Growing up in North Dakota in a family that loves fish sauce like some people prize bacon, I’m not quite sure where I picked up my love of matzo ball soup. Probably the same place as my penchant for rugelach and babka. I suspect the appeal comes from a simple yet flavor-rich broth filled with tender veggies and big fluffy toothy dumplings. It’s a hearty soup that warms your bones and belly on those chill days where the sun seems to have run off to the Barbados or settles your unhappy tummy from the rampages of virus season or just cuz it’s Tuesday. And while we all may need a Jewish nana to fill us full of homey goodies, the last I checked my grannies wielded a mean wok back in the day but not even a smidgen of brisket. Cuz, even if you’re on top of the world or at the bottom of the heap, life just seems better when a soft, wrinkly hand pats your tired head and offers you a bowl of love.
Since I’ve cobbled together this recipe from multiple interweb searches and trial and error it’s been tailored to my tastes and is most likely not very traditional in flavor but my Jewish and fellow goyim 😉
beta testers haven’t uttered any complaints while slurping away…. I’ve added the unexpected ginger which gives the broth a zesty brightness that cuts through the richness and gives it a sense of, for lack of a better word, lightness which isn’t too surprising since ginger is helpful for upset tummies. Since I can’t seem to enjoy the taste of dill no matter how delicious the setting, I’ve opted for aromatic rosemary which goes well with the ginger, garlic, and veggies. And the secret to puffy fluffy airy matzo balls? Cold carbonated water, a short respite chilling in the refrigerator, and as little handling as possible. I’ve tried it with broth, cold water, and can’t quite bring myself to resort to whipped egg whites (too much work, have I mentioned I’m lazy?) or baking powder. And truthfully, the cold bubbly carbonated water and just scooping the balls out without handling them too much is all you need cuz the more you handle them to make that perfect sphere, the more they compact down and turn from delectable floaters into depressing sinkers.
Good things to know:
1) Why cook large chunks of garlic, shallot, and ginger and then dump them? By boiling them in the broth, you get all that flavor and by removing them you get a clear(ish) broth. The best of both worlds. And if you’re like me and you hate fishing around for spices, place the garlic in a tea ball or spice ball so all you have to do is pull it out when you’re done 🙂
1/2 cup matzo meal
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt (1/8 tsp regular salt)
1/8 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp vegetable oil (you can also use schmaltz/reserved chicken fat but I find this makes for a gamey taste)
1/2 tsp (1/2 clove) crushed garlic
2 tbsp cold club soda or carbonated water
In a small bowl (preferably one with a lid, tupperware works great for this) mix together matzo meal, pepper, salt, sugar, and thyme. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in eggs, oil, garlic, and carbonated water. Stir together till just combined. It will make a wet paste. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
1 chicken carcass **if you don’t have a carcass with bones substitute low-salt chicken broth for the water for a total of 12 c broth
1/2 lb (8 oz) bone-in chicken thighs or breasts
6 c water
6 c low-salt chicken broth
3 inches ginger, peeled and lightly smashed with the flat part of a knife
1 shallot, loose bits of peel removed
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed with the flat part of a knife
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried (1 tbsp fresh) rosemary
3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and in 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, diced
While matzo ball dough is chilling boil carcass, chicken thighs, water, broth, ginger and garlic till chicken is tender and falling off the bone ~20-30 minutes. Periodically skim off foam and fat that floats to the surface. Remove chicken thighs to cool and discard ginger, shallot, garlic, and carcass. Scoop out matzo ball dough with a 2 tbsp-sized scoop or a large spoon into broth. Add salt, rosemary, carrots, and celery and briskly simmer till carrots are tender and balls are floating ~20-30 minutes. Makes 6 meal-sized servings.