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.
Cilantro leaves – 1 bundle of cilantro, secured in cheesecloth, so that it won’t dissolve into the soup and can easily be removed.
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In a wonderful article in the New York Times this weekend, David Sax discusses the sanctity of matzah balls, but not just any matzah balls, the BEST matzah balls, which happen to be made with none other than GOOSE! Now, I did not grow up with a mother or grandmother who made the best matzah balls, or even remotely good matzah balls, so I feel no loyalty towards my own family’s recipe, which David points out is perhaps the only recipe that might come close to the recipe he uncovered in Budapest.
But as someone who constantly strives towards Jewish culinary perfection, I can attest to the virtues of using rendered fat to create the most flavorful and fluffy matzah balls. And I can also attest to the incredible flavor of goose – a few years ago I actually had the chance to cook a goose! I know there’s a joke in there somewhere…nevertheless, if you have the inclination (and the money – it is expensive) to special order a goose from your butcher, I promise you will not be disappointed. The meat was incredibly unique – both gamey and rich. And the quantity of rendered fat will leave your freezer, and your friends’ freezers, stocked for many, many months.
But in the meantime, I have used plain ‘ol chicken fat and even duck fat in matzah balls and been very satisfied with the flavor. Here are my tips to making the fluffiest matzah balls, which you can put to use trying David Sax’s recommendation for the best matzah balls!
Grub Street is calling it a “Jewish Food Revival,” while I happily named it one of the top Jewish food trends of 2011. Bottom line: Jewish food is “in,” and of course I’m schepping nachas for the traditional foods of my people which are being reclaimed and reinvented to the delights of foodies in New York and beyond.
Earlier this year I was thrilled to visit Kutschers Tribeca to sample their updated Castkills fare at the Tribeca restaurant. I was pretty excited by almost everything I tasted but I was totally blown away by the simple genius of the rainbow cookie ice cream sundae I devoured for dessert.
This past week, New York Magazine highlighted another new, Jewish-inspired eatery, Jack’s Wife Freda, whose menu features updated classics such as Matzo Ball Soup, Green Shakshuka and Freda’s Fried Fish Balls.
And this weekend, a new eatery is launching – Gefilteria! Besides loving the name itself, the “pushcart start-up” will specialize in “sustainable Jewish foods like gefilte fish made with pike, whitefish, and salmon; kvass, a fermented drink; borscht; horseradish; sauerkraut; black-and-white cookies; and matzo.”
I can’t begin to predict what’s in-store for updated Jewish fare, but I am excited to see what my fellow food enthusiasts dream up next. Any great Jewish food cropping up near you? Let us know!