaltz, the kitchen windows steamed up against the cold spring air outside. This golden soup was the first course, and it was glorious. 
 
 
Shortly after my father died this past spring, I was hunting through my email archives for something, and I came across an old letter my mother sent to my sister Sarah and me, in which she describes how to make soup. It may have been the first year we split up the cooking and baking duties.  Maybe she wasn’t feeling strong enough to turn out an entire feast by herself;. or maybe we had done it before, but she still thought of us as little girls with yarn bows in our hair (notice the part where she thinks we may not own a whisk). 
 

Anyway, here is her recipe (and I’ll put my challah recipe at the end). Who couldn’t use a big pot of wonderful soup on a random Tuesday in this difficult, comfortless year? It’s easy and rewarding, and if you haven’t met my mother, this is a good way. 

***
 

Oh, I didn’t mean you should do the sponge cakes and ALSO the soup and matzo balls! I will be eternally grateful if you can find the time & energy to make the soup and matzo balls. The cakes and the rest I’m so used to doing every year that it’s really no trouble at all. I was mainly hoping you would do the soup & matzo balls. If somebody is taking care of that, nothing seems difficult to me!

Here is how I make chicken soup:

You start early. You fill up two big pots with water and start heating it up. You wash and cut up the chicken, one very big one or two small ones, complete with fat and skin but take out the raw livers and put them aside to saute for Reggie or Abba or whoever likes it, and you heat up the water and put everything into it–I can bring you big pots–along with cut-up onions, a big bunch of carrots, peeled & sliced, a few sticks of celery, salt and pepper, and if possible fresh dill and parsley–it’s a good idea to get those early, especially the dill, because not all stores have it. (Fresh dill is what makes the soup taste so home-made, and also it’s pretty. You rinse the parsley and dill, shake it out, and put it in closed jars or plastic bags or a big container till you need it.)
 
You put everything in the big pots and bring it to a boil, and let it simmer and after a while there will be all this yucky stuff at the top, which you carefully skim off with a big, flat spoon, till most of it is gone. Then cover the pot and let it simmer for a long time, enough to cook everything and get all the flavor into the broth. You cook it for a few hours, leaving the top on the pots most of the time so it won’t get boiled down very much, and check it every once in a while–it should be at a nice simmer or a quiet boil.
 
When it’s all done you put the soup through one big or two regular colanders (I should have gotten you a bigger one!) and the soup back in the pots, and let all the vegetables and chicken and everything cool down so you don’t burn your fingers. Then you separate out the carrots, the chicken, and the other vegetables and as much of the dill and parsley as you can find and cut up a bit. Put the carrots (sliced), the dill, and the parsley back into the soup, cut up in pieces, and maybe a few pieces of chicken too (watch for little bones!).
 

You can save the cooked chicken and vegetables but they will be pretty much tasteless and if you serve them in a recipe it will need spicing up. The soup, meanwhile, you can refrigerate and the next day the fat will have risen to the top and hardened and you can take some of it off easily, but leave enough in to give it a good taste and to have those nice shiny circles of fat floating in the soup. Save the extra fat, because you’ll need some of it for the knaidlach (matzo balls).

The soup together with the matzo balls in it freezes very nicely, and it can be thawed and heated under a low heat on Passover day (that’s Holy Saturday for us).

If you know an easier way of making chicken soup, you should use it, because any kind of home-made chicken soup is yummy and holy and special. I hope I explained it right.

Matzo Balls (k’naidlach)

After the soup, this will be easy. How many to make I can’t tell you, only The More the Better. They will be delicious even if they turn out rubbery. This recipe says it makes 8:

You will need: eggs, matzoh meal (kosher for Pesach), chicken fat (melted) from the soup, and some salt.

First heat up a big pot or two of water and get it simmering, covered. Beat up 2 eggs (with an egg whisk if you have one) with 2 tablespoons of chicken fat from the soup and maybe some salt but not too much. (If for some reason you don’t have enough fat you can use vegetable oil). Add half a cup matzo meal and mix with a fork. Chill in refrig for about 15 minutes. Wet your hands and make 8 matzo balls (about one inch in diameter each) for each recipe, and put them into the boiling water.

