matzo ball soup
its the most wonderful time of the year
Welcome to A Newsletter #32, the age my mother was when she had me. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
Hi, it’s me. I’m here! This week I got my second vaccine, thanks to a weird and rare autoimmune disorder I discovered in 2019 that put me on the qualified list. I felt like absolute hell for about 30 hours (like, had to lie on the bathroom tile with a fever in the middle of the night, struggling to move, actual hell), which made me all the more grateful to have gotten through this pandemic without getting sick. Another fun thing I decided to put my body through this week was to begin injecting myself with hormones that will encourage my ovaries to produce more eggs than usual so that a nice doctor can go into my body, pluck them from my insides and freeze them for a later date because I’m simply not ready to use them at this moment in time. This, as you can imagine, has also made me feel “a way.” Playing “are you depressed or is it the pandemic” is fun, sure, but have you tried mixing hormones into the equation?
I am fortunate to purposefully make both of these decisions. Even though both will make me feel physically bad now, the idea is that I will feel better later. I am electing to feel bad, it is my privilege to feel bad. Okay, but this is not a newsletter about how weirdly shameful it still feels to talk about egg freezing or how a woman’s option to extend her fertility is a great representation of feminism or how the whole process makes you consider your relationship to motherhood or about the fact that I lost sleep over whether or not I found it appropriate to discuss this with thousands of strangers or how I used to feel so comfortable sharing everything and now don’t feel comfortable sharing anything but here I am sharing because if we can’t share what can we do?
But what this newsletter IS about, is matzo ball soup (please hold your breath to see how I will tie that in with extending fertility! I am also curious!).
Matzo ball soup makes me feel the way I feel when I see a dog walker walking 6-8 different breeds of dogs at once (small, medium, large). It makes me feel the way a very good trailer to a movie I hadn’t heard of makes me feel (especially if I cry a little). It makes me feel like a really good nap taken on top of the covers from 3 pm-4:30 pm (waking up with no alarm). Matzo ball soup makes me feel like I am staying home from school and it also makes me feel the way I feel when I get into a bath that is almost too hot but isn’t. Matzo ball soup makes me feel taken care of and loved and profoundly, stupidly happy.
I was brought up to think of matzo ball soup as medicine, rather than an annual delicacy. My grandpa called it Jewish Penicillin, which is funny because I’m allergic to actual penicillin. When I was sick, I’d throw up the Triaminic cold medicine given to me because I found the taste so repulsive. After contracting Mono in the 10th grade, I became a lifelong hater of Gatorade after being forced to drink Costco-sized portions of it to stay hydrated (there’s a joke in there somewhere but I won’t take it). I couldn’t ever shake the grogginess after drinking NyQuil (still true) and other cold and flu medicines gave me such wild nightmares or made me feel so strangely high and not in a good way that I refused to take them altogether (also still true).
So instead, when I was sick, my parents would bring me matzo ball soup and half-sours from Solly’s, a Jewish deli off the 101 freeway in the San Fernando Valley and this is what I ate, this is what healed me. Incidentally, Solly’s shared a plaza with Humphrey Yogart, the frozen yogurt place Meghan Markle worked at as a teen! To think, the two of us in the same plaza off Van Nuys Boulevard at the same time, so close to one another, yet worlds apart, etc. Anyway, the saltiness of both the soup and the pickles probably didn’t do much for my dehydration, but wow, what a morale boost to eat nothing but your two favorite foods all day.
I will not try to extrapolate some sort of cosmic meaning from my needing to convalesce coinciding with Passover and matzo ball soup season, nor will I pull the “talk about your mother” thread, because frankly, matzo ball soup is something to be enjoyed 365 days a year and I don’t have an editor to wade through that mess with me today. But I will say, knowing I would need to feel taken care of this week I planned ahead and now am the proud owner of a fridge and freezer stocked with chicken broth and matzo balls (thanks to a great tip from a reader, I have found that raw matzo balls freeze beautifully. The broth itself, I keep frozen in quart containers or flat Ziploc bags just like Martha Stewart told me to).
While I am pleased with my personal stash, I will make another batch of soup on Saturday for a small Seder. Those matzo balls will be my version which I correctly feel is the best version— about the size of a tangerine so that you can have more than one, with lots of finely chopped dill and chives, of course. They’re fluffy, ethereal little floaters thanks to the ridiculous amount of chicken fat and splash of seltzer, the addition of which I think is just a superstition, but one that I believe in.
