When I learned that Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, has a matzah ball soup recipe that’s available online, I knew I had to to try it. Among other things, Meir is famous for her “Kitchen Cabinet,” where she met weekly with her most trusted advisors at her kitchen table to talk politics alongside a slice of homemade cake. Her culinary prowess was such a quintessential part of her identity that Helen Mirren, who plays Meir in the new biopic “Golda,” is shown baking in the movie.
My curiosity deepened when I saw the chicken soup recipe itself. It is vague, with few measurements or timings. I edit recipes for a living; I know what culinary disasters can occur when a recipe lacks detail and this was going to be a challenge. Exciting.
It begins: “Boil the chicken with parsley, celery, cut-up carrots, peeled onion, salt, pepper, a pinch of paprika, until the chicken is tender.”
I stared at my bunch of parsley. Like Golda, I live in Israel and buy my produce from a local food market; herbs are sold in exuberant bundles here so I knew that Golda wasn’t calling for a few meager stems. I grabbed a generous handful and flung it in the pot.
Golda, however, was cooking in the early days of modern Israel, when money was tight, so I wasn’t as generous with the carrots (three, large, unpeeled, because Golda strikes me as a frugal cook) or celery (three stalks). As for the onion, it is singular in the recipe, so I just peeled the one.
In retrospect, I was too enthusiastic with the paprika, flinging in about half a teaspoon more than the called-for “pinch.” My biggest error was using smoked paprika, which, while not unpleasant, was quite dominant and turned the soup an odd rusty color.
After adding an average-size chicken and enough water to cover it (4.5 liters in my pot), I was faced with my first real dilemma: to boil or not to boil? I wanted to stay true to the recipe, but knew that boiling a chicken for too long would make it tough. Opting to favor my cook’s intuition (I reasoned that logical Golda would approve of that), I brought the soup to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer until the chicken was tender (two hours). I would have cooked it for longer to deepen the flavor, but this wasn’t about me, so I reluctantly turned off the heat.
While the soup was cooking I turned to the matzah balls, or “kneidlach” as Golda calls them:
“The matzos (unleavened bread) are soaked in cold water until soft, then squeeze dry, crush with a fork and add fried onions and a little oil, some parsley, salt, pepper and two beaten eggs. Add enough matzo meal for binding. “Make into small balls, set aside before serving for one hour. Half an hour before serving, drop the balls into the boiling soup and cook for about half an hour.”
It’s rare to find a matzah ball recipe that calls for whole matzah sheets these days; most use the simpler matzah meal (or the even simpler boxed mix). Rarer still, this calls for matzah meal on top of the sheets. I wasn’t sure it would work, given that the only liquid came from the soaked matzah.
Why, Golda? Why so complicated?
Despite a good bit of mashing the soaked matzah (I opted for two sheets and ⅓ cup matzah meal), the mix was much chunkier than any matzah balls I’ve made, especially when I added the chopped parsley (again, a generous amount) and thin slices of fried onion. It was so chunky that I had to chill the mix in the fridge for half an hour before I could roll them. I’m sure if I used more matzah meal they would have been rollable right away, but also dense as a cannonball — and I had guests for Shabbat dinner to think about.
As the kneidlach cooked I cranked up the air-conditioning until my apartment (which smelled amazing) was brutally cold, to offset the effect of a bowl of steaming matzah ball soup in the middle of the Israeli summer.
I was a little nervous about serving a new recipe, especially one so flimsy, to a tableful of Shabbat guests, but they were all very taken with the idea of eating such a historically significant bowl of soup, so I felt better. As I sunk my ladle into the pot, flecks of soaked matzah floated on the surface alongside ribbons of fried onion. It was not the most aesthetically pleasing chicken soup I’d ever made, but looks can be deceiving.
Golda Meir’s matzah ball soup recipe turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It was lighter than my usual recipe, due to the shorter cook time and the parsley, which lent it a strong vegetal edge, but it was chicken-y and comforting all the same. And the kneidlach were spectacular. Now, I’m not a matzah ball enthusiast — I don’t really get them; even the lightest ones are too dense for me and just taste of eggy matzah meal — but these were lighter than air, dissolving in my mouth, and actually tasted delicious in their own right. Gold(a) standard. Will repeat.
For the soup:
- 1 medium-size chicken
- a generous bunch parsley
- 3 sticks celery
- 3 cut up carrots, skins on
- 1 peeled onion
- pinch sweet paprika
- salt and pepper, to taste
- enough water to just cover the chicken
For the matzah balls:
- 2 sheets matzah, soaked
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- generous bunch parsley, chopped fine
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ⅓–⅔ cup matzah meal
- Add all soup ingredients to a large pot. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is tender, about 2 hours.
- While the soup is simmering, make the matzah balls. Fry the diced onion over medium-high heat in 2 Tbsp olive oil until golden. Set aside to cool.
- Soak matzah sheets for 2-3 minutes, then squeeze, add to a large mixing bowl, and mash until fine with a fork.
- Add the beaten eggs, parsley, cooled fried onion, remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper to the bowl. Mix well. Add the matzah meal (⅔ cup if you like them perfectly formed but dense, ⅓ cup if you like them lighter-than-air but collapsing) and mix again. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes-1 hour.
- Once the matzah mall mix is chilled, roll into 12 small balls. Refrigerate again if the soup is still cooking, or add directly to the and simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Serve hot, on top of cooked rice (Golda’s optional addition, which I opted out of).
- Category: Entree
- Method: Soup
- Cuisine: Israeli