One of my favorite Jewish holidays is Pesach (or Passover). The story of a whole people escaping slavery (albeit wandering around for a long, long time in the process) is pretty darn amazing. And the Passover Seder is such a wonderful tradition. The Seder is a ceremonial meal (before the real feast) in which we eat food symbolizing various aspects of Passover.
There are several foods on most Seder plates. Maror (bitter herbs – usually pieces of romaine lettuce) and chazaret (horseradish) are eaten to symbolize bitterness and harshness the Jews suffered while enslaved in Egypt. Charoset (a relish of chopped apples, nuts, honey and sweet wine) symbolizes the mortar Jews used to build pyramids and storehouses. Karpas (a vegetable like parsley or potato) is dipped in salt water symbolizing the initial flourishment of the Jewish people while in captivity that turned to tears. The Zeroah (or lamb bone, which is not eaten) represents the plague in which the first born of all the Egyptians was struck down by God and the sacrifices once made at the Temple. The Beitzah (hard boiled egg) was traditionally a mourning food so it symbolized the loss of the the temple but also is a fertility or springtime symbol. At our house, we also include an orange on our seder plate. Although there is a bit of folklore surrounding this tradition, I use it in my home to symbolize that, although there are different segments in the Jewish community, we are all still one. Each of us contributes to the fruitfulness of our people and to our traditions. And we must spit out the bitter seeds of hate for the different segments. We set an extra place at the at the table for Elijah. Elijah’s Cup of wine is left untouched in honor of Elijah, who, according to tradition, will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the Messiah. Finally, Miriam’s Cup remembers the miracle of Moses’ sister finding water while the Jews wandered the desert and honors Jewish women. So we set out a big goblet of water in her honor. Nice, right? I love a good seder. And this year, we’ll be celebrating our seder with our Muslim and Christian neighbors. I’m beyond excited for our little gathering!
My seder gets a little silly sometimes. I’m not one to drag this into a three hour struggle when we all just really want to eat. Nope, give me 10 plague finger puppets and a bunch of wine, and we’ll have a party y’all. Yes, I know, it’s a bit of a solemn party but with a few bored kids in attendance, you’ve got to lighten it up now and then.
Ironically, the feast itself if also a fast. During Passover, Jews avoid eating anything that has been leavened to symbolize the fact that, when we fled Egypt, there was not time to let the bread rise. So we avoid eating most grains during Passover, many of us even removing any aspect of them from our home for the duration of the holiday (seven or eight days depending upon your branch of Judaism).
Of course, you know I’m all about the food so I tend to make a few very traditional things for our feast, but also try to mix things up when I can. However, at the Seder, the first course is always Matzo Ball Soup. It’s a big bowl of clear chicken broth with a couple of big, fluffy, dumpling-like balls in them. Some people balk at adding pieces of chicken or any vegetables but I do like mine garnished with a bit of fresh parsley and some carrots. It just seems a bit more festive and hearty to me. This is basically Jewish penicillin so next time someone you love gets sick, make them a big bowl of this and they’ll be all better in no time.
Matzoh Ball Soup (this makes about 12 matzoh balls)
- 1/2 C matzo meal (not matzo ball mix)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 T schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) or oil (olive is fine)
- 2 T water or broth
- 2-3 T salt, divided
- 2 T finely chopped parsley, plus 2 T for garnish
- 2 quarts plus 2 C chicken broth, preferably homemade
- about 1-2 quarts water
- 1/2 C carrots, finely sliced
In a medium bowl, beat eggs for at least one minute with a fork. You want them as fluffy as you can get them. Add 2 T water or broth, 2 T schmaltz or oil, and 1 t salt. Mix well. Add matzo meal and 2 T parsley and stir until it just comes together. You don’t want to overwork it or the matzo balls will be very dense. The mixture should be about the consistency of loose oatmeal. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow it to firm up.
Heat 2 cups chicken broth in large stock pot with about 1-2 quarts water and 2 T salt. You want it deep enough for the matzo balls to double (at least) in size). Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, you will form your matzo balls. With wet or oiled hands, form matzo mixture into approximately 1 inch balls (you’ll have 10-12 balls, which made The Boy snicker inappropriately as I was reading this aloud). Drop into boiling water/broth mixture, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Much of the liquid is going to be absorbed.
In another large pot, bring the 2 quarts broth to a simmer. When the matzo balls have been cooking for about 25 minutes, add carrots to this pot and allow to cook for about 3-5 minutes until crisp-tender. Taste and add salt as needed.
Place 2 or 3 matzo balls in a shallow bowl and ladle warm soup over them. Garnish with parsley and serve.
And this year, I learned an AMAZING (not so) secret. The Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival in Savannah sells gallons and gallons of matzoh ball soup on the last Sunday of October every year. I always wondered how they managed to serve so much soup without the matzoh balls getting over or undercooked. I discovered the secret when I volunteered to make and freeze matzoh balls in the weeks leading up to the festival. I used a package of mix for mine that time but cooked them according to the package instructions and then cooled and froze the fully cooked balls on a cookie sheet. Then I transferred them to a ziploc bag and took them to the temple where they were added to THOUSANDS of prepared matzoh balls in the giant freezer. They simply thaw them out and add them to their boiling soup as needed on the day of the festival. And for my Passover Seder Dinner party, that’s exactly what I did too! This recipe is easily doubled, so you can actually make these ahead and add them to your soup while you are clearing up from the ceremonial meal. SO much easier!