As the holiday that commemorates the Jews’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Against all odds, it’s also one of the most fun.
Maybe that has something to do with the fact that you’re supposed to drink four glasses of wine, which is enough to get a stereotypically diminutive people buzzed. Or it could be because there are songs and games involved. Or perhaps it’s because, even if you grew up relatively non-religious, like me, chances are it was still one of the few times a year your whole family got together to break bread – the unleavened kind, anyway.
Who knows exactly why Passover is such an enjoyable holiday, but I can certainly tell you that for most Ashkenazi Jews, it’s not because of the food.
Each of the seven foods on the ‘seder plate’ – which makes an obligatory appearance at each of the first two Passover dinners – are deeply symbolic. And they all seem to symbolize suffering. For example, there’s the parsley dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears shed by the Israelites and the charoset to remind us of the brick and mortar the Jewish slaves used to build the Pharaoh’s monuments. Even the egg – which symbolizes the circle of life and new beginnings – is supposed to be served with salt water to remind us of the struggles that brought us here (and people wonder where Jewish guilt comes from).
I like to think of matzo ball soup as a dish that celebrates life, guilt-free. It’s the one food on Passover that you can count on to be delicious, no matter where you’re eating.
On a holiday where the terrifying mystery that is gefilte fish is placed in front of you in what seems like some sadistic joke, you can take comfort in knowing matzo ball soup will soon follow to make it all better. It’s what has gotten Jews through lifetimes of seders otherwise filled with culinary suffering.
It’s the one dish to actually look forward to on Passover. Most matzo ball soup is simple, consisting mostly of chicken broth, dill and, of course, matzo balls. It’s the kind of dish with a recipe that’s been passed down by generations of grandmas.
Yehuda Sichel – chef at Philadelphia’s Abe Fisher, a restaurant famous for putting a fresh spin on classic Jewish soul food – doesn’t make your grandma’s matzo ball soup.
Instead, he looks to elevate the holiday classic. Bright, beautiful and just a tiny touch creamy, this version features a parmesan stock, parsnips and everyone’s favorite bitter green: kale. (Sichel has also cooked up a soy duck matzo ball soup which Abe Fisher will be serving at its Passover tasting menu from March 30 to April 6).
Don’t worry – regardless of whether your family is one who screams about tradition, and how “Because that’s just always the way things have been done!”, the homemade matzo balls would make your bubbie proud.
For the parmesan stock
- ½ pound parmesan rinds
- 1 medium Spanish onion, diced large
- 1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally
- 1 large carrot, diced large
- 3 stalks of chopped celery
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- 2 quarts water
For the soup
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 medium Spanish onions, thinly sliced
- 3 large parsnips, thinly sliced
- ½ pound unsalted butter
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup heavy cream
- To taste kosher salt
For the vegetables
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 medium Spanish onion, thinly sliced
- 1 bunch kale
- As needed olive oil
For the matzo balls
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 1/2 medium Spanish onion, grated
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 chopped scallions
- For serving squeezed lemon
- For serving chopped fresh dill
- For serving chopped fresh parsley
To make the stock
- 1 Wrap the parmesan rinds in cheesecloth and tie it closed with twine. Add the ingredients to a large stock pot, making sure the cheesecloth is submerged in the liquid. Simmer over low heat for 2 hours. While hot, strain the stock into a large bowl. Set aside.
To make the soup
- 1 Add the garlic, onions, parsnips and butter to a large pot and season with a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes minutes. Add the wine, then bring to a boil and cook for 4 more minutes. Turn the heat to medium, add the parmesan stock and simmer for about 1 hour.
- 2 Working in batches, pour the hot stock into a blender, add the heavy cream and puree until smooth. Strain the soup through a fine strainer into a clean pot to keep warm and season with salt to taste.
- 3 Wash and strip the leaves of kale from the stems. Separate the leaves and stems, and roughly chop both. Set aside.
- 4 Cook the garlic, onions and kale stems with a splash of olive oil in a large sauté pan over low heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until the stems are soft. Add the leaves and season with a pinch of salt. Cook and stir the mixture until the leaves are wilted, then place the the vegetables in a bowl to let cool.
To make the matzo balls
- 1 Combine the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until blended. Let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a simmer
- 2 Remove the matzo mixture from the refrigerator and portion the balls with a 1-ounce ice cream scoop onto a lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
- 3 Spray your hands with cooking spray. Shape each piece of matzo dough into a ball and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
- 4 To serve, place a spoonful of the cooked kale in the bowl, ladle in the broth and add one or two matzo balls. Garnish with a splash of lemon juice, dill and parsley, and serve.