April, 2010 — Perri Kramer
Last year, for my annual Passover Potluck, I decided to stage a little throw-down for my guests. For years, I had easily cooked up delicious Matzo balls using the simple pre-mixed packages. I alternated between the two Granddadd's of Matzo ball soup mix: Streit's and Manischewitz. Both were reliably delicious and wondrously simple to prepare. Get this – you open the box and there are two paper packets (eco-friendly!). In one Packet is the Matzoh ball mix. Pour this mix into a bowl, add two eggs, stir, let sit for 15 minutes, shape in to little balls, throw into a pot of boiling water that includes the contents of Packet 2, the soup mix, and you're done. Ten more minutes and the Matzo balls will have tripled in size, the soup packet has dissolved in the boiling water and you're ready to eat.
Last year though, I wanted to experiment. Pre-mixed boxes were great, but I couldn't quite reconcile continuing to use a box recipe for a festive holiday when my lifestyle centered around using farm fresh, local ingredients, free-range organic chickens and nutrient–rich foods. I imagined that Matzo ball soup must be better than this. Surely, I could shell out more than three dollars and thirty minutes to create a dish that my ancestors had been cooking for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Perhaps, my 23-years of Matzo ball making had been stuck too long in a box (pa-dum-ching!).
I began researching from-scratch Matzo ball recipes online. I scanned through Moroccan and Indian-influenced recipes, hoping to infuse my Seder meal with Sephardic influences. I jotted down suggestions from famous chefs and online food bloggers. I mentally noted that I needed to add twice as much saffron as the majority of the recipes recommended. After days of juggling recipes, I finally molded together a few that I thought had the greatest possibilities for success.
The day before my Passover Potluck, or Seder as it is traditionally called, I shopped around Whole Foods buying all the best produce and chicken for my chicken stock. I eventually left the store with 12 lbs of chicken wings and a massive shopping bag full of produce, eggs and matzo meal. The tab was a gut-wrenching $72. I know what you may be thinking, and I was too – was I insane?
That night I make my chicken stock using organic, free-range chicken wings, organic and local carrots, onions and celery along with salt and pepper and tablespoon after tablespoon of saffron. As I stood over the pot, eating bite after bite of chicken, I began to understand that the "Slow Food" style had its merits. This stock was savory, fatty, and delicious. I covered it up and stuck it in the fridge for the following day when I would skim the fat and cook the Matzo balls.
The next morning, I awoke to find at least two inches of fat sitting on top of my chicken broth. If you've never seen two full inches of fat, I can tell you, it's not appetizing. Especially when you realize that the previous evening you had gulped down spoonfuls of broth, blindly ingesting what may have amounted to tablespoons of pure chicken fat. I decided to compromise my health-conscious cooking techniques with flavor and while I skimmed off the majority of the fat, I left a sizeable layer to blend in as I boiled it. I comforted myself with the knowledge that the fat would blow my friend's minds with its buttery, full flavor.
During the day, I cooked my from-scratch Matzo spinach balls, which looked beautiful striped through with greens. I threw in more colorful carrots streaked with yellows and purples. After two more hours of cutting and forming, stirring and spicing, I announced my project complete. Closing the lid, I set the stove to simmer, full of pride that I had just created possibly the most delicious Matzo Ball soup ever.
Quickly, with only thirty minutes before my guests would arrive, I cooked up my Matzo Ball soup's challenger – the box of Manischewitz Matzo ball soup. I tossed the ingredients together, threw the balls into the pot and set it to simmer just as I buzzed my first guest up.
An hour later, more than twenty friends stood around my kitchen, pressing forward to try the two soups. After serving everyone, I too ladled out two cups of soup. I sat down and eagerly dipped my spoon in each bowl and took my time to savor each. The beautiful spinach Matzo balls were good, dare I saw wonderful. But as soon as a spoonful of the Manischewitz Matzo ball touched my lips, I knew perfection had been reached. How can one even try to replace its simple saltiness, creamy texture and light airiness?
While my free-range, locally grown, from-scratch Matzo ball soup glowed with the colors of beautiful heirloom carrots, there was no denying that somehow the flavors of the simple Manischewitz Matzo Ball soup raised my taste buds to delightful joy, ran down my throat with ease, and filled my belly with soulful warmth.
Perhaps, it was tradition. A new recipe would be forever outmatched by 23 years of Matzo ball eating experience. And so I pushed my time-invested, oh-so-expensive, organic soup to the side. Smiling at my friends, I raised my bowl of Manischewitz, fifty-cents-a-cup soup, to my lips and gulped down the perfect broth.
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