Ethnic And International Foods

The History of Matzo Ball Soup



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The history of matzo ball soup stretches back through the European enclaves that Jews populated even as far as the Middle East. During Passover, there is matzo, a dry, cracker-like, bread replacement to eat since flour is not allowed. Since matzo is not viewed as the most filling or appetizing substitute, people decided to make it more edible by grinding it up, adding eggs, and making kneidlach (dumplings).

The history of matzo ball soup stretches back to the European enclaves that Jews populated all the way to the Middle East. During Passover there is matzo, a dry, cracker-like, bread replacement to eat since flour is not allowed.

This soup is native to Eastern European Jewish communities, although it has become popular in other regions of the world as well. It is very simple and very filling. It is thought to be the quintessential Jewish comfort food. It can be made at home or it can be purchased at many Jewish delis, especially during Passover

The very basic recipe for matzo ball soup is merely chicken stock, oil, eggs and broken up matzo. Some recipes may add a number of ingredients, such as seasonings and seltzer or baking powder (for fluffiness).

Traditionally, the fat had been chicken fat, which imparts a distinctive flavor, but vegetable oils or margarine can be used for a more healthy choice. Butter is not used as milk products are not allowed to be used in chicken (meat) soup in accordance with the rules of the Jewish dietary laws, kashrut (kosher). There are even recipes for fat-free Matzo balls.

The first step in making matzo ball soup is making the matzo balls by mixing fat, matzo meal, water, and spices to taste, to form a dense, sticky dough.

Chicken fat is the classic choice, although other fats and oils could certainly be used. Ingredients like salt, pepper, and dried onions are sometimes added as well.

While the matzo ball dough is being assembled, the stock is heated so that it will be boiling when the dough is ready. The balls are hand-formed using wet hands, then dropped into the boiling stock for about 20 minutes. The matzo balls swell in the boiling broth into dense dumplings which range in size from a couple of centimeters in diameter to a few inches.

Since matzo balls are time consuming to make because of sticky dough, most cooks make a big batch, cook them in boiling water, and then freeze them. The frozen balls can be dropped into stock to heat up as needed.

The ingredients in basic matzo ball soup meet the dietary requirements of Passover, making this filling soup a popular choice for this Jewish holiday. However, it is also served year round; some people jokingly call it "Jewish chicken soup" or "Jewish penicillin," in a reference to the fact that it is often offered to people who are feeling under the weather.

More about this author: Wendy Allmon

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