Chicken and Matzo Ball Soup

I grew up without a regular religious routine. I know that may seem strange and shocking to many of you, but it seemed like the freedom to explore religion in general to me. As I went to different cultural and religious ceremonies throughout the years, I became curious about the differences…and similarities. I’m not here to debate which religion is the best or most right. I don’t have all the answers. I do, however, have my own opinions based on learning and experience. I will say that all religions have at least one thing about them that strikes me as being true.

That being said, part of learning about culture, heritage, and religion is experiencing the traditional foods. This has always been, of course, my favorite part. You really learn a lot when you examine the food that defines a group of people. The history that is passed down with a recipe is often overlooked in the wake of tradition. However, using what was available to feed those you care about, has always been the basis of family.


My Step-Dad’s family is Jewish. I grew up enjoying latkes, kugel, bagels, and matzo ball soup. Eventually I moved to San Francisco. After growing up in a small town, the big city was exciting! So many amazing restaurants to try! Most of my favorite places were, and still are, little hole-in-the-wall dives. Literally. There are so many buildings crammed into that one area that they usually share walls and seem like one big building from block to block. The spaces run lengthwise from the street back and always feel narrow. But, that’s part of the charm. You can find the really authentic food at the small places too. There was a Jewish deli that I would visit as often as I could get to that neighborhood, and I always had to get a knish. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water.

Every once in a while, I would visit the more upscale, and expensive, eateries. Blissfully savoring each morsel, trying to lock each flavor into my memory. Yes, they really were that good. I really learned to appreciate food then. Not just for sustenance, but as the creation of a memory. I think that’s why I love cooking and baking so much. Creating taste sensations that strikes an emotion. OK…now, I’m thinking of the scenes in ‘Ratatouille’ where Remy shows his brother how different flavors mixed together  an create something magical. That’s how it feels when someone loves something you have made. Though, it’s not easy to come up with a truly unique recipe all the time, taking an existing recipe and making it unique is pretty fun! Sometimes, I find shortcuts to make my life easier, without sacrificing quality, or substitutions that take the recipe to a whole new level. Especially healthier options!

Once I found the kosher aisle in the grocery, I realized that I could easily make chicken soup at home and use the handy-dandy matzo ball mix to make the star of the dish! Life just got easier…and more delicious! Eventually, I had a child of my own, and one time we ended up with a massive cold we kept passing around like a hot potato. In my fevered need to make us chicken soup, I also found that some stores have pre-chopped vegetables. When you are sick yourself, it’s like finding the proverbial pot of gold! If your vegetables are still raw, I suggest sautéing then in a little oil before adding the broth. These days, I use pre-cut frozen veggies (usually my own celery, carrots, onions, and garlic) and those handy cartons of broth. There are also some excellent concentrates, but even a powdered chicken broth will work. It really depends on your preference and budget. Really, you can eat very well on a skimpy income. I also add a chicken breast or two (you actually don’t need a lot) to the broth while it boils. Both the chicken and the51xTaGWr3jL._AC_UL320_SR218,320_ broth will be enhanced by this process. Sounds pretty easy so far right? Frozen veggies, chicken, and broth in a pot and heat to boiling. Let the chicken cook in the liquid the whole time. Seriously. You really can’t overcook it in the liquid, but do make sure the broth covers it completely. I use Manischewitz for the matzo ball mix. Not only because it is a long-time trusted name in the Jewish community, but also because they sell the matzo ball mix without the powdered broth packet. I make my own soup, so I’d rather have double the matzo mix than a packet I won’t be using. Follow the directions on the box for making the matzo balls. The size is, really, up to you. I tend to make mine small; about 1″ around. This allows them to cook easier as they have a bit more room to move around in the liquid. Whatever size you choose, make them as even as possible so that they all finish at the same time. When the soup is finished cooking, I turn the heat off and remove the chicken into a separate bowl. Then, I take two sturdy, metal, serving forks and shred the chicken meat into tiny slivers. Add the meat back into the pot and stir. Voila! Dinner is ready!

