Monday, September 01, 2014

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

There are so many little niceties that fall by the wayside of modern life. But really, they only take a few minutes, and they can turn someone's day around. Get-well cards. Sickbed food deliveries. And don't get me started on thank-you notes. Do I sound like a grandma? Well, let me make you a pot of soup.

I can get as wrapped up in my busy life as the next person. But lately, I've been trying to step up in these little ways. I happened to have a get-well card on hand the other day (because I could not resist a letterpressed illustration of a dog in the Cone of Shame), and so it just took a few minutes to write a note to a friend who broke her ankle (also, Portland has overnight local mail delivery, which always seems like something of a modern miracle). Then the other day, a friend posted that he had a miserably high fever (he described his state as 'writhing'). And since this is a friend who's helped me out many times, I couldn't sit back. So I channeled my inner grandmother, and made up some matzoh ball soup.

But there was one complication — despite what the calendar may say, summer is still kind of in effect. And, in the midst of hot, sunny days, a bowl full of my usual dill-and-garlic, parsnip-filled standard just seemed a bit too much. So when sickbed duty called, I gave matzoh ball soup a summer update. And it turns out to be delicious.

I threw my frozen bag of vegetable trimmings in the stockpot, with a few additions and subtractions to create a sunny broth heavy on the carrots, garlic and parsley. Then I shaved the kernels off a few ears of corn, and threw the cobs in to simmer as well. I used my standard matzoh ball recipe (also grandparental in origin), but gave it a similar summer update with a mix of chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil. I kept the simmered carrots for a bit of depth, but rounded the soup out with those oh-so-summer corn kernels, and a few halved sungold tomatoes, both floated in the soup right before serving. And then topped the whole summery mess with another dose of those fresh herbs.

The resulting hybrid is clearly matzoh ball soup, full of all that healing goodness. But it's lighter and brighter, perfect for a warm sickbed evening. My grandmother would be proud.

And speaking of trying to be half the people our grandparents were, I recently produced a radio story about learning to be a man in prison (and beyond). You can take a listen over at NPR.

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

yields 1 generous sickbed delivery, plus a few bowls for yourself

Matzoh Balls:
5 eggs
1/2 cup neutral oil, like canola
~3/4-1+ cups matzoh meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
~2 teaspoons salt
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill, and basil

To Finish:
~2 quarts broth (homemade is nice, but if you've got a premade broth you can simmer it with the peelings from your carrots, a few garlic cloves, and the corncobs)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
corn shaved off of 2 ears
~12 sungold tomatoes, halved
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil, mixed together

To make the matzoh balls: Whisk together the eggs and oil. Add as much matzoh meal as needed to make a texture somewhat like thick mud — you want it to have some body, but not thick enough to even mound on a spoon (the mixture will firm up upon standing). Stir in the baking powder, salt, pepper, and chopped herbs. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed (it should be fairly salty). Chill for at least 10-15 minutes.

While the matzoh ball mixture is chilling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Check the chilled mixture — if it's not firm enough to just scoop after resting, add more matzoh meal, and let rest a bit longer. Shape matzoh balls of your desired size with a small ice-cream scoop, two oiled spoons, or oiled hands, and plop them directly in the simmering water. Turn the heat down just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally to rotate, for at least 30 minutes. They're done when you can cut them open to reveal a ball that's fully cooked through. When done, turn off the pot, and let them cool in the water.

While the balls are resting/cooking, pot the carrot coins in a small pot, and add water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until fully tender, ~20 minutes. Let cool.

To serve, add the carrots (and their delicious cooking liquid!) to the broth. Remove the matzah balls with a slotted spoon, and add to the broth. Heat everything up, and add the corn and tomatoes (just a small bit for each person) for the final minute or so, until just heated through. Ladle into bowls, and top each serving with a smattering of fresh herbs. If you're bringing this as a sickbed delivery, it's best to package the tomatoes and corn together, and the fresh herbs in a separate parcel as well, so that they each can be added later to preserve their fresh taste.


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