In New York, Jewish food has saturated our culture. Bagels and smoked salmon are important weekend brunch elements. Chicken soup is Penicillin for all. Mile End‘s comfort food is a phenomenon city-wide.
Last week, a friend of mine who teaches undergraduates told me a Nigerian student in his class had used the word schmaltzy–meaning excessively emotional or grandiose–perhaps not knowing that schmaltz is the Yiddish word for rendered animal fat. As in, “that’s rich,” muttered kind of sarcastically.
Speaking literally, schmaltz is the chicken fat that makes my mom’s matzoh balls rich yet light, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The process for making matzoh balls delights me too. The fat that collects at the top of cooled homemade chicken broth becomes an essential ingredient in the little dumplings served in the soup.
When I decided to develop a vegetarian recipe for Passover, I naturally had to nix the schmaltz altogether. Instead, using my favorite vegetable broth, I substituted oil for the chicken fat in the matzoh balls and added cups of classic soup vegetables to my pot. Lots of chopped dill rounds out the flavor and adds a springy touch.
By the way, I still don’t own a ladle. I mention this in the equipment section of In the Small Kitchen, and I still stand by the idea that a one-cup measure works just perfectly for serving soup.
If you’re not a vegetarian, start prepping my mom’s amazing brisket now.
Vegetarian Matzoh Ball Soup
For the matzoh balls:
1/2 cup matzoh meal
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil or safflower oil, or a combination
2 tablespoons vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
For the soup:
4 cups Really Good Vegetable Stock (recipe here)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon white wine
1 medium turnip, cubed (about 1 cup)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into half moons
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
First, make the matzoh In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add the stock, oil, salt and pepper, and mix well. Add matzo meal and stir thoroughly.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours, or overnight.
Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Moisten your palms with cold water, and form a bit of the mixture into a ball 3/4 inch in diameter. Drop it into the pot, and repeat with the remaining mixture until you’ve made all your matzoh balls. You’ll have about 10, depending on size. Reduce the heat slightly and cover. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes, removing the matzoh balls with a slotted spoon. Keep them in a large bowl, then add to soup no more than 30 minutes before serving.
In a second medium pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add the wine, salt, turnips, carrots, and celery. Simmer, partly covered, for 25 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked. Add most of the dill, the lemon, and the matzoh balls, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. Add the rest of the dill. Taste for salt, adding more as needed, and serve.