Passover tradition: Make your own matzo ball soup

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What's the secret to good matzo ball soup?

According to Danny Osman, owner of Dream Away Lodge in Becket, Mass., it's all about what the soup truly is at its most basic — good chicken soup.

"A good chicken soup is a good chicken soup. It's that for the seder you add the matzo balls," said Osman, who is known for holding a second-night Seder that's a sellout each year at the Berkshire restaurant.

As the Jewish community throughout the Berkshires and Southern Vermont readies for Passover next week, there will certainly be a lot of talk about matzo ball soup — a hot and hearty chicken soup with matzo balls; dumplings made from matzo meal, water, eggs and a fat. The Passover meal, known as a Seder, is about remembering Jewish history. Much of the food is deeply symbolic, with the matzo representing the unleavened bread the Jews ate while fleeing Egypt.

Depending on the recipe, the texture of matzo balls may be light or dense, thus the dumplings either float or sink. Every family has their own tradition and take on the matzo ball, with recipes handed down by mothers, bubbies and centuries of matriarchs in the kitchen.

"My grandmother said, 'Love makes floaters,'" Osman said.

Bob Climo prides himself in having made-from-scratch matzo balls for a soup so popular he and co-owner wife Karen sell it year-round at The Great Barrington Bagel Company & Deli, in Great Barrington, Mass.

"Our chicken soup is Jewish penicillin," Bob said. "It brings back memories of being a child."

While matzo balls cooked from scratch would make the soup truly homemade, several cooks have no problem using a store-bought matzo meal mix and flavoring it to their diners liking.

Gail P. of Kat's Cafe in Pittsfield, Mass., adds parsley, thyme and a bit of granulated garlic to her matzo balls.

"The herbs are the best tweak; it gives them a good flavor and they look good," she said.

Crucial to any soup is the broth, and matzo ball soup is no exception.

Gail. P. starts by boiling a roasted chicken carcass for what she says is a "more intense, flavorful broth." Boiling the skeletal poultry also separates the remaining dark meat from the bones that will end up in the soup.

Great Barrington Bagel also starts with roasted chicken broth seasoned with dill.

"We finish off with the herbs and we use the chicken fat from the carcass to give it added flavor," Bob said.

Finishing off a pot of Gail P.'s matzo ball soup is never a problem for cafe customers or family and friends at home.

"There usually isn't any leftovers," she said. "You can't stop eating it — like Lays potato chips."

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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