Cover tightly, reduce heat, and simmer till done–about 20 minutes, maybe a little more. Sometimes they stick on the bottom a little bit and have to be gently dislodged with a spoon. Usually they just sink and then float up by themselves. They should be fluffy but if they’re not they’ll still be loved by one and all.

You can cook more than 8 at a time. The big pots can hold many matzo balls at a time.

I have reason to believe that some recipes call for 2 Tbs. of soup broth along with the eggs, fat, and matzo meal. I’m not sure which recipe we’ve been using all these years, or if there really are two recipes. I always just took the recipe off the matzo meal box and never noticed if there were two versions. You might want to call Simmy and see what she uses.

Do you still want to do all this cooking?? Now that I write it all down I remember why I’ve been trying to get out of doing it every year, mostly by foisting it off on Simmy.

Love,

Ima

***
 

Challah (braided bread)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 2 eggs
  • 6-8 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp yeast
  • 2 egg yolks for egg wash
  • poppy seeds or "everything bagel" topping (optional)
  • corn meal (or flour) for pan, to keep loaf from sticking

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve a bit of the sugar into the water, and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir gently, and let sit for five minutes or more, until it foams.

  2. In the bowl of standing mixer, put the flour (starting with six cups), salt, remaining sugar, oil, and eggs, mix slightly, then add the yeast liquid. Mix with dough hook until the dough doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl, adding flour as needed. It's good if it has a slightly scaly appearance on the outside.

  3. (If you're kneading by hand, knead until it feels soft and giving. It will take quite a lot of kneading!)

  4. Put the dough in a greased bowl and lightly cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour, until it's double in size.

  5. Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle it with flour or corn meal. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll three into "snakes" and make a large braid, pinching the ends to keep them together. Divide the fourth piece into three and make a smaller braid, and lay this over the larger braid. Lay the braided loaf on the pan.

  6. Cover again and let rise again for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 350.

  7. Before baking, make an egg wash out of egg yolks and a little water. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf, and sprinkle with poppy seeds or "everything" topping.

  8. Bake 25 minutes or more until the loaf is a deep golden color.

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8 thoughts on “Holy chicken soup with matzoh balls”

  1. Thank you for transcribing your Mom’s adorable recipe. Interesting approach to the chicken soup.

    1. The long boil seems like she’s really making stock where you want to get the flavor out of the ingredients.
    2. Interesting that she starts with whole-ish carrots and later cuts them down. I’ve always wondered why my cooked carrots appeared different. I cut and then cook. She cooks and then cuts.
    3. You could also add more flavor by using this stock and then adding sauteed vegetables and chicken to the party to make a soup.

    My soup cooking is influenced a lot by Soups from a Monastery Kitchen where he brings a soup to boil and then only cooks it 30 minutes longer. I think the flavors and the integrity of the ingredients survive better with shorter cooking. https://www.amazon.com/Soups-Monastery-Kitchen-International-Favourites/dp/0863475191

  2. 5 stars
    Thanks so much, Simcha!!! I made a huge pot last week for Rosh HaShonnah (think upper 90 Israel weather!!!). Your ima sounds wonderful!!!! I’ll never forget when I was little my grandma having me chant “a handful of cloves, a handful of peppercorns and a slice ginger “-in Yiddish. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized this was her super secret recipe to an amazing chicken soup (sorry, no dill). The matzah balls had a ton of crushed garlic and chopped fresh parsley for flavor…. and a shot of shelter for fluffiness. Oh so good! Can’t wait til it cools down and I can try your challah recipe! Lucky daughter…. actually you’re a pretty good ima too for doing all this! Shannah Tovah!

  3. this makes me cry, because I know your mom is ill now …

    and all I can say is that just this morning, after I went hoarse trying to make my really-make-me-angry children clean up their own dang toys and mess, I went to calm down by taking a shower and was able to tell Mom that I’m really sorry for all those Saturday mornings when I was so insistent on Road Runner and she just wanted us to pick up 1/2 a dang thing, for Pete’s sake. And it’s nice to be in contact again now that she’s in Heaven. But I miss her.

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