Everyone's Favorite Jewish Dish: Matzo Ball Soup

By:Michael Engle

Exactly one week from now, Jews all over the world will be observing Passover (Pesach, in Hebrew, as well as in universal Jewish common vernacular) with the first of two seders. Technically, by that time, all Jewish homes should be completely ridden of chametz, or leavened bread products. During Passover, five common and normally-kosher grains: wheat, barley, rye, oat, and spelt, temporarily become forbidden in all forms, except for Kosher for Passover matzo. In addition, beans and legumes are widely avoided, as per Eastern European tradition. This is why certain high-fructose corn syrup-dependent products, such as Coca-Cola and Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup, make special batches with refined sugar, in order to maintain sales during Passover. (Because of this seasonal change, certain food purists and enthusiasts, whether Jewish or gentile, buy these items in bulk during Passover.)

The most iconic Passover staple, matzo ball soup, is now in a class of its own. No longer a week-long phenomenon, it is enjoyed year-round. In fact, it is a very simple dish: all you have to do is make matzo balls, place them in a bowl with kosher chicken stock, and serve it! Even spare dill sprigs or celery or carrot chunks can be considered superfluous.My local Long Island diner offers matzo ball soup year-round, but inexplicably, noodles are included. (Since noodles are rarely kosher for passover, it truly is a combination as inauthentic as a "kosher" hamburger with cheese.) For vegetarians, vegetable stock may be used instead of chicken stock, despite the fact that chicken stock truly is the traditional base of this dish. (A healthy portion of Jewish guilt may or may not necessarily accompany vegetarian matzo ball soup.)

Matzo balls are deceptively tricky to make. Even though the recipe is straightforward with easy-to-find ingredients, it takes a lot of practice (and a prayer for each batch) in order to consistently make quality matzo balls. If you don't have a Jewish grandmother from whom you could borrow a recipe, fear not. Grocery stores routinely sell matzo meal, as well as matzo ball soup mix, seven days a week. (Six for the kosher markets, as they are closed on Shabbat!) Most packages come with a suggested recipe printed on the box or bag.

If, after you succeed in making your matzo balls, you find that they are too hard or fluffy for your tastes, you can experiment with different amounts of eggs, water, and oil. This is actually an eternal debate among Jews. My own mother's family is perfectly divided with respect to this question: her mother's family prefers the "floaters," while her father's family swears by the "sinkers!"  On the other hand, if you grow tired of tweaking your recipe to perfection, there are plenty of take-out options for matzo ball soup. Your favorite New York-area kosher (or kosher-style) deli probably sells matzo ball soup; the famous ones, such as 2nd Avenue Deli, Katz's Deli, and Zabar's, are famous for theirs. In NYC, the destinations are endless! L'chaim!

Aside from "Bubbe's house" or your mother's kitchen, where is your favorite bowl of matzo ball soup?


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