Our Passover Seder may have ended, but we have the leftovers, wonderful memories, and a lesson or two for further reflection. The food inventory is getting simpler - homemade macaroons and flourless chocolate cake are almost gone, as is the matzoh pudding; small containers of 3 kinds of charoset remain, as well as a few matzoh balls in soup. It’s that last item that generated the food lesson I’m calling “Never Too Old to Learn.”
There are times when tradition is good and times when it has to fall by the wayside. In prior years, of my friend and Seder co-host, Jamie always made the chicken soup and matzoh balls. But this year, the soup course was my responsibility.
By happenstance, most of the Seder participants were vegetarians so we decided that chicken soup had to give way to vegetarian broth. That meant I had to figure out matzoh balls at the same time as we changed the soup. My first reaction to so much change was a cold sweat. But I’m glad to report that the vegetable broth worked just fine and even a novice can master the art of the matzoh ball.
For the soup, I used adapted Carol Gelles’ “Mighty Vegetable Broth". The recipe is simple - lots of root vegetables and a few cloves of garlic cook in a pot of water. After bringing the water to a boil, you let everything simmer together for about 2 hours – covered for the 1st hour, then uncovered for another hour to let some of the liquid evaporate. Once the broth is done, you pour it through a strainer. Tiny bits of the vegetables flow into the liquid, but you throw away the pulp remaining in the strainer.
The resulting broth is flavorful, but not heavy. The color depends on what vegetables you use. I used carrots, celery, onion, parsnips, leeks, turnips and celery root, and several tomatoes. With that variety, the broth had an appealing, light color and a complex taste. I especially liked the sweetness that the parsnips provided.
I made the soup the week before Passover and froze it. Then I defrosted and reheated it A few hours before the Seder, I defrosted and reheated the broth, adding the matzoh balls that I made that morning.
Tip for cutting sodium – I didn’t add salt and pepper until I reheated the broth. As it warmed on the stove, I added salt and freshly ground pepper, then tasted. Following Harold McGee’s sage advice, I had others taste the broth too. (Did you know that the older you get, the more difficult it is to discern the salty taste – or any of the taste sensations for that matter?) The result was excellent.
I made the matzoh balls from scratch. Using this link from The Forward, a trusted source on all things Jewish, at least in my house, I felt liberated; one expert said beat the mixture vigorously and another said not to over mix. (I used the Zabar’s recipe, but cut the salt.) My compromise was to mix until I felt like stopping. My matzoh balls were fine. Of course, we’ll never know whether my success was due to the seltzer that many claim is essential to any good matzoh ball recipe, my mixing technique, the music I was playing at the time, or something else. I just hope I can replicate it next year!