Wild River Review
Wild River Review
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May 2010
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October 7, 2009

From Russia with Love: Matzo Ball Soup

Photo: Warren Bobrow

and for lunch? Matzo ball soup.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

before it disappeared into my stomach!

Photo: Warren Bobrow

From Russia with Love: Matzo Ball Soup

by Warren Bobrow

Welcome Fall – Welcome Cold Season – Russian-Jewish New Year style.

Yom Kippur – the day of Atonement for observant Jews – is a day of fasting.  This means no food sundown to sundown. Ok, in the morning I had a few locally gathered scrambled eggs with Herbes de Provence.  And, of course, a cup of coffee made with the  beans my wife and I bought a few short weeks before on Martha’s Vineyard. I really wanted a Kossar’s Bialy with tomato and onion for lunch.  I didn’t eat that. Wanted to, but didn’t. And no BLT‘s or cheeseburgers .. I had one last year and had to atone for it this year.

What I dreamt of that day was the sweet and savory (Kosher) chicken soup made by my mom- in- law, Lenora.  Her matzo balls are perfectly light and airy and she worries about how they turn out.  They are wonderful, handmade with love.  They are the essence of perfection.   No leaden golf-balls in this family.  The matzo balls would be the first thing I would bite into, hot or not. Her soup broth, slowly simmered using only Kosher ingredients, would break our fast.

Yom Kippur is that holiday when a bowl of chicken soup is not just a simple bowl of soup, it means something deeper, it binds us to our past.  We stress out all year over it.   My 90 plus-year-old grandmother, Sophia, was able to join us for dinner, so we enjoyed a lively evening of memories discussing the preparation of the matzo ball soup.  At Break-Fast, the next day we enjoyed conversation about the soup we ate the night before over platters of smoked fish from Zabar’s.

Matzo Ball soup as a cultural metaphor has been the source of much lore. It is sometimes known as Jewish Penicillin. I’ve been fighting off a grippe for the past few days, and a bowl of this soup has reputed mystical properties long understood to be the cure for the common cold-and now Swine Flu.  It is my thought to offer this matzo ball recipe because to share it brings another generation to the dinner table.

Unfortunately for strict recipe followers a great bowl of matzo ball soup is something that is felt deep inside the soul, and it doesn’t hurt to be Jewish, but this is not a prerequisite. It transcends the ages as an identifiable cause of that specific kind food story…that the matzo ball may be too firm, or too heavy or it fell apart in the pot!

I’ve heard that some people actually like their matzo balls to be as hard and heavy as a golf ball. In fact they have a golf ball in their kitchen so when they build these little bricks of cement ,the matzo ball’s weight will be about 2 ounces or more. Not me! I like them light and fluffy, made by hand,

Don’t bring me matzo balls that are round or heavy or hard to the tooth… I won’t eat them.  If you consider using a boxed- mix, leave those matzo balls at home and feed them to an unfriendly neighbor or his dog.  Open the pot- ruin the matzo ball, they’ll drop to the bottom like a hard potato dumpling in a kettle of Frogmore Stew.   Patience is necessary.  A good pinch of nutmeg is also recommended according to my great grandmother, Yetta, who taught me years ago about her Eastern European methods of matzo ball cooking.

And so, as we move into fall, I’m reminded of those in my family who have influenced me both present and past-through the ever-present bowl of matzo ball soup.

Prepare your chicken soup with a nice roasting bird like a Pullet,  *a small commercial supermarket chicken- just won’t do* add washed and peeled carrots, celery, onion, parsnip, maybe a turnip if you desire, add fresh dill and a several garlic cloves unpeeled, but cut on one end.

Heat the Pullet and the vegetables over a medium flame with at least 12 cups of pure spring water in a non-reactive soup pot. Stainless is best. (the soup will reduce over time-making you thankful you listened to me on the water amount used)

Set chicken aside to cool and when you can handle it, separate the flesh from the bones. Make another pot of water and put the remaining bones in it.. heat for 30 minutes or so on a medium simmer.  Use this bone-infused broth for cooking the matzo balls.   Strain the first stock and chill covered so that the fat rises up to the surface.  Put this stock in the fridge for the next day. This will be the soup.

Retain chicken fat for toast points ( memories of Sammy’s Roumanian? anyone?)

