Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Matzoh! Matzo! Matza!
I was rummaging around in the pantry tonight, looking for something to prepare for dinner. Yes, I had a perfectly lovely package of chicken breasts waiting in the fridge, which I had planned to grill, and I just wasn't feeling the flame-broiled love. Probably because it has dropped about 20 degrees since yesterday.
Welcome to Spring in the South...weather changes day-by-day, and for the love of Pete, do not get tempted to actually plant anything in the ground outside before Easter. And, if you put out some lovely hanging baskets of petunias, be prepared to haul them in at least once before Easter, if not multiple times.
I was wandering through Lowe's yesterday, in the 78-degree afternoon, looking longingly at the herbs...basil, rosemary, and wishing they had some thyme. With steely resolve, I turned away, because I knew it wouldn't last. Sure enough, today's high was around 56, with a nice chilly wind.
So, back to the chicken...was feeling too wimpy to stand outside and grill chicken, so am looking for a boxed something to whip together. I don't even want to touch the chicken at all, for some reason...probably relates to that whole pain in the ass that cooking for one is...or I could just be incredibly lazy today. I'll let you make the choice.
Hidden behind 3 boxes of couscous and a couple of quarts of chicken stock, I spy a box of Streit's Matzo Ball and Soup Mix. An odd thing for a goyim gal to have, but y'all should know me well enough by now that if it's a dumpling or any form of pasta...oh, heck who am I kidding? Any form of carbohydrate, then I'm all over it.
What the heck, let's make this, I think...is cool outside, is soup, and doesn't really involve handling chicken. Although, I immediately start thinking about how to spruce it up...and wondering if I should add the chicken into the soup, or if that was somehow sacrilegious...even though I am not Jewish. (And, did you know that if you say something sacrilegious out loud, it then becomes blasphemy. Furthered all our educations today, didn't I?)
Matzo is a flat, unleavened cracker that is used as bread during Passover, because eating leavened products is forbidden. Wikipedia has much more reference material on the who, what, and how of this tradition, and can explain it in much greater detail than I can...and thereby making sure that I don't inadvertently get something wrong and offend anyone. I know about the whole dairy and meat shall not meet restriction, and the avoidance of bacon and shrimp, but honestly, all I really know about Jewish dietary law, I got from the visiting rabbi's lecture during my 15 minutes in Banquet Class. Plus, there seem to be a whole lot of ways to spell the word, so I'm picking "matzo" and going with that for consistency's sake.
I've eaten matzo crackers for years, because they are incredibly plain and boring...which makes them a great vehicle for very savory dips and spreads, in my opinion. I don't want my cracker to compete with my dip/spread; I want it to complement it, or really just carry it to my mouth. The downside of that is that the plain mazto is also an unsalted vehicle for my dip...and sometimes that little kick of salt on a cracker is just what the spread calls for and is sorely missed. Sometimes, you're the bug, sometimes, you're the windshield.
The one thing I have absolutely no desire to do is make my own matzos, so we won't even talk about that.
Onto the soup...Matzo Ball Soup is essentially comfort food, and it seems that lots of cultures have a version of a comfort dumpling soup. Just this weekend, my friend Kimma, made Chicken and Dumplings, which might be comparable as Southern Matzo Ball soup. She did it pretty much from scratch, cooking a chicken and making the dumplings by hand, and they were fluffy and good. (Bisquick was involved, but that is an acceptable option for making dumplings. DO NOT get me started on people who use canned biscuits for dumplings. It will not be pretty, and it's too late in the evening for bloodshed.)
My great-aunt, who was essentially the family matriarch, even though she never had children of her own, was the champion chicken and dumplings maker in our family. Unfortunately, she's gone now, and I have no idea how she did it. If you have a family cook or a family recipe that's in danger of being lost for good, I strongly encourage you to get it recorded somehow--writing, pictures, video, etc., because once it's gone, it's gone.
Oh, yeah, soup. So, the little box tells me to mix 2 eggs and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil with the packet marked "matzo," and let it sit for 15 minutes, while bringing 2.5 quarts of water to a boil. I decided to sub a quart of chicken broth for 1 quart of water, and I think that added a lot of flavor.
After the 15 minutes were up, and the liquid was boiling, I added the contents of the package marked "soup." I then wet my hands and formed the dough into walnut-size balls and dropped them into the soup. I also added a few sliced carrots and some diced celery. I clamped the lid on that sucker, reduced the heat to low, and simmered it for about 25 minutes, and viola! Matzo Ball Soup a'la Poodlevania.
The texture was slightly similar to the Bisquick dumplings, in that it was fluffyish on the inside, but the Bisquick was definitely a Pillowtop Serta Comfort Sleeper Matress in comparision to the matzo ball...leavening does that for you.
The nutritional info is not too bad on this stuff, either. 1 cup prepared is approximately 50 calories, and the ingredient list is not awfully horrible and unpronounceable, either. When was the last time you saw a packaged soup mix with white pepper, celery seed, and dill seed included? (Although, it says there are approximately 9 servings, of which I probably ate 4...and not sure how the whole mazto ball calorie count plays into it--those tricky marketing folks, you know.) However, I do have some leftover for lunch tomorrow or the next day...will be interesting to see how the matzo balls hold up as leftovers.
Here's a great column by Steve Almond, a funny guy, author of Candy Freak, describing his trials and tribulations on learning how to make matzo balls and taking up the family mantle of mazto ball maker. He includes his family recipe, which seems simple enough, except, I'm not sure where I would get the chicken fat (schmaltz)...not a lot of kosher grocers in this neck of the woods, but I could probably figure it out.