We love cookbook author Leah Koenig‘s approach to traditional Jewish cuisine. Take, for example, a few modern kitchen staples that Koenig uses with a deft hand in her mouthwatering recipes (and that your Grandma Sadie probably did not have in her kitchen, God love her), from seasonal green market vegetables, bouquets of fresh herbs and balsamic vinegar to smoking hot jalapenos (yes, truly). She also incorporates regional influences, from North Africa to Central Europe, to add excitement and variety to her dishes.
You get the idea. Her new book, Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes and Customs for Today’s Kitchens ($26; amazon.com) comes out this month, just in time for Passover. We thought her matzo ball soup might be just the thing for your family sit-down this year. Here it is, below, along with her commentary.
"I have never met a matzo ball I didn’t like. Floater, sinker, big, small, delicate, or dense—I will happily eat them all," she says. "These traditional beauties skew on the tender and fluffy side, thanks to the glug of seltzer lightening up the batter. A little chopped parsley adds color and a hint of freshness. Don’t have matzo meal on hand? Save an extra trip to the grocery store by making your own. Break up a few matzo sheets and pulse them in the food processor until they take on a bread crumb–like consistency.
SERVES 6 TO 8
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup/60 ml vegetable oil or schmaltz
1 tsp salt
1 cup/105 g matzo meal
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tbsp plain seltzer water
Classic chicken soup (recipe below)
1. Stir together the eggs, vegetable oil, salt, matzo meal, parsley, and seltzer in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and keep at a simmer while you form the matzo balls.
3. Moisten your hands with water. Scoop out a rounded 1 tbsp of matzo ball batter and roll it into a 1-in/2.5-cm ball. Drop into the simmering water, and repeat with the remaining batter. You should end up with about 15 matzo balls. Cover the pot and simmer until the matzo balls are tender and puffed, 30 to 35 minutes. (If you cut one in half, it should be pale in color throughout.)
4. Remove the matzo balls from the pot with a slotted spoon, divide between bowls, and ladle soup over the top. (Matzo balls can be cooled to room temperature, then stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to one day. Rewarm them in your soup before serving.)
CLASSIC CHICKEN SOUP
"A million odes have been sung to a pot of chicken soup over the centuries. Here’s mine: 'Oh chicken soup, you gorgeous golden broth, there is nothing quite like you that can make my home smell so profoundly and immediately Jewish,'" Koenig says. "With its tender hunks of meat, meltingly soft vegetables, and a broth that could cure the toughest cold (there’s a reason why it’s known as 'Jewish penicillin'), chicken soup simmered with garlic, parsley, and onions is the epitome of Jewish comfort food. Serve this simple, classic version with egg noodles, rice, Matzo Balls, or Beef Kreplach with Ginger and Cilantro.
SERVES 6 TO 8
3-to 3 1/2-lb/1.4-to 1.6-kg whole chicken
3 large carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
3 stalks celery, with leaves, halved crosswise
2 yellow onions, halved through the root
1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and cored
1 bay leaf
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup/10 g loosely packed fresh parsley, with stems, plus roughly chopped parsley for serving
Kosher slat and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)
1. Place the chicken, carrots, celery, onions, fennel, bay leaf, garlic, and parsley stems in a large soup pot and cover with cold water by 1 in/2.5 cm. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat to low. Gently simmer, partially covered, skimming off any foam that accumulates, until the chicken is very tender and falling off the bone, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. You want the soup to roll along at the gentlest simmer. If it starts to bubble too vigorously, nudge the heat down a little.
2. Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and transfer to a cutting board. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Return the strained broth to the pot; discard the parsley stems and bay leaf. Using your fingers, remove the meat from the bones and roughly chop. Slice the vegetables into bite-size pieces and return them to the pot along with the chicken meat. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Divide into bowls and top with chopped parsley. Serve hot with lemon wedges for squeezing, if desired.