My Grandma Jennie lived to be 109, in large part because no germ or disease dared come near her. Grandma was at her imperious best at Passover and Thanksgiving, two holidays laden with traditional foods that she (and only she) made the right way.
With Grandma at the table waiting for the meal to be served, my mother fussed and hustled, trying to get everything to the table “piping hot” enough to pass Grandma’s test. Just as some mothers feel their children’s foreheads for fever, so would Grandma wrap her palm around the soup bowl in judgment.
Even if the soup were hot enough, it still might not pass muster. Every year, my Grandmother informed my mother that she had used too many parsnips and the soup was too sweet. I remember clearly the first time she complimented my mother on the soup: the pleasure on my mother’s face and the way her brightened eyes met my father’s, way down at the other end of the table. I believe it may have been the same year my grandmother finally relinquished the Making of the Matzo Balls, sometime after she hit 90.
But long before that, I grilled Grandma on her technique. I stood by her side as she showed me how it really should be done, and I took notes. Grandma’s matzo balls were divine, and I loved her soup. But I loved my mother’s soup more.
I have tinkered with it over the years, and allowed it to evolve, but at heart, it is still my mother’s soup. And as my mother taught me, it can be weeks ahead and frozen, or two days ahead and refrigerated.
Grandma Jennie, the Doyenne of Doing it Right, taught me that you can freeze matzo balls. Shocking, isn’t it? If anyone other than Grandma had told me it could be done, I surely wouldn’t believe it. These matzo balls have just enough heft and chew that you know it is truly a matzo ball and not a mouthful of matzo flavored air, but are light enough that three in a bowl of the deeply flavorful, slightly sweet soup still leave room for the meal ahead.
Passover Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
To make the broth:
1 pound carrots, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound parsnip, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound onion, cut in 1/2-inch wedges
1 7-pound hen, cut up
4 pounds chicken backs (or bones)
1 tablespoon powdered chicken bouillon
To serve the soup:
5 medium carrots
2 small parsnips
30 matzo balls (recipe below)
Make the broth:
- Distribute the vegetables evenly in the bottom of the soup pot(s). Top with the chicken (backs and hen) and sprinkle with the bouillon. Add about 20 cups of water (5 quarts), or enough water to cover the chicken by 3-4 inches (depending on the pot or pots you use). Bring the soup to a boil; immediately reduce the heat and simmer, skimming the froth occasionally, for 2 hours.
- Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove (and discard) all solids from the pot(s). De-fat the broth using a fat separator as in the picture below, or allow the broth to cool, refrigerate it for several hours, and remove the solidified fat with a spoon.
To finish the soup:
- Peel and cut the carrots and parsnips at a steep diagonal angle into 1/8-inch slices and add them to the hot soup anywhere from 2 hours to 20 minutes before serving.
- Bring the matzo balls to room temperature and add them to the soup 10 minutes before serving.
Makes about 18-20 cups of soup, or 10-12 servings
…And you have richly flavorful, golden chicken soup.
Now for the matzo balls. Matzo ball mix is basically matzo meal plus sodium bicarbonate, which helps keep the matzo balls light. Grandma Jennie did not add oil or schmaltz to her matzo balls, and I agree that fat does not enhance their flavor or texture.
4 large eggs
1 4.5 ounce box matzo ball mix
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
- Separate the eggs. Lightly beat the yolks with a fork. Use an electric beater to whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Gently fold the yolks into the whites. Stir the matzo ball mix into the eggs, working as gently as you can.
- Using wet hands, form into 1-inch balls, working the mixture as little as possible. Drop them into the vigorously boiling water, cover the pot, reduce heat to simmer and cook 30 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a tray and let cool. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When solidly frozen, transfer to a freezer-proof plastic bag.
- To serve, thaw matzo balls and add to chicken soup 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 10 servings; about 30-32 matzo balls
Here’s my soup, so piping hot it’s steaming.