After Thanksgiving (twice,) I knew we would be wanting a lighter meal, and remembered how much we love chicken and matzo ball soup. I always end up making a lot of soup, plus we had leftover pie, so we invited my SIL and her family over for dinner. I have to admit to being a little sneaky here. I just told her that I was making chicken soup. I wasn’t sure how they would react to trying something that sounded so different, and didn’t want the kids to decide ahead of time that they weren’t going to like it. So, I emphasized the pie and didn’t elaborate on the soup. If you have never tried this dish before, they are like dumplings, only lighter and fluffier, as well as seasoned a little more. By the time they got to our house, thanks to a dawdling three-year-old, we were all starving and dug right in! Imagine their faces when even their pickiest eaters loved it! It really is true: you’ll never know what you like, until you try!

Vegetable Drawer Soup

SP356JEvery once in a while, I notice that my fridge has an abundance of ingredient leftovers. Half a bag of carrots here, the celery leaves in the middle of the stalk, some small potatoes, and all the small amounts of vegetables that didn’t make it into one recipe or another. Instead of letting them go bad, and having to throw them away, I use my Grandma’s method of making soup: start with the basics (carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, and garlic) and add zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, green beans, corn kernels, and anything that sounds good mixed all together. This is an excellent time to look through your freezer and pantry to see if there are any things there you want to add (such as beans and tomatoes.) This makes for a different soup each time. Since you’ll be using ingredients you have available, they should be items you already like. Win-Win!

I start by chopping all the vegetables to about the same size. I like a small-bite size (think little kid size), so that the soup cooks evenly. For ease, use a slicer on as many veggies as possible. There will be differences, like corn nibblets and flat slices, but that just adds some different textures to the dish. Frankly, having some of the veggies melt in your mouth, is a goal of mine with this soup.

Once all the veggies are cut and ready, I heat a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil in a pan and add the minced garlic and chopped onions. To be fair, you really don’t have to cook the onions (especially if they are sweet onions) but it does help them get a rich flavor. After a few minutes, when the onions are translucent, add some tomato paste. I learned a long time ago that tomato paste loses that sour bite when you cook it for a few minutes. If you didn’t know about this trick already, it works with all recipes requiring paste. My twist on this procedure, is to push the garlic and onions to the sides and place the paste directly on the pan in the middle; don’t be afraid to let it sizzle on the pan. Stir the paste a bit so that all of it gets cooked evenly and the color changes slightly. Stir the garlic and onions into the cooked paste and set aside.

Now, let’s talk spices. Salt and pepper, obviously, are basic staples; but a person could get lost in the many varieties of herbs and spices available. The best part about this soup is that you can adapt it to what you have on hand. Need to use up some of that fancy paprika you once bought? Toss some in there. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme? Why not! Often, I will use poultry seasoning. Yup, you heard me right…poultry seasoning! It has a good blend of spices that can add a mellow, unifying flow to the vegetables. As for me, I like to experiment. I added a bit of allspice to the last batch. Another thing I learned about tomato sauce and soup recipes, is that you should add a bit of sugar to counter the acidity.

When you’re ready begin building your crock pot of soup, I suggest starting with the potatoes and other chunks of dense veggies. You’ll want these to be closer to the heat source so that they cook more thoroughly. Next, add the other raw vegetables by thickness, the warm paste mix, a can of diced tomatoes (if not adding raw) and any other canned items, finally ending with any frozen pieces.

To go full veggie, use a vegetable stock or broth as your liquid. Personally, I like to use chicken as my base. Next time, I might even throw some chicken in there to shred before serving. You can even use plain water. Whatever you decide to use, add enough liquid to fill the slow cooker so that most of the vegetables are submerged. The amounts used in this dish are flexible, so you will have to experiment a bit to see what works for you. For us, that’s all part of the fun…experimenting!

C__Data_Users_DefApps_AppData_INTERNETEXPLORER_Temp_Saved Images_1454611_10205978183077574_6727975200734747882_n

Now, once again, the hard part. Waiting while it cooks. I suggest at least 8 hours on low, but it can easily cook all day or all night. Trust me, you can be gone all day, and it will just be more melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Last time the potatoes didn’t quite get cooked enough, so I put it back on the heat overnight and it was perfect by morning. Of course, my Grandma used to cook it in a pot on the stove…and you can too! Just be sure to stir often, as this is an all-day dish that is well worth the effort.