I think it’s safe to say that every Jewish grandmother who has proclaimed, “You should eat more!” has a mean recipe for chicken soup in her arsenal. For generations, colds and flus have gone to battle with bowls and bowls of Jewish penicillin made by these bubbes, and my abuela was no exception.
I come from a family of strong women, so it is fitting that our recipe for chicken soup isn’t the clear-broth version with a lonely floating carrot slice. Ours is a stick-to-your-bones and prepare-for-war kind of soup, chock-full of nutrient-rich vegetables and flavors that awaken the senses. My favorite part of this soup is how the kabocha squash disintegrates into the broth, giving it a wholesome creamy texture without the heaviness of added butter or milk. Plus, the crunch of the bok choy and zucchini packs a solid punch of vitamin c, and makes it easy for me to eat my greens. Couple all of this with my mother-in-law’s recipe for the fluffiest, most light-as-air matzoh balls, and you’ve got yourself the better part of a seder.
This recipe may be a mish mosh of the traditions of my husband’s family and mine, but it is certainly one I would be proud to share at any Passover table or year-round.
For the matzo balls:
1 cup matzo meal
½ cup club soda
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
pinch black pepper
For the soup:
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
15 whole allspice berry
3 bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 medium malangas*, peeled and coarsely diced
2 quarts of low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp of bijol powder (optional)*
6 culantro leaves*
½ Kabocha squash, peeled and coarsely diced
Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper
4 baby bok choy, cut into quarters, lengthwise
2 zucchini, sliced into ½ inch slices
1 Lime, sliced
To make the matzo balls:
Combine all ingredients until just mixed, careful not to over mix.
Cover the mixture, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Boil water with salt (or chicken broth). Oil hands, then make small balls (1 inch in diameter), and add them to boiling water.
Cover, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for about 25 minutes.
Transfer the matzo balls to the soup.
To make the soup:
In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium/high heat.
Using a piece of cheesecloth and kitchen twine, tightly secure the 15 allspice berries and the bay leaves together in a small pouch.
Place onions, carrots, chicken pieces and the spice pouch in the stock pot, and sauté for about 8 minutes, or until onions are translucent and chicken has slightly browned, mixing frequently.
Add the garlic, the malangas, and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the bijol powder, the culantro, kabocha squash, salt and pepper, and cook for another 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken pieces, set aside until cool to the touch, shred them, and then return to the soup.
Add the bok choy and zucchini, and cook 10 more minutes, or until bok choy softens, and zucchini are cooked through.
Remove the culantro leaves and the spice pouch.
Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate or freeze for later use. Garnish with slices of lime.
*Some of the ingredients may be hard to find. Here is a list of acceptable substitutions:
Malangas – yuca or potatoes
Bijol powder – saffron powder, achiote powder, or omit from recipe, as it is optional.
Culantro leaves – 1 bundle of cilantro, secured in cheesecloth, so that it won’t dissolve into the soup and can easily be removed.
The day I moved into my very first apartment was an important day for me. I was starting my senior year in college, and for what seemed like the first time, I was taking a leap towards independence. Sure, I moved halfway across the country to go to school where I knew only a couple people, but living on campus, there’s a certain safety net in place to catch (and comfort) the students if they fall.
I remember taking great care to choose an apartment within my budget, and carefully selecting my roommates. We plotted and planned how we’d decorate, and made memories building our ready-to-assemble furniture from our favorite Swedish retailer. Not surprising, the part of apartment living I was most excited about was that I would finally have a kitchen of my own. While my roommates concentrated on finding art to decorate our walls and the perfect rug to tie the room together, I focused on stocking our kitchen with our favorite foods and the tools with which to cook them. I found mismatched sets of pots and pans at my local discount store, and piece by piece, built our little kitchen into a functional one our friends begged to come and borrow. It was nothing fancy, but it worked for us. Granted, we could never invite more than four people for dinner, because that was how many plates we had, but we made it work.
My mom noticed my efforts, and took it upon herself to stock our little kitchen with its crowning jewel: a tostonera. A tostonera is a device specifically designed to smash chunks of fried green plantains into crisp, golden coins, called tostones. And the fact that my mom was gifting me a tostonera was a really big deal, because this served as an informal invitation to join the culinary ranks of the matriarchs in the family.
Just about every Cuban person who cooks has a tostonera, and now, I did too. I was so excited to put my tostonera to use, and at the first Hanukkah party of the season, I surprised my friends with a new treat. I figured that in many ways, Cubans use plantain bananas the way Americans use potatoes, so swapping traditional potato latkes with savory tostones seemed like a natural choice.
As my friends oohed and aahed while they crunched their way through the small plate of tostones, I smiled with delight, because I knew I was on my way to earning my culinary stripes.
This Hanukkah, if you’re looking for something outside the traditional latke box, take a cue from the Cuban cookbook, and serve tostones alongside your festive meal. And if your mother hasn’t gifted you with a tostonera, fear not. You can achieve similar results with the bottom of a frying pan.
Vegetable oil for frying
2 green (under ripe) plantain bananas
Kosher salt to taste
In a large frying pan, pour in enough vegetable oil to fill the pan about halfway, and place over medium to high heat.
Remove the peel from the plantains, and discard. Chop the pulp into rounds of about 1-1½ inch thickness.
To test the oil temperature, carefully place a small piece of plantain into the oil. If the oil bubbles around the plantain, it is ready. If it doesn't, continue heating the oil until it does.
Once the oil is ready, carefully drop the plantain rounds into the oil, and fry for two minutes before flipping and frying for two minutes on the other side.
Remove the plantains from the oil, and using either a tostonera or a frying pan and a flat surface, smash the rounds until they flatten.
Return the now-flattened plantain rounds to the oil, and fry until golden and crisp, about two more minutes.
Remove the plantains from the oil, and immediately place on a platter lined with paper towel to catch any unnecessary oil.
Sprinkle with kosher salt while the plantains are still hot, and serve.