Matzo Balls
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 farm fresh eggs at room temp.
2 tablespoons reserved chicken fat from your soup
1 teaspoon salt and 1/2-3/4 teaspoons of freshly ground nutmeg (more if you want some spicy matzo-balls)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons seltzer water, not club soda (too salty)

Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and rest in the in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Bring 3 1/2 quarts of well-salted water or chicken stock to a brisk boil in a medium sized pot.

Reduce the flame. Wet your hands. Form matzo balls by dropping just enough of matzo ball batter to form approximately 1-inch in diameter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them in the shape of an Idaho potato- loosely into oblong balls. Drop them carefully into the simmering chicken stock from the bones one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes without opening or peeking or allowing anyone else to open the pot to catch a glance at them…. EVER!

Heat the dark Pullet-infused stock, add chicken pieces, some freshly snipped dill, carrots, celery and onions from the soup-pot.  Place the matzo balls into the stock to warm, and serve in heated bowls.

I dedicate this article to my great grandmother, Yetta, who taught me to make a pretty good matzo ball and to my grandmother, Sophia, who was there to share our Yom Kippur supper with us.

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  His daily Blog; Wild Table is coming soon in October.  In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com, NJ Monthly and NJ Life, also, SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2., and NJ Savvy Living.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ WarrenBobrow1

You can support Warren’s work on Wild River Review, and his column, Wild Table by making a donation: Wild River Review, PO Box 53, Stockton, NJ 08559. Wild River Review is an international website and 501c3 non-profit organization so your donation may be tax deductible.

Please put Wild Bite in the subject line. Thank you!

25 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for the great article…but even more thanks for the recipe! I’ve always loved matzo ball soup but never had any interest in making it myself until now, knowing how simple it is to make it! Wish me luck :)

    Comment by Ruben Torres — October 7, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  2. Well, Well, Well…………..
    Being of an Italian parents and growing up all mylife eating Pasta..I really never realized the importance of a wonderful Jewish meal…This article makes one want to run out and buy the Matzo Meal and all the ingredients to make a soothing wonderful dinner treat. I’ve eaten Matzo Ball soups in various Jewish delicatessens but I am sure not to the likes of this receipe.

    Thanks Warren……..for all the receipes you bring to us readers… and of course the wine commentaries are a super +

    Ciao for now
    your Italian Counterparty
    Lucia

    Comment by Lucia Mendella — October 7, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  3. Just wanted to thank you for the recipe.
    I’d also like to congratulate you for the great photos that add so much to the article…It just makes my mouth water!

    Comment by Lesovaj — October 7, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  4. Loved the article and the recipe looks great! I have already passed it on to several friends. Always look forward to reading Warren’s articles…keep up the good work!

    Comment by Nancy Page — October 7, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  5. What’s the best drink with a light and fluffy matzo ball soup – a black cherry soda?

    Comment by Joe Glantz — October 7, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  6. As always Warren, I’m left with an equal measure of hunger and education
    when I read one of your articles.
    …as I sip a glass of ECKER Zweigelt. Love those Austrian wines. Jack

    JACK GANTOS
    http://www.jackgantos.com

    Comment by Jack Gantos — October 7, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  7. Joe: I appreciate your words.. I prefer Cel-Ray and Cream Soda mixed.. Dr. Brown’s of course! Cheers to you. wb

    Comment by Warren Bobrow — October 7, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

  8. Warren, When the really cold weather sets in, instead of soup or Bourbon, try 18 year old Orkney Island Highland Park Single Malt. Then let me know what you think. The Thompsons make Old Thompson. My friend the Kentuck poet Wendell Berry drinks Maker’s Mark.

    Le Chaim and Slainte!

    Comment by William Irwin Thompson — October 7, 2009 @ 11:37 pm

  9. My best friend growing up was Jewish and I loved trying dishes at her house that I would never get a chance to at home. I was the culinary adventurer even then. My favorite was her Grandmother’s Kugel. I made my first pot of chicken soup the other day to usher in the cooler temps. Never thought of adding dill though. I’ll have to give that a try. Thanks for the great article.

    Comment by Deborah Smith — October 8, 2009 @ 6:06 am

  10. I already know how to make this recipe – it was ingrained from lifetime of watching my grandmother making it in her basement kitchen (it was cooler down there) and then my mother making it in her own kitchen – every year it’s more delicious than the year before – and this article has conveyed the heart and soul and love that adds to the flavor of the recipe

    Comment by julie — October 8, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  11. thank you for the beautiful pictures – I never thought my soup would be immortalized on film

    it’s always a pleasure to make and it’s always tinged with a bit of apprehension trying to make the matzoh balls as fluffy as possible – you have conveyed that in your article – touchingly as always

    Comment by lenora — October 8, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  12. I love reading the stories that go with recipes, and yours is so infused with memory, family, and tradition–bravo! My mouth is watering for some of this soup, as it’s clearly the kind of food that feeds both the stomach and the soul.