Sunday I will also be eating matzo ball soup, this time at another small, outdoor Seder, where the matzo balls will not be mine. I have been promised that the matzo balls provided will be dense, they will be hard and they will absolutely sink to the bottom of my bowl. I feel grateful and taken care of all the same.
Click HERE for a printable/saveable version.
MATZO BALL SOUP
serves 6 to 8
If you are looking for heavy, dense, softball-sized matzo balls, please find another recipe as you will be disappointed with these. These are light, they are ethereal, they taste deeply of chicken fat, and of course contain #lotsofdill. Someone once said “you gotta really like celery to enjoy this soup” which I think was a backhanded compliment, but they aren’t wrong. It is heavy on the celery, a tragically underappreciated vegetable that does so much here for the chicken and matzo ball, together and separately.
FOR THE BROTH
4 ½ – 5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken (this can be parts, or a whole chicken cut up)
2 large yellow onions, unpeeled, quartered
2 garlic heads, unpeeled, halved crosswise
6 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, unpeeled, chopped
A handful of black peppercorns
FOR THE MATZO BALLS AND ASSEMBLY:
1 cup matzo meal (not matzo ball mix), or 1 cup finely ground matzo boards (from about 4 matzo boards)
¼ cup finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish
¼ cup finely chopped dill, plus more for garnish
1 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
5 large eggs
⅓ cup chicken fat, grapeseed oil or unsalted butter (if not keeping Kosher), melted
¼ cup club soda or seltzer
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced, plus any leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
MAKE THE BROTH
Place chicken, onions, garlic, celery, and carrots in a large pot and cover with 12 cups water (If your pot can’t handle all that water, fill the pot with as much as you can then add the remaining water as it reduces.)
Season with a good amount of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low (the broth should be gently simmering) and continue to simmer until the breasts are cooked through and tender, about 30 minutes. Using tongs, remove the breasts from the pot and transfer to a plate or cutting board, leaving everything else in the pot.
Once the breasts are cool enough to handle, pick the meat from the chicken, returning any fat, skin, bones, or cartilage back to the pot to keep simmering. Set picked meat aside to either put back into your soup later or to use in another dish (chicken salad, pot pie, fridge snack, etc).
Continue simmering broth until it’s as seasoned and delicious as you’d want it to be when serving, another hour and a half or so. If you want to pluck the legs/thighs out and pick the meat from them for later use, you should (I do!).
Strain the broth (I use a basic strainer, no need for cheesecloth). Keep it warm if using the same day, or let it cool before refrigerating overnight (you should have about 10 cups).
PSA: This is my basic and very general recipe for chicken broth across the board. It’s ripe for innovation, modifications and adjustments based on its final destination. I will say for matzo ball soup, I find the muted sweetness and heavy celery-ness of this particular version is *chefs kiss* and I personally, would not change a thing.
MAKE THE MATZO BALLS
To save time, make the matzo balls as the broth simmers. Combine matzo meal, ¼ cup chives, ¼ cup dill and 1 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt in a medium bowl. Using a fork, incorporate eggs until well blended. Add chicken fat, followed by club soda, mixing until everything is evenly soaked in chicken fat/seltzer.
PSA: This mixture will look LOOSE! Like, upsettingly and impossibly loose. It will firm up as it sits and hydrates. Trust me, trust the matzo ball.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until mixture is firm and fully hydrated, at least 2 hours (and up to 24 hours). It should have the texture of wet clay. Malleable yet shapeable.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Using your hands, roll matzo ball mixture into balls slightly smaller than the size of a ping pong ball (about 1 1/4-inch in diameter), placing them on a plate or parchment-lined baking sheet until all the mixture is rolled (you should have about 24 matzo balls).
If the mixture starts to feel too soft, you can always put the mixture back into the fridge to firm up. I have also been known to skip the “roll on a sheet pan” step and just roll directly into the pot of boiling water. They always somehow end up perfectly spherical.
PSA: Please resist the urge to make the matzo balls larger-- they double in size and will be perfect once cooked, this I promise you.
Gently plop all of the matzo balls into the boiling water and cook until floating, puffed, and cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. (Pluck one from the water at 12 minutes and cut it in half to see how it’s doing-- the texture should be uniform in color and texture, lighter in color than the raw state. It should look fluffy, not dense.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the matzo balls to the chicken broth to finish cooking.
Add celery (and some of the picked chicken meat, if you want) and season again with salt before ladling it into bowls. Top with #lotsofdill, chives, celery leaves if you’ve got them and a crack of freshly ground pepper. A squeeze of lemon is certainly not traditional, but I will say it is good.