It’s been a scary, introspective, frustrating and quiet month. It’s the first time that I haven’t enjoyed shopping for groceries, and cooking seems to have taken on a vital new importance that has more to do with sustenance than pleasure. How long can someone go without fresh fruit before they get scurvy? (The answer is somewhere between 1-4 months, depending on how severe the lack of vitamin C actually is, fyi).
But last week took on a new challenge. Passover celebrates the Biblical story of the Exodus, or the freeing of Hebrew slaves from Egypt. It is the time that the whole family congregates over the most delicious, traditional, comforting foods. This year we still congregated – albeit via videochat – but the foods were lost in the shuffle. I’m usually in charge of desserts. I LOVE to bake. And let’s face it, my favorite food group is carbohydrate. But baking and not sharing holds little appeal. So because I don’t have the task of cooking for a family, and because grocery shopping is a minefield, I decided to choose just one traditional dish. And so I made my first matzo ball soup. I wrote lists of ingredients, gloved up, and headed to the grocery, only to discover that the one thing I needed the most was not to be had this year. There was no matzo, matzo meal, nor matzo ball soup mix available. So what do you do in these times? You sub what you can, where you can. And so my matzo ball soup became cracker ball soup. I know that the entire concept is sacrilegious. Matzo represents the unleavened bread the Jews ate while fleeing Egypt and is paramount to the holiday. So how do you observe tradition and faith without the one thing that symbolizes just that? You hold it’s meaning close, and you create new tradition as it evolves with time and circumstance. What does it mean? To me, Passover is about renewal, clearing and light. It represents a moving forward from egoism to the love of others. And this year, more than any other, we have the time to reflect as individuals on how we really are all one. So in that spirit, and to share tradition, I’m sharing my recipe for Matzo Ball Soup – made without matzo, but with crackers instead. And as a bonus, I’m sharing a fantastic quarantine brunch idea to use up the leftovers.
Matzo Ball Soup – make the broth one day before making the matzo balls and serving
Broth – makes 10 cups
- 2 chickens (5 lbs each)
- 1 leek, cut in 4
- 1 onion, not peeled, quartered
- 2 carrot, each cut in 4
- 1 celery, cut in 4
- 1 garlic bulb, cut in half horizontally
- salt, pepper
- 10 cups water (or 5 cups water, 5 cups chicken stock)
Preheat oven to 375. Place chickens in roasting pan and add vegetables to pan around and in the chickens. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast 90 minutes uncovered. Remove chickens from roasting pan. Remove the meat of 1 chicken and set aside to use for chicken salad sandwiches (or like me – chicken pot pie!). In a large stockpot, add the bones of that chicken, and the other chicken with the meat intact, quartered. Add all of the roasted vegetables from the roasting pan. You can pour the liquid from the roasting pan into a small bowl and refrigerate so that the fat separates out (it’s DELICIOUS and traditional to use chicken fat for the matzo balls). Add water or water/stock to stockpot and cover. Simmer at least 1 hour, but up to 2 hours to deepen the flavor of the stock. Strain broth into a bowl. Throw out the vegetables and chicken bones, and remove the meat from the second chicken to set aside in the fridge for the finished soup. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. You can refrigerate the broth overnight. The next day you’ll want to skim the fat from the top of the fat, and add that to the fat that you reserved from the roasting pan. Now…matzo balls!
No-matzo matzo balls – makes 16 (adapted from bon appetit’s Best Matzo Balls recipe)
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 cup chicken fat (reserved from making the broth) or vegetable oil, or a mixture to equal 1/2 cup, melted and cooled
- 6 Tbsp chicken broth (from the batch you made yesterday) or water
- 3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1.5 cups finely ground water crackers (I used these and ground the package in the food processor)
- 3 Tbsp salt for cooking water
Whisk eggs well until there are no streaks. Add fat, broth, dill, and pepper and whisk to combine. Add ground crackers and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours.
Bring a stockpot of water to a simmer (about 3 quarts). Add salt. Roll the cracker mixture into 2 Tbsp balls and lower them gently into the water. Cover the pot and allow to quick simmer about 45 minutes. You can check at that point to see if when you cut a ball in half it’s uniformly white and fluffy, or still dense and hard (in which case you’ll have to simmer another 5-10 minutes). When ready, remove balls to a plate with a slotted spoon. These can be refrigerated until ready to consume.
Serving the soup
For each bowl, you’ll want to serve a few ladles of hot broth, about 2 matzo balls, some pieces of chicken, and I like to have some boiled carrot pieces to add as well. Garnish with extra chopped dill.
And because I promised a bonus brunch recipe – since 16 matzo balls is A LOT during a quarantine, when you’re probably not serving the same size family as usual…
Fried Matzo Balls with Eggs and Tomatoes – per person
- 2 matzo balls
- 1 tsp avocado oil
- 2 large eggs
- handful cherry tomatoes
- 1 tsp chopped dill
- Salt, pepper
Thickly slice 2 cold matzo balls (each will give about 4 slices). Set aside. Over medium heat, warm a non-stick frying pan with oil. Add sliced matzo balls and fry until golden, turning once to crisp both sides. Set aside on a plate. In the same pan, fry 2 eggs (I cover the frypan to cook the whites but still allow the yellows to stay runny). Add to the serving plate with the matzo balls. Halve the tomatoes and add to pan, cut side down. Cover and fry until just golden, about 2 minutes. Uncover and season with salt and pepper. Stir tomatoes to heat through. Add tomatoes to plate and garnish with fresh dill before serving.
Happy holidays, happy spring, love and light!