Tovah Cooks Matzoh Ball Soup

Tovah Cooks - creative side project - Sandra Harris

This is part of a creative side project series called Tovah Cooks where I "make modern" my mother-in-law's Mad Men era recipes. At the end of the project I will have them bound in a book for our family.

Passover, Easter - whatever spring holiday you celebrate, there's something about getting together with friends and family and good food. "Traditionnnnn....." (am I the only one hearing that in a Fiddler on the Roof voice? And it IS coming back to Broadway late 2015). Dishes that you have year after year after year - you HAVE to have this salad or that side dish or dessert. It's in our family, right? And your family.


Throw in an eastern European heritage and you have Matzoh Ball Soup. It's one of the many things that you make when you live in a village hundreds of years ago and have limited ingredients. Think dumplings made with matzoh meal instead of flour. Want the yiddish? It's kneidlach.

In our circles reputations are made on the lightness of matzoh balls - colloquially judged as floaters or sinkers. I pride myself in making floaters.

For a variety of reasons, my mother-in-law Tovah ended up being the matriarch of the extended family. She delayed starting her own family so she could help support her parents financially. Her sister passed away from cancer at a fairly young age and her brother moved to Toronto.

Tovah happily hosted the family Passover seders year in and year out. Even when we took over the cooking as she got older, she still opened her home to everyone.

Up from the basement came the dining room table extender and leaves so that 20+ people could sit together and share a meal. Out came the china and the silver flatware and lead crystal. Iron linen tablecloth and napkins. Seder plates and matzoh covers. Family, friends, "orphans" who had nowhere else to go - there was always a full table.

This wasn't a sombre meal - there was storytelling and singing and jokes and banter and conversation. Organized chaos. Kids running here and there til they everyone was called to the table. Harry at one end and Tovah at the other.

And stories - always the stories. And isn't that how a family works? All of the experiences that come together to create a history. THIS is our family. That's how we know who we are as a family, through the stories we tell each other..

I made modern her Mad Men era recipe with spring flavors. The old and the new.

The addition of lemon juice & zest plus the orzo did the trick. And the matzoh balls with grapefruit flavored sparkling water plus fresh chopped sage & parsley? Light as a feather. You can eat this soup year round, with our without the matzoh balls.

Lemon, Chicken & Orzo Soup (adapted from Tartelette

(print recipe here)

2 tsp olive oil

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks (makes for a pretty look compared to the usual dice)

1 small celery stalk, diced

1 small onion, finely chalked

6 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 tsp chopped fresh oregano

1 c. orzo

salt & pepper

8 c chicken broth

zest and juice of a lemon

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the carrot, celery & onion. Cook for about 3 minutes til translucent but not browned. Add the chicken breast, oregano, orzo, broth and season with salt & pepper. Cover, bring to a boil and then simmer half covered til the orzo is al dente (about 20 minutes).

Remove the chicken breast and let cool & shred. Return to the pot with lemon juice & zest and serve with matzoh balls (recipe below).

Parsley-Sage Matzoh Balls (adapted from Epicurious)

(print recipe here)

Makes about 36

4 large eggs

5 tbsp stick butter or margarine, melted

3/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1/2 c finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tbsp fresh sage

1 1/4 c matzoh meal

1/2 c citrus flavoured club soda

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until frothy. Whisk in melted butter, salt, pepper, and herbs. Gradually mix in matzoh meal. Stir in club soda. Cover and chill until firm (at least 2 hours and up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. With wet hands, shape 1 tsp batter into matzoh balls (or as large as you prefer). Don't over mix or get too fussy - squish them and they'll end up like rocks. Be quick about it. Arrange on prepared sheet.

Drop the matzoh balls into a pot of boiling water. Cover and simmer until matzo balls are tender (1/2 hour to one hour). Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a clean baking sheet. (You can make these ahead - let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or chill up to one day. You can even freeze them - freeze in a single layer and then put into a freezer proof bag. Warm/thaw in the soup before serving).