    Comment by Raquel Pidal — October 8, 2009 @ 10:15 am

  13. Having met Warren on Virgin Gorda, I just knew he was destined for great things, being a tribe-member and having ancestors that escaped from the Motherland with just a maztoball recipe, I will make them and bring them to my bubbe and ask for her blessing, Mazel Tov mi amigo

    Comment by Keith Charak — October 8, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

  14. Years ago I almost married a Jewish girl. She was a great cook and kept me very satisfied. She never made me matzo ball soup and now I realize What i missed out on.

    Comment by Randy Glowacki — October 8, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

  15. I heard about coffee beans from Martha’s Vineyard being excellent. Where did you buy them. Can they be ordered online?
    Johnny

    Comment by Johnny Seaview — October 8, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

  16. Johnny: if you click on the Martha’s Vineyard it brings you directly to the MV
    coffee company: http://mvcoffeecompany.com/

    The ocean air does make roasting a more complex experience even for the coffee neophyte which I certainly am. Peace and Cheers to you. wb

    Comment by Warren Bobrow — October 8, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  17. @jockeyhollow We’re making chicken soup tonight! But I wish we had matzo balls to ladle into it…Thanks for making me smile.

    Comment by omnivorebooks — October 9, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

  18. I have been making matzoh balls for several years and only once have they turned out light and fluffy. Perhaps I open the top to peak. My broth is pretty good though. I will used your tips the next time around……..
    Jeff

    Comment by Jeff Grayzel — October 11, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  19. I’ve never eaten Matzo Ball Soup, but after this article, I will either seek it out, or perhaps, make my own. As a good Southern Girl, I can make a fine chicken soup.

    In the small Southern town where I grew up, there was a fairly good sized Jewish community. I was enamored of the synagogue. As a Brownie Scout–just like Jesus who lingered in the Temple–I remained behind following a visit so the Rabbi could explain [again] the miracle symbolized by the eternal light. So while I loved the synagogue and as a teen/young adult worked primarily for Jewish merchants until I was 24, I had never enjoyed any traditional Jewish delicacies. (Not even when I was selected to be the godmother of my best friend’s Jewish son…the food was all Southern.)

    That changed when I went in 1970 to NYC with a group, “Western Tours for Boys & Girls” from Lake City, SC, on a not-so western tour into Canada. Before going to the theater to see “1776″ we stopped at a cafeteria (you know Southerners used to think cafeterias were the height of fine dining) in the City. Turns out, it was a Kosher cafeteria. Never before had some of the children seen Hasidim. They didn’t even know the word. I only knew because of my voracious reading.

    So, this Southern Girl will have to add savoring Matzo Ball soup to her life experiences. Thank you for nudging me in that direction.

    Comment by Cheryl Smithem — October 11, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  20. Dear Warren!
    Greetings!
    Apologies for the delay. Been busy with grading %$#”$# Students!LOL
    Learned a lot about kosher food again. I thought I knew a bit, but will have to learn!
    Greta posting!
    All the best!
    Robert-Gilles

    Comment by Robert-Gilles Martineau — October 20, 2009 @ 4:30 am

  21. NancyJeanne Thompson just shared this on Facebook. I can’t wait to try it! It’s very similar to the recipe my mother-in-law gave me, straight from the Ukraine via most of Europe of course.

    It’s real comfort food. I always yearn for it when I miss her, and sometimes because I associate it with all sorts of positive things.

    Comment by Jonell Galloway — October 23, 2009 @ 3:09 am

  22. Found out after making these amazing Matzo Balls that I’d never really had any before. This is a totally different experience and the story that your crafted around the recipe was neat.

    Comment by Veronique Deblois — November 5, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

  23. Wonderful! Thanks Warren!

    Comment by Vika — November 5, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  24. Your soup looks wonderful and this soup runs through my veins with great family history as it does yours.

    Comment by The Cookbook Apprentice — January 3, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

  25. Warren, this is a great piece, and I love this soup.

    When I was younger a friend who complained to me that her mothers recipe was hard and dense, so I made it for them, and they wanted me to make it each time! Last time I volunteered for ‘free’ meals, lol!

    Comment by Chef E — January 3